Adam Blair's day job involves laying his body on the line time after time bringing down rampaging powerhouse NRL forwards.

And the Warriors star, completing a Bachelor of Social Science, has carried the weight of a sporting nation as captain of the Kiwis.

Wife Jess is a businesswoman, naturopath and nutritionist studying a postgraduate diploma in health promotion full-time at AUT.

Read more: Workplace stress levels reach boiling point in New Zealand


The high-profile couple are also parents of sons Harlem, 7, and Taika, 17 months.

The Blairs' pressure levels could be in a league of their own.

But as workplace stress rises sharply in New Zealand, the couple switch off to maintain a healthy work and life balance.

"Adam and I have a rule," says Jess, 32.

"We never have TV in our bedroom. The room's for sleeping.

"We don't have our [mobile] phones in our room - we just have an alarm. People get into bed and they're scrolling, scrolling. Even a light from your phone can interrupt your sleep patterns.

"I make sure I get my work done, and then that's it. We have dinner. We go to bed.

"Adam's in bed by 8.30 every night. He gets up the same time every day, training or not training.


"He doesn't drink alcohol. He might have a beer over Christmas but during the season -never. He's really strict with what he eats."

Adam Blair during a training session with the Vodafone Warriors. Photo / Photosport
Adam Blair during a training session with the Vodafone Warriors. Photo / Photosport

Jess knows all too well about workplace stress. She runs a health and wellness clinic and treats clients including lawyers, psychologists and corporate heads on both sides of the Tasman for workplace burnout.

Clients suffer from issues such as anxiety, depression, lack of sleep and poor nutrition, especially in times of high stress and anxiety that comes from having too much to do, she says.

Being constantly connected on smartphones and via different communications apps means any time is seen by many as work time - whether at the park with children, around the dinner table or just before lights out.

An incessant "on" mode means we're constantly operating in a fight or flight state. Such stress releases excess cortisol, which can result in health issues including adrenal insufficiency, she says.

The latest two-yearly Wellness in the Workplace report revealed a marked increase in workplace stress in New Zealand.

A net 22.9 per cent of employers noted an increase in stress/anxiety and for larger companies, according to the 2016 survey, sponsored by Southern Cross Health Society and BusinessNZ. It represented nearly 5 per cent of all employees.

For those with 50-plus staff - it was even higher, at 30.5 per cent - more than double the 14 per cent recorded for those with fewer than 50 staff.

General workload was found to be the biggest cause of stress in all businesses in 2016.

A growing number of smaller businesses were also recording longer hours – rising from 8.1 per cent in 2014 to 22 per cent in 2016.

The research found despite more businesses encouraging people to take time off when ill, on average more than 40 per cent of staff turned up sick.

Workplace absence cost the economy an estimated $1.51 billion in 2016.

And in March, the Mental Health Foundation surveyed mental health and wellbeing in 335 New Zealand workplaces.

"From this survey we found that high workloads, poor work life balance and stressful work were the top three causes of poor mental health in the workplace," says chief executive Shaun Robinson.

"Anecdotally we know that the need for support in the area of workplace wellbeing has increased dramatically in recent years."

Good workplace health is important says Jess Blair.
Good workplace health is important says Jess Blair.

The foundation received constant requests from workplaces looking for advice and resources to help them protect their workers' mental health and wellbeing.

New Zealanders have traditionally worked longer hours than many other countries, says chartered organisational psychologist John Eatwell.

"There is a growing trend, though, to manage this, and acknowledgement that more is not better. This is particularly important with cellphones and clearing emails.

"Some countries in Europe have now made it illegal to send emails to phones after work hours. Some New Zealand companies are telling managers not to send emails after hours and are stopping emails to phones during annual leave."

Productivity and workplace relations suffer when workers are stressed, Eatwell says.

"Some research on the impact of culture and performance suggest the impact is about 30 per cent. Those companies who have a positive culture perform 30 per cent higher than those with a negative culture."

When people do not switch off or take breaks, they slow down.

"Stephen Covey (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) likened it to sawing.

"Some people keep on sawing because they want to get the job done. Others will stop and sharpen the saw if it's blunt and finish faster.

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Jess Blair, a health and wellness practitioner, talks about managing work place stress. Video / dean Purcell

"A break every two hours wasn't union-driven, it was organisational psychologists identifying that was the point at which our performance significantly drops off and we need a break.

"Even those who take 15 minutes away from their desk at lunchtime have significantly higher productivity."

Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff says there is greater recognition of the importance of managing stressors. There is more awareness of the many factors contributing to stress — managerial style, workload, the type of work, the working hours, sexual harassment and bullying.

"It can become a vicious cycle. It impacts on people's health, which impacts on their ability to work and work effectively, which can increase the pressure they are under and their levels of workplace stress."

The CTU represents about 320,000 union members in 30 affiliated unions. It is focused on working with WorkSafe, MBIE and the Government to ensure the Health and Safety at Work Act, regulations, guidance and education material create a framework to effectively manage workplace health and safety risks.

"This includes the risks from workplace stress," Wagstaff says.

Workplaces play an important role in people's mental health and wellbeing, Robinson says.

"Being employed in good work provides people with a sense of purpose and meaning and can actually help people to recover from mental health problems.

"On the flip side, a negative working environment that causes stress can have damaging and lasting effects on mental wellbeing.

"The potential long-term impacts of job stress include an increased risk of developing mental health problems as well as a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

"It can also be indirectly linked to health outcomes caused by unhealthy coping behaviours like smoking or drinking."

It's vital people do what they can to reduce the feeling of stress in their lives and strengthen their own wellbeing, Robinson says.

"The extent to which this can happen in the workplace is reliant on workplaces creating the right environments that make it possible in the first place."

Research points to five simple things people can do at work and at home to find balance, build resilience, boost wellbeing and lower the risk of developing mental health problems, says Robinson.

They are – connect, be active, keep learning, give, and take notice.

The Mental Health Foundation, with the Health Promotion Agency, has developed a Five Ways to Wellbeing at Work toolkit for workplaces.
"Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, workplaces have a legal responsibility to manage risks to mental health and wellbeing just like they do any other health and safety risk," Robinson says.

Some things that will contribute to safe, supportive and strong environments include celebrating and rewarding good work, providing learning and growth opportunities, and effectively managing conflict, he says.

Zero tolerance for bullying and providing adequate resources, feedback and support to ensure employees carry out their roles effectively also help.
"The key thing about stress is it is a perception of not being able to cope," Eatwell says.

"So it may be increasing workloads or it may be that the employer's priorities are not clear.

"For most of us there is too much to do in our job. What makes it manageable is having clear priorities from our manager as to what is the important things to do."

BusinessNZ is the country's largest business representation group. It covers about 80 per cent of employers. Chief executive Kirk Hope says it's important to remember the latest Wellness in the Workplace report shows stress and anxiety levels are on the moderate side.

"About 57 per cent of businesses showed no change in stress levels for the current survey. However, the direction shows an overall increase."

To reduce workplace stress, employers can conduct staff surveys, train managers to identify and manage stress and develop risk assessment tools, he says.
For smaller businesses the main practices are risk assessment, training for managers and other practices.

"Two positives that came out of the 2016 survey were that the proportion of large business providing training for managers to identify and manage stress increased from 37.3 per cent to 55.9 per cent, while for smaller businesses the proportion that did not have any practices in place decreased from 53.2 per cent to 36 per cent."

To manage stress it is important to just stop for a while. Photo / 123RF
To manage stress it is important to just stop for a while. Photo / 123RF

Developing employee assistance programmes was important for larger businesses - overtaking flexible hours in the previous survey.

"For smaller businesses, flexible hours seem to be the key option, although there has been a noticeable increase in the option of employee assistance programmes, rising from 14.5 per cent to 32 per cent."

It is important every business manages stress levels so they do not hamper general work and workplace relations, Hope says.

"You can never eliminate stress because there are always times when deadlines need to be met or general workloads spike at certain times. The key is to have policies and practices in place to identify these and find the best ways to deal with them."

Jess, who will run corporate workshops on dealing with workplace stress, teaches "tired, wired" clients how to be able to switch off.

"I work with them on unlearning their current habits - like smartphone, social media and other technology addictions - and relearn things like quality time with the family, personal-care such as taking a leisurely stroll, doing a relaxing yoga session, or reading a book.

"Something simple like making sure you're getting your eight hours' sleep. But to do that you need to stop coffee after 11am."

Good workplace health is essential, Jess says.

"There is so much at stake when health and wellbeing are not prioritised. It sends a ripple effect into our careers, families, and general life satisfaction.

"We need to treat it like we do other serious health issues, and must tackle it from an institutional level for real change to occur."

To reduce workplace stress, employers can conduct staff surveys, train managers to identify and manage stress and develop risk assessment tools. Photo / 123RF
To reduce workplace stress, employers can conduct staff surveys, train managers to identify and manage stress and develop risk assessment tools. Photo / 123RF