Saturday, 25 February 2012


Do you think you’re stressed? Apparently we all do these days and it’s worse here in Botswana than almost anywhere else.

According to a recently released report by Grant Thornton, an accounting and consultancy firm that has offices all over the world, and as reported in this esteemed paper, Botswana ranked “seventh out of 38 countries with high stress in the workplace”. What’s more “Botswana is the top African country, following countries such as main land China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Peru and Mexico.”

I beg to differ.

Firstly I need to be pedantic and picky. The survey did NOT actually measure levels of stress. It measured the self-reported, perceived increases or decreases in the levels of stress reported by the people that Grant Thornton chose. They didn’t ask people how stressed they were, they just asked them whether they were more or less stressed than last year. I don’t know how they chose these highly stressed people, it certainly wasn’t anyone I know.

First things first. How many people do you know who’ll confess that they’re less stressed now than last year? I bet it’s none. Here’s a profound psychological observation for you to consider. We forget distress. How else do you think women have second children? How do you think people marry for the second time? How else do you think that people start second companies after their first failed? It’s because we forget how bad things felt in the past. We remember intellectually but we forget the pain. In the same way we forget all the irritations and stresses from last year and only remember what bothered us yesterday and today.

I genuinely don’t think we are much more stressed than we were last year, we’ve just forgotten how difficult last year was. I have a habit of asking anyone I meet in business how their business is going. Everyone agrees that the last couple of years was difficult but that this year is looking up a bit. Maybe the prospect of better business is getting them down?

What about another profound psychological insight? Stress is a good thing, not a bad thing. Stress, despite what some people will tell you, is what keeps you alive, what keeps you excited, what keeps you ambitious. Do you want proof of this? Think back just a few weeks to the Zebra’s performance at Afcon. We all sat on the edge of our seats as we watched the matches. Deep down we knew we stood little chance of going very far but we hoped against all the odds that we’d do well. Watching the matches and seeing our team’s performance we were incredibly stressed. As we began to understand that we were going to be beaten we were even more stressed. When we finally lost we were probably despondent. But ask yourself this. Does anyone think we should never compete again? Should we give up football? Of course not. The stress we went through was a learning experience. In fact it was good for us, it made us more ambitious, it made us want to try harder. It strengthened us.

Maybe our economy is a bit like the football. We’ll always be stressed and that’s just the nature of competition. Maybe it’s something that will enable our economy to grow?

However, despite my skepticism about this perceived increase in levels of stress there might be some truth to it. Not much, but a little.

The experts from Grant Thornton suggest that the increased stress “could be led by a reduction in government spending, thereby causing a fear of lower economic activity”.

I don’t think that’s the problem, if the problem exists at all. Yes, I know our economy is partly dependent upon government spending but are we all so reliant up on it that we are stressed when Government tightens it’s belt?

In fact I suspect it’s because suppliers in Botswana are more and more aware that their customers are becoming increasingly assertive. Readers of Mmegi are more likely this year than last year to complain, to stick up for their rights and to demand decent and respectful service. There’s more and more competition and consumers are more willing to switch to a company’s competitors than just put up with crappy service. For too long many suppliers here have been able to get away with treating us badly. That has now changed. At Consumer Watchdog we’re getting more and more messages from consumers telling us how they sorted out their own problems by being assertive, by sticking up for their rights and showing some backbone. Consumers are becoming more demanding and I think you can see from these results that companies, stores and supplier in general are feeling the stress as a result.

And my feelings towards these suppliers, these companies who are feeling the strain and are suffering as a result?

Grow up, you wimps. Welcome to the real world. For too long you’ve been able to get away with your misdemeanors because we consumers didn’t have the backbone to stand up to you. No more. Your stress levels are only going to get higher and higher from now on. If you can’t cope then close your business right now and lock yourself in your bedroom with your teddy bear. Ask your Mummy for a nice comforting hug.

If competition is too much for you then you shouldn’t be in business. If, as they say, you can’t stand the heat then stay out of the kitchen. With the few miserable exceptions of a couple of parastatal utility companies there’s nobody left in Botswana who doesn’t have someone desperate to take their business away from them. Bring it on, along with the stress levels.

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