Back To Work Because Blurryface Needs The Money
Unsustainable stress in the workplace and its physiological consequences have certainly had a much greater focus in the last couple of decades. Health and safety legislation has had an impact in driving behaviour change by employers to prevent and mitigate stressors to employees. High blood pressure can be independently measured and monitored and is one of those flags that may indicate aggregated stress exposure is having a deleterious effect on an individual. You can graph it.
Less easy to measure but still something we all experience is something delightfully called ‘brain fog’. You know the feeling – inconsistent memory, difficulty keeping your attention on what matters, and fighting your own tongue to speak with clarity. Our brains are the size of our fist, roughly two to four percent of our body mass, yet our brain consumes twenty four percent of our body’s energy every day. It’s a hungry little critter. At times of brain fog, known in those soup commercials as ‘3 o’clockitis’, our laser-like focus is diluted, distracted and distorted. The effort and energy to get back on track just isn’t there, and if you’re relying on soup to sort it out, you might be waiting a while.
The frustration piles on and it becomes a death spiral of an afternoon from a productivity and self-confidence perspective. Worse still, and not nearly acknowledged enough, there’s an accumulative effect.
A couple of years ago, I spent a while in the US. A big hit on the charts at the time was an album by ‘twenty one pilots’ called ‘Blurryface’ from which the biggest hit was a song called ‘Stressed Out’. Front-man Tyler Joseph said, “Blurryface is this character that I came up with that represents a certain level of insecurity”. Despite not existing in reality, Blurryface’s Twitter account has 194,000 followers. That hit song ‘Stressed Out’ starts out as a lament for the simpler times earlier in his life and ends up with the singer getting into a slanging match with Blurryface who insists he gets back to work because “Wake up! We need to make money”!
Alt-rock rap crossovers aside, the message in the lyrics is one of great relevance to employees and those employers with responsibilities for workplace wellness. (Full credit to twenty one pilots for their wisdom, especially as it’s super likely they never had a real job). There is an inherent conflict within us to knuckle down and get the job done, to muscle through the hard parts. Plenty of leadership books speak wisdom similar to Covey’s “Sharpen the saw” in his ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. Essentially, take a break!
It’s hard to argue that a saw that never gets sharpened quickly loses its ability to saw wood swiftly and cleanly. Real saws do get sharpened by people who are reliant on saws. Covey’s metaphor means we should take breaks so when we get back off break, we’ll be more productive. Tru dat (alt rock rap term).
However, if saws were sentient, had mortgages and wanted a promotion with commensurate pay rise, maybe they wouldn’t let themselves be sharpened? Maybe they’d proudly declare how many hours they had sawed today, how much later than the boss they had stayed at work, and they could always get sharpened when they were dead. I have heard actual people say that about themselves in workplaces when told they should take a break.
So, there’s a battle overtly or covertly between some people at work and their bosses over taking breaks. And, if Blurryface is to be believed, there’s often a battle within ourselves about taking breaks too. We know we should, we probably will, just not right now.
One means of lessening brain fog is to remove distractions. Declutter your desk, workspace and your life. Your brain will fire up enough distractions, you do not need to leave obvious visual ones lying around yourself. Some people might perceive a towering and unstable in-tray as a mark of honour. It isn’t, it’s a stressor. Put it out of sight.
The same goes for multi-tasking. Not actually a thing. The best our brains can muster on a good day is ‘rapid task switching’. This is energy inefficient for our brains, so one thing at a time. We need to have absolute clarity at the start of what is important and why, so when competing priorities start slapping you in the face later when you don’t have much resistance, you can fall back on first principles – what is important and why.
At the very least, we should each try to diminish the job stress that is of our own making. Some jobs are inherently stressful, such as the Automobile Association’s Roadside Assistance Officers. They’re constantly heading for a breakdown.
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