x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Counsellor treating more cases of business burnout

Increased work pressures are driving more and more of Dubai's ambitious professionals to seek help for executive stress.

DUBAI // Tighter deadlines, tougher performance targets, longer hours and BlackBerrys full of emails are increasing pressure on Dubai's ambitious professionals and driving more of them to seek help in dealing with executive stress. Priya Sridharan, an organisational consultant and psychologist at the Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre, has tripled her clientele since she began an "executive coaching" programme 18 months ago.

Most of her clients face issues such as "executive burnout" or "cultural conflict". What began as corporate sessions to develop skills such as team-building, cross-cultural integration and communication has turned increasingly into one-on-one training and development. Doctors, accountants, marketing executives - Ms Sridharan sees them all, men and women in equal numbers. "They can see that this kind of 'executive coaching' will improve their performance at work. If it means getting up the ladder, they'll seek professional help," she says.

Dubai is a very different place compared to several years ago, says Ms Sridharan. Things are more fast paced and pressure is high. "Burnout didn't used to exist here. Now, they are expected to perform like any other city in the world. They work long hours and are under pressure to produce good quality work. "At one time, people worked from 8am until 1pm, and then come back from 4pm to 8pm. Now, it's not uncommon for people to work straight through from 8am to 8pm."

Ms Sridharan deals with many cases of burnout, a condition that has consequences far beyond the workplace, affecting a person's health, motivation levels and personal relationships. Clients have suffered such symptoms as gastric stress, hair loss and skin rashes, Ms Sridharan says. One acute problem is cultural conflict in the workplace, especially in Dubai with its "melting pot" of professionals.

"It's such a unique environment here because you can be working with 50 different nationalities. That can cause a lot of disagreements and friction. You just don't know 50 cultural norms and ethics. "People coming here to work are thrown in at the deep end, expected to perform as they would have in their home country. But it's not that easy." Schedule-keeping and communication are common issues raised by her clients. Time in the Middle East is "more fluid", she says, and that can cause divisions among staff.

"Some workers are more group-orientated, so don't like to make decisions. They've come from a culture of team decisions and when they are put on the spot it can be very difficult for them. This is tough for both sides," Ms Sridharan says. Personality differences, mannerisms, cultural etiquette, even dress codes can add to office tensions, she says. While some staff may ask too many questions, others may not ask any. Even differing attitudes to personal space can cause office conflict.

"These are people who all come from very different personal backgrounds, all thrown in the pot and expected to get along. You're dealing with some very sensitive issues. "Some can be resolved quite easily. Others are more difficult to broach." The key, she says, is identifying the problem and working on it before it escalates into a crisis. Clients for Ms Sridharan's executive coaching session were initially from Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Now people from Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia fly in for consultations.

"Many of these people come and see me for the initial sessions and then continue with phone sessions. "These problems are not exclusive to the UAE. "It just reflects how far we've come in being just like the rest of the world." mswan@thenational.ae