Turning a permacrisis into eustress

At the start of November the Collins Dictionary decided it’s word of the year….‘permacrisis.’

Permacrisis definition: ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity.’

Now that you know the definition, permacrisis is probably not the word you want to see topping this list as we focus our attention on International Stress Awareness week.

Stress can be a terrible thing, particularly chronic stress. Recent survey results from the Stress Management Society and Statistica showed that work related stress frequently affects 79% of the UK workforce, with 33% of employees reporting moderate to high levels, and 78% reporting workload as the top cause for their stress.

The impact of it can be crippling and lead to a range of symptoms, such as changes to behaviour, physical health problems and serious mental health issues. From an organisational perspective, 13.7 million working days are lost each year due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression.

The Mental Health Foundation defines stress as ‘our body’s response to pressure’ and goes on to say that ‘many different situations or life events can cause stress. It is often triggered when we experience something new or unexpected that threatens our sense of self or when we feel we have little control over a situation.’ Sound familiar?

But, sometimes, it’s worth noting that we need stress in our lives. Positive stress has a name too. It is called eustress. It is the opposite of distress. Eustress, usually energises people, is generally short term, can improve performance, and is typically viewed as being something we can cope with.

As you would imagine the line is thin between distress and eustress. Eustress can quickly escalate, become distress, and become detrimental. When stress becomes negative it can have short term and long-term implications that can ultimately be debilitating to peoples’ mental and physical health.

Right now, there are people that would argue life is harder than it has ever been, and there are others that can’t believe what ‘this generation,’ can’t cope with, with what some might unhelpfully call ‘the snowflake generation.’

Wherever you sit on this is irrelevant. The fact that permacrisis is the word of year tells you a lot about how we as a population are feeling.

At least that is what I thought!

If you rewind to November 2020, the OED released their words of the year, which including ‘doomscrolling,’ ‘staycation,’ ‘anti-mask,’ ‘superspreader,’ ‘unprescedented,‘ and ‘self-quarantine.’

Some of these weren’t new but had suddenly become a prevalent and common language. Like furlough had so suddenly, around the same time.

To a certain extent the annual sharing of ‘words of the year,’ has become newsfeed fodder. Something we might all see when we are ‘doomscrolling’ through our news feeds. In other words, I suspect the words chosen, to some extent, are there to grab headlines. Anyone remember 2012’s classic word of the year – omnishambles?

Either way, there are factual changes that clearly differentiate this year and make it ‘unprecedented,’ perhaps for the foreseeable future

The record increase in interest rates, the war in Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis, the energy crisis, the changing of the government and of course the sad passing of our monarch. Some people have coped better with this than others. Some are barely holding on.

 So, what can you do about it?

As businesses, we have a duty of care to look after our people. The choices aren’t binary. There are a wide range of options that can organisationally take us anywhere from doing the bare minimum, to being outstanding.

By law, we must do the basics, and the remit of the HSE to evaluate you on this is getting wider. However, with 40% of current employees re-evaluating their priorities and making more value-based decisions about their employment, is the basics enough? You could say organisations now have a more moral, intrinsic imperative to do more, to empathise, to be more human. If we only do the basics we will fail. If we don’t have a strategy, we will fail.

As such, the starting point is to have a wellbeing strategy.

A strategy of any kind may seem pointless during a period of insecurity and instability, but in reality, it’s quite the opposite.

A strategic and holistic focus on the things you can and need to rely on, and on the things that will you give your people ‘safe anchors’ while everything around them feels like it’s crumbling, is vital. Control the controllable!

If you can help people manage and improve their wellbeing, you create the potential to see them thrive, be more engaged, perform better, and be much more likely to stay with their organisation. Essentially, a wellbeing strategy and the positive outcomes it provides can help your people turn much of their stress to eustress and in turn this can have a positive impact on the business.

If you look at mental health as a tiered journey moving upwards from:

Failing to struggling to surviving to coping to thriving,

We can see it is not that dissimilar to the typical change curve models we’re all familiar with. We can provide a pathway, a route, a journey for those feeling the impact of stress. You can start to see how and they, and you, can progress back to thriving.

Although it is a crude headline description, that ignores many of the nuances and individual reasons people are failing, struggling, surviving, it is a simple way of focusing on what you do for your people.

You can look at thriving as a destination for where you want the business to be, a way of measuring how individuals are dealing with the world, or to remind you to focus on turning distress in to eustress. A positive from a negative.

In a similar way to how the VUCAworld.org moved:

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity

to become

Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Adaptability.

Of course, suggesting you can stop someone from being stressed by just changing negative language into positive language is absurd, but by having a plan with a set of positive steps that truly impact wellbeing positively and that gives everyone a chance to thrive, is a significant step forward.

Give us a call 

If you want to find out more about developing or enhancing a wellbeing strategy, contact us on 01491 414010, or at info@connor.co.uk. Our people have lived and breathed wellbeing across a range of organisations for years and as a values-based company, we’d be delighted to help you and your people get back to thriving.



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