We’ve all experienced stress at some point in our lives, but many of us are unaware of the dangers posed to our health as a result of the physical and mental exertion often unique to our working environments. Stewart Gregory, VP of Power Products at Schneider Electric, talks about managing the pressures of the electrical industry and highlights why burn-out at work should not be underestimated.
Working in the electrical industry can be rewarding and challenging in equal measure. The industry is competitive, with tight margins and heavy responsibilities, which has only been exaggerated in recent months.
Mistakes, miscalculations and delays are inevitable. For most people there will come a time when being unable to work will add pressures, often outside of our control. Unfortunately, stress is a major part of an electrician’s job, but keeping it under control and at a manageable level is crucial to performance, physical health and work-life balance.
In recent years, the industry has largely improved its acknowledgment of issues related to mental health, and how it supports those who are suffering. Whilst there is still more that can and should be done, it’s important to consider the important roles that self-help and support networks can have in the recovery process.
Not to be underestimated
Roles in the electrical industry supply chain can be demanding. Whether you are an installer or consultant, a lot of travel, significant stretches of time working away from home, long hours and tight deadlines are to be expected. You may also be painfully aware of the potential health and safety risks of the job, which can endanger both your life and your livelihood.
To some extent, a degree of stress is inevitable in every job. But when stress is ignored, underestimated or goes untreated it can become unmanageable. If left unaddressed, stress has the potential to cause anxiety, depression and even be fatal. Suicide rates among skilled tradespeople are soberingly high, almost 40% above the national average. Male suicide victims in this group account for 29% of all male suicides in the UK.
Stress can also manifest in subtler but no fewer damaging ways. It can impact a person’s social, emotional and psychological well-being, as well as their lifestyle. Stress can cause severe phobias, panic attacks and alcohol addiction. Chronic stress can even contribute to family and marital breakdown, only worsening the plight of the sufferer.
Poor mental health can be extremely self-destructive, and this is the true tragedy. Research shows that stressed workers are more likely to make mistakes on the job. Decision-making is impacted, and people suffering from depression tend to work slower and be less productive. In the electrical trade this can be a major barrier to success, only exacerbating professional frustrations and feelings of self-doubt.
Managing the pressure
Although exploring the struggles that many electrical professionals face can make for grim reading, the situation is far from hopeless, and the sufferer is often capable of helping themselves. Personal perspective and initiative are perhaps the most important factors in beating stress. Understanding how to manage stress and self-help can make a world of difference.
Acknowledging that you are under pressure is the first, and probably most difficult, part of overcoming stress. Noticing the warning signs – feelings of exhaustion, bad temper, working late and a worsening diet – is a crucial first step before working up strategies to mitigate stress.
Stress isn’t always work-related, indeed it’s just as likely to be caused by family issues, financial problems like debt or the pressures of caring for a loved one or starting a family. That’s why it’s important to make time for yourself. Setting time aside for exercise and relaxation are actionable and effective steps in relieving stress. We all need to reserve time to stay healthy and, ultimately, be more productive and successful.
However, electrical industry professionals shouldn’t go it alone. While mental health awareness is growing every day, it sadly remains taboo in our industry. Many work in small teams, and while this familiarity and comradery can help alleviate feelings of stress and depression, it can also make individuals more embarrassed to say when they need help.
The internal welfare and support structures other professionals benefit from are often absent or unavailable in the electrical industry. This leaves many feeling they have no one to lean on. Yet those in the electrical industry shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to others for advice and insight. Support networks are out there and have been set up to help give all players the financial, educational and emotional support they need.
It is important that electrical industry professionals know they are not alone; experienced support networks like the Electrical Industries Charity (EIC) are there for when you or your family needs a helping hand. The EIC can provide counselling, legal and financial support for when a problem is too much to bear alone. They ensure that you get the support needed to get back on your feet.
Every one of us will encounter stress at some point in our lives. It is important to not avoid or deny our pressures but instead learn how to accept and deal with them.
Electrical professionals have a growing number of support networks to call on, who can teach self-help techniques to aid independent stress management. When self-help isn’t enough and it feels like all other options have been exhausted, the EIC can share valuable legal, financial and personal advice. Whilst the electrical industry can be stressful, don’t let the pressure make you forget all the rewarding reasons why you became an electrician.