Lessons on Work Related Stress

By Terry Barber

It was a camel-back-breaking kind of week. Two stories surfaced so far illustrating that the stress-factor in the work place is super high right now. The first story I have to credit Daniel Pink for uncovering.  (Even if it turns out that the story is a hoax its a great parable).

The essence of the story is about a woman who overheard her boss refer to her using a derogatory slur. She decided at that point that this was no longer the place where she wanted to be employed.  So she tells her boss, and everyone else on company email, that she is quitting.  And she uses a series of pics of messages on a dry-eraser white board in slide show fashion to totally bust her boss for not only the name calling but also all the wasteful ways the boss spends his time.  Because she had the password to his computer as his assistant, she was able to track exactly how much time he was spending "playing" on Facebook.  It is hysterical.  I have a new level of understanding about passive-aggressive now.

And then there is Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant. It's stuff like this that serves as an incubator for new verbalizations. My guess is the term "Going Slater" will soon be up there with "Going Postal."  Rude passengers everywhere are now on their best behavior because they don't want to get "Slaterized."

The real tragedy in all this is how many people are vicariously living through these two individuals because of the amount of pent up anxiety and stress at work.  The Labor Department just released a report indicating that productivity in non-farm related work fell by .9% in the second quarter.  Yet, unemployment remains above 9% indicating that workers have finally reached that point of diminishing return.  In other words, they were willing to do the work of two for a period of time but it is not sustainable for the long haul.

This is where being more motivated is really not going to help.  Paying people more money might make it more tolerable but again, meeting the demand is really not sustainable.  So I'd like to offer some suggestions on dealing with the high stress factor at work and as always, welcome yours.

Pull the line of offense way back: Having grown up with two brothers, this was always a favorite game to see who was in control. Cross this line and.... We all have mental lines of offense we bring to work.  In Slater's case, the passenger owed him an apology for bumping him on the head with his luggage.  I am not suggesting that you just let people "run all over you." I am suggesting that we can all yield a little more than we do when it comes to being offended.

Play the role of a mediator: Explosive situations never start at the point of impact.  When you see a conflict emerging, take the lead at diffusing it. In the case with Jenny who resigned via email and white board, the situation begs the question, why did not someone in the inner circle of leadership call this guy out?  It's almost like watching a group of high schoolers not wanting to be thought of as the dork for being the one to speak out in defense of this lady

Work is not your whole life! Please don't miss this principle. Work is a very important part of our lives but it does not define us in our entirety.  You are part of a much bigger canvas than you might think.  Maybe it will be in the crucible of the pressure of where you are that prepares you for something bigger.  Perhaps it will take this kind of stress to help you see that your family is more important than any job.  Ask yourself, am I allowing the stress to make me a better person or just a grouchy, irritable person?  How you see your life relative to the bigger picture will help you make the right decision at this point.  If it's all about "work" then the stress will no doubt suck the life out of you.

Practicing these principles will not lesson the demands of work.  Practicing these principles makes you better at dealing with the demands of work.

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