A Thought on Stress Awareness Week

[November 2018]

Stress at work is a fact of life for almost everyone. From the technicians dealing with rush-hour traffic, problematic or difficult customers and the unexpected and unplanned challenges of dynamic work sites, to the pressures of finding, servicing and directing work experienced by surveyors and supervisors, to the massive challenge of keeping a business afloat, paying the wages and keeping people safe that comes with ownership. Stress is a daily reality for all of us.

In my own experience stress is something that in small doses can result in improved productivity, drives me to solve problems and delivers a sort of “sharpness” that I think is useful. However, the things that are responsible for this “useful” stress can build, multiply and linger. Unless the pressure can be released, the same constructive stress can begin to weigh very heavy. Poor decisions can follow and the stress monster gets taken home!

Is this new? Probably not, but it is undeniable that the pace of life is quickening. Clients’ expectations are often set as much by what they have “Googled” or read on social media, as it is by their own lived experience or of the people they actually know in the real world. The pressure to maintain a positive profile and reputation in cyberspace is relatively new but can be all consuming.

All too often the internet is a place where those who have an axe to grind or a spleen to vent can attack with a feeling of impunity and anonymity. False news and cyber bullying are terms we hear often in the media, but they are as relevant and real to us as they are to politicians and non-minority groups who grab the headlines. Being insulted and berated by faceless people who we have often never met is new phenomenon for many of us and adds to the daily mix of tension that we experience.

Health, safety, employment, tax and financial legislation, Brexit and the uncertainty in the housing markets, labour shortages and the constant threat of litigation all add to the ongoing workload for small business owners. All things considered I sometimes wonder why we do it? The answer is often more about a passion for the work and a feeling of responsibility than it is about the money!

Like many of my members, I am very fortunate that I don’t just do a job because it pays me. Apart from providing a career working with subjects that excite, motivate and interest me, the PCA is responsible for introducing me to people that I like, trust and inspire and who I am proud to call friends. It disturbs me deeply that so many of them who operate fantastic specialist companies often do so under enormous pressures and often talk about how they can get away from contracting.

I don’t have any pearls of knowledge that will “guarantee” to reduce the stress and anxiety that we all experience during our working lives. What I do know, however, is that being able to share experiences and unpack some of my burdens with friends and trusted colleagues has always been a great help that has probably kept me sane.

Running a small business can be very lonely and very isolating. Although the PCA is a Trade Association first and foremost, perhaps we ought to also see it as a network that can be used to help support and assist as well. Members from all parts of the country are sharing experiences, challenges, pressures and tensions in isolation. The PCA has done a decent job of creating and sharing technical best practice and in creating commercial advantage for members. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about how we share best practice and support psychological wellbeing too.

Stephen Hodgson