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Insecurity and traffic congestion making workers less productive

By Peter Theuri | July 11th 2021

Traffic snarl-up at the Globe roundabout flyover along Thika superhighway in Ngara. October 9, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A video of a boda boda passenger nonchalantly grabbing a traffic police officer’s phone at a roundabout on Thika Road was a horrifying reminder of how unsafe Nairobi and its environs have become.

The insecurity is likely to, among other things, cause a dip in levels of performance by employees in the city.

Always anxious, their concentration levels are likely to be reduced and their output consequently falls below average.

A study by German company Vaay ranks Nairobi 20th in the list of the most stressful cities this year. The index ranks 100 cities, with India’s Mumbai the most stressful city among them all, and by far.

The study consists of four broad categories: governance, city, finance and citizens’ health. Each category is made up of individual stress indicators.

The other huge factor that hampers employee performance is the daily traffic gridlock in the city, which creates an environment that favours petty criminals.

Felix Opondo, a clinical psychologist, says spending hours in traffic not only kills the morale of workers but is also likely to stir emotions that often simmer into serious conflicts, both on the road and later in the workplace.

“We have even seen cases of shootings where people in personal cars get upset by other motorists and whip out pistols,” he says.

A man hangs on a moving Tuk-Tuk in Githurai 44 Nairobi on July 8, 2021. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

To be at work on time, many people leave their houses before dawn in desperation to beat traffic. However, with everyone using that tactic, traffic snarl-ups start early.

“There is a lot of anxiety for these people finding themselves stuck in traffic, as these days traffic congestion is no longer accepted as an excuse for getting late,” says Dr Opondo.

There is no ingenious tactic to escape traffic congestion. Eventually, motorists and motorcyclists end up breaking rules and overlapping carelessly, creating a bigger congestion problem and intensifying road rage.

Drivers’ heightened concentration can also lead to fatigue, with accidents more likely to occur in traffic jams than when the road is clear.

“Anxiety increases if the bosses keep on calling such an employee to know where they are,” Opondo says.

A 2019 report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) indicated that Kenya lost Sh50 million in traffic every day. It is, however, not easy to quantify how many mental health issues are escalated by these jams.

Fatigue that comes with spending eons in traffic gnaws into employees’ morale. By the time they get to work, their energy is drained.

Altercations with drivers, conductors, other passengers and motorists also affect people psychologically, as does loud music in public transport vehicles, leading to poor performance at work.

And it is among the traffic jams that some of the wiliest city thieves thrive.

In slow-moving traffic, they operate in well-organised groups, grabbing mobile phones from unsuspecting passengers and motorists who, bored, might have fancied a peek into their social media accounts.

This car plunged into a ditch on Uhuru Highway, Nairobi, May 11, 2021. The road is under construction. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

They also steal side mirrors from cars and snatch other valuable goods from road users.

The National Police Service’s Annual Crime Report in 2018 indicated that Nairobi County recorded the highest number of cases reported to police at 7,128.

“The largest number of cases reported in Nairobi involved offences against persons at 1,513 cases, assault 1,243, creating disturbance at 216 and affray at 54 cases,” read the report.

With Nairobi’s 2021 population estimated at 4,922,192 by the World Population Review, the city is looking increasingly unsafe.

Opondo says workplaces should have training sessions, especially about the thought process, to help tackle stress related to traffic congestion.

“People have the ability to either think rationally or irrationally. If they are taught to react in a certain way, that is how they will do it,” he says.

If, for example, a rogue motorist insults you, what is important is how you programme yourself to react.

“It is not about what the other person says, it should be about what you tell yourself. ‘He has ridiculed me, but it doesn’t wound me, so I need not react’,” the psychologist says.

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