What’s Wrong with Your Face?

Cyclists 1895Writing about the Tour de France last week got me thinking about the history of the bicycle. Here are a few of the facts I found interesting:

* Bicycles were introduced in Europe during the 19th century.

* The modern bicycle design evolved from that of the dandy-horse.

* The first pedaled bicycle was developed in 1839 by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, a Scottish blacksmith. He is also associated with the first recorded bicycle-related traffic offense.

* The most popular model of bicycle in the world (and the most popular vehicle of any kind) is the Chinese Flying Pigeon.

* There are more than twice as many bicycles in the world as there are automobiles.

But by far the most interesting thing I uncovered was a mysterious bicycle-related illness known as “bicycle face.”

It seems that bicycle-riding enjoyed a huge surge during the late 1800’s, around the time chain-driven models were introduced. And as bicycling became more popular, it drew its share of detractors as well. Some didn’t like the congestion on the streets. Some didn’t like the impact bicycling had on fashion (women began to shun long dresses for clothing that allowed greater freedom of movement). Some bemoaned the lost art of one-on-one communication allowed by walking or taking the carriage to your destination. Thanks to a growing number of bicyclists who would opt for a Sunday morning ride over attending church, some even argued that cycling led to spiritual damnation.

Soon doctors were writing to medical journals describing the impact of cycling on one’s physical health. In addition to appendicitis, dysentery, and infertility; excessive riding, they argued, could lead to “bicycle face.” This disease was caused by the constant need to focus on balancing yourself on the bicycle while also scanning your surroundings to avoid collision with something or someone else. The anxiety produced by this level of concentration would lead to bulging eyes, flushed skin, and tense jaws. If not corrected in time, they warned, the effects of bicycle face would become permanent.

Over one hundred years later we can laugh about this obviously fictitious disease. But take a look around. How many people do you know who walk around every day with “bicycle face?”

Employees today are stressed. They’re stressed about the demands on their job. They’re stressed about the future of the company. They’re stressed about the future of the industry. They’re stressed about the next customer interaction. They’re stressed about meeting your expectations. And they’re stressed about balancing all of this with all of the other stuff that stresses them out at home. According to the American Psychological Association, the number one stressor for people 18-33 is work. And twenty percent of this group has been diagnosed with clinical depression. Now before you go thinking “Wow. I’m glad that doesn’t happen here. My employees aren’t stressed,” think again. They are.

It’s up to us as managers to address this problem. It’s up to us to address the issues causing stress amongst our employees. As work-related stress goes up, job satisfaction and productivity obviously go down. In addition, all that stress gets transferred to your customers, leaving a negative impression and impacting future business. Nobody wants to conduct business with a company full of stressed out, anxiety-ridden employees. The only ones who can make an immediate, positive impact on the organization are the leaders – and you are part of that group.

So come on fellow leaders, let’s fix this. Let’s talk to our employees and find out what’s causing all this stress. Then let’s do something about it.

After all, who wants to work all day next to Mr. Bicycle Face?

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