Relax with a good book

Stress-handling advice book Calm at Work often only reminds us of things we know, yet still overlook – but that needn’t be a bad thing, says Clare Dowdy

Paul Wilson, author of The Little Book of Calm, has followed up the pocket-sized best seller with Calm at Work. This 330-page tome tackles what Wilson describes as “the hoax of employment”, which perpetuates the “master-slave mentality that has dogged the workplace for centuries”.

We work for our own benefit, says Wilson, not our boss’s or the company’s – an encouraging start for any employee who picks up the book. The pages are strewn with proactive ways for staff to better their working environment and atmosphere. These range from the intangible to the practical – such as “turn off strip lighting”- and are based on the premise that stress restricts us from performing efficiently.

The layout is accessible, with plenty of sub-headings, tables and bullet point reiterations of salient proposals, though the comic strip illustrations are rather unimaginative and do not add much.

Stress is exacerbated by a string of factors, including boredom and information overload. “We’re told [he doesn’t say by whom] the world’s knowledge doubles every couple of years, and that more information is contained in a single copy of the New York Times than your great grandparents would have encountered in their entire lives.”

There are two approaches to stressful situations, he says: either change the things which cause stress, or change the way you look at them. This perception theory runs through the book and is useful if you feel powerless to instigate changes.

While Wilson says staff should banish the master-slave mentality, he acknowledges the powerful role bosses play. He divides them into three types: creators, cutters and the undecideds. Creators are best to work for as they believe, “People are my greatest asset” – a creative industry like design should supposedly be littered with this category. Cutters see people as their greatest overheads, and the undecideds are indifferent and unmotivated.

A second theme is the need to act on solutions rather than just solve the problem. This seems obvious, as indeed does much of the book. But Wilson has not set out to tell us things we didn’t know. Instead, he aims to reiterate things we have forgotten, or worse still, forgotten to act upon.

The causes of stress fall into three categories – physical, emotional and behavioural – broken down into easy-to-digest sub-sections, but much of the book is taken up with analysing the causes – you could feel stressed just waiting for the solution.

Of all the techniques and formulae listed to help relaxation, breathing is deemed the most important, with ten pages devoted to improving respiratory techniques. Then comes a chapter on training the subconscious to alleviate stress, where the language veers towards the florid as Wilson talks of “seducing” your subconscious. Not everyone will have the time or the inclination for that, but there is more practical help at hand, such as the five essentials for a productive meeting (see below).

There is a lot to consider in Calm at Work. If you put every improving exercise into practice, you may not find too much time to do any work. This is particularly true of the suggestion that each employer should “play with themselves”. Perhaps a case of teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, in certain industries.

Calm at Work is published by Penguin, price 7.99. Cover illustration is by John Tourrier.

Five essentials for a productive meeting

The outcome or outcomes of the meeting are clearly described at the top of your agenda

Only those who can make a real contribution may attend

There is a finite allocation of time to reach the defined outcome or outcomes

Any resolutions are documented

Someone in the meeting has the authority to act on the resolutions

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