Stress can drive employees to do stupid things
When talk turns to company scandals, we usually think of giant moneyed corporations corrupting governments and, metaphorically speaking, getting away with murder – breaking laws, trashing ethical standards, acting blind and deaf to the harm they do until caught and exposed, at which (in Japan at least) executives bow in shame before the cameras and impose pay cuts on themselves. Sometimes there will be a sacrificial resignation or two.
There’s another kind of scandal, increasingly prominent, says Spa! (May 13-20) – typified by the deliberate food poisoning episodes that hit frozen foods maker Aqlifoods Co last fall: a lone, usually overworked and underpaid employee, stressed to the point of either striking out blindly and doing as much damage as possible or, if not that, of simply losing his or her reason and committing stupidities, to the employer’s cost, that would horrify the perpetrator in his or her normal state.
The Aqlifoods case, probably because it involved food, got more publicity than the other examples Spa! raises. A contract employee, whose take-home pay was a paltry 120,000 yen a month after eight years with the company, allegedly, out of revenge, laced company pizzas and croquettes with pesticide, causing thousands of consumers to fall ill.
It could be your company next, says Spa! It could be you next.
Consider these recent incidents:
Last September a 33-year-old JR Hokkaido driver hit the emergency brake by mistake. The train ground to a halt. How would he explain such a lapse? His mind went into overdrive. Seizing a hammer he smashed the brake, producing, in effect, evidence that the mechanism was damaged – so it wasn’t his fault, was it? The ploy was seen through.
Also in September, a driver for Yamato Transport loaded his truck with the wrong parcels. Fearing a dressing-down if he went back and admitted his mistake, he instead – what *could* he have been thinking? – flung the parcels into the sea.
In January a 24-year-old company employee was arrested in Osaka for, allegedly, spitting at little girls. Well, he was stressed. Stress needs a vent. What the stressed soul demands is not always socially acceptable.
One of two things: either society is crazy, or more and more individuals are. Stress seems the ultimate culprit, most of it economic – the stress of getting a job, keeping it and being worthy of it in a world where competition knows no bounds. Spa! lists three typical manifestations: depression, physical symptoms such as ulcers, and problem behavior. Until recently attention focused on the first two. Lately the third is coming to the fore.
Spa!’s thumbnail sketch of cerebral functions is no doubt simplistic but rings true. There are three brain levels – reason, emotion and reflex. Fatigue impairs first the first and then the second. The third and most primitive is the most fatigue-resistant. It remains manning the fort when the first two have retired.
You think, probably, scanning Spa!’s episodes, “I could never do anything like that!” You may not be right. A psychologist the magazine consults (who is not named, however) estimates 80 % of company employees are at risk of cracking under pressure in ways they might never have thought themselves capable.