One of the many 'perks' of hitting your forties in the UK is the ritual of the annual health check. One of the more revealing tests within this physical determines whether your body is more comfortable when relaxed or in 'fight' mode. I wasn't surprised to learn that my body prefers being in fighting mode.
I much prefer being busy. A day packed with meetings, planned and unplanned, speeds by with satisfying momentum. So, it's fortunate and probably no coincidence that I work in an industry that is fast-paced and at times highly pressured. Media attracts high-energy personality types and we feed off the palpable buzz around the office. By and large, we thrive and flourish in this high-octane environment.
Most people in media and advertising recognize that it's a tough industry that requires you to go the extra mile. It's a work hard, play hard world; that's what we sign up for. And I think we need a certain amount of pressure to function at our peak, to meet tight deadlines and client objectives. Yet everybody handles pressure differently, and the ability to cope often comes with experience. Stress is part of the job, but is a challenge, and we ensure that we work closely with the wonderful NABS (the support service for the media and advertising industry), who offer impartial advice and support to all Maxus employees.
The challenge is to regulate that finely-balanced level of pressure that helps you perform and peak, ensuring it doesn't tip over into stress and exhaustion. A classic mistake that busy people make is to over-exert themselves for weeks or months on end as they work towards the next holiday. I see this a lot in media, where people work themselves ragged to get everything tied up before Christmas, then get home and collapse in an exhausted heap. Tired and immune-impaired, they are prone to every bug and virus doing the rounds and see the New Year out in bed. Cue worried mums everywhere!
I'm lucky enough to work with a coach who is an invaluable source of information on managing work; I try to pass on her tips among the team wherever possible. Her advice is to avoid going at it hammer and tongs until the next break, and instead to perceive your working pattern as an undulating curved line, with work balanced by regular relaxation.
Work-related stress cost the economy £6.5bn last year due to absenteeism and sickness. On the flipside, 'presenteeism' is also on the rise, whereby people go to work when they are not well enough to be there. A tired, stressed employee is a disengaged one, and worse still, struggling into work can cause longer-term health problems. Financial implications aside, I feel a strong duty of care as an employer to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Maxus people. Your health is so important, and often it can be too late, or take a real health crisis to realise this.
Although we're a fast-growing business, we're still small enough to treat everybody individually and respond to stress-related issues with a tailored approach. Permeating the agency is a culture of openness and communication; staff must feel able to approach management with any concerns.
Adopting and keeping up a healthy lifestyle is a vital part of combating stress. We offer regular 'healthy heart' checks, while our benefits package includes private healthcare from Bupa and an annual health check option. Subsidized gym membership for all staff is a very popular perk - and we're looking to introduce other well-being initiatives from massages and manicures to dietary advice.
While line management is responsible for supporting employees by leading in the right way and keeping an eye out for signs of stress, it's also important that we each find our own ways of incorporating relaxation into our schedules.
Personally, I prefer high-octane forms of relaxation (meditation and Pilates leave me cold), so I try to build exercise into my working week, for instance by walking into the office. It's a good hour's upbeat stroll with soul-restoring views of the London skyline. I also try to take brief moments away from my desk; we're lucky to work in London, the city's hidden garden squares are perfect for peaceful moments of reflection.
All stress isn't bad stress -- just the right amount of pressure can be a powerful motivating force. But as employers, we have to look out for the warning signs of workplace stress among our staff, lead by example and inject a healthy dose of well-being and support into our company cultures. There is a good reason why the industry says "We're only as good as our people."
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power," which took place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.