The Boiling Frog Syndrome

Wellbeing is far more than the absence of illness or negative stress, but with the reports of rising negative stress in the workplace, stress is worthy of every employers and employee’s attention. Specifically, the recent statistics and research on work-related stress brings to mind, and provides warning of, ‘The Boiling Frog Syndrome’ (Please do not try this at home!):

If a frog is put in hot water it will jump out. But if a frog is put in at an agreeable temperature and then the water is slowly warmed, the frog will remain there until it to boils to death.

The various definitions and usage of the term ‘stress’ have confused the contribution that it can make to both the understanding and optimisation of performance. There is a general acknowledgement that certain amounts of stress, or more accurately, physiological and/or psychological arousal, are required for peak performance. However, the physiological and psychological stress response that occurs when perceived demands outweigh perceived resources in a situation of perceived importance, is negative to both performance and health, particularly when the stress response is activated over long periods of time.

UK figures for 2017 show that stress is the most common work-related risk to health, whilst long-term stress is the biggest cause of long-term sickness absence. Research also suggests that lesser levels or short-term negative stress reduces optimal performance and productivity (positive ‘stress’ or more accurately physiological arousal but with positive interpretation can have the converse effect). It is therefore useful to know what causes negative work-related stress. According to THOR-GP (A General Practitioners’ research network), the main activities reported by patients as causing work-related stress, depression or anxiety are within a company’s control:

37% – Workload pressures, including scheduling, shift work and other organisational factors.

23% – Interpersonal relationships, including difficulties with superiors and bullying or harassment.

12% – Changes at work, including reduction of resources or staff, and additional responsibilities.

Consequently, with appropriate wellbeing consideration and change management, the reduction of the high and increasing costs associated with stress-related absenteeism, presenteeism and reduced performance are also within their control.