Managing Work Stress
The trouble with work stress is that you often don’t see it while you’re in it. People may see the daily frustrations and stressors (the trees in this analogy), but they can’t see the bigger picture of how work stress is hurting them emotionally, occupationally and physically (the forest).
In the past few weeks, I’ve seen 3 notable clients suffering from the consequences of work stress, one with severe burnout symptoms.
The first one was overqualified for the position she is in but took it because she was worried that a position she was qualified for wasn’t readily available. In the past few years, she has had to endure micromanaging oversimplified instructions from other managers. She is afraid to tell them what she is thinking, for fear of being fired.
The second one gave up on his dream when he came to Canada because of all the bureaucracy and paperwork he had to wait for. After 3 years of waiting without much progress, he changed to a related industry. However, many of his innovative ideas get blocked at his company because the powers that be make decisions based on whom they like and not based on the merits of the idea. Feeling powerless, he sticks with this company because he was taught as a boy that in work, you’ve got to be tough and just “tough things out”.
The third one took a leave of absence from his position to start his own company. However, because of unforeseen circumstances, the business venture failed, he lost a lot of money and he came back to the company asking for his job back.
They said they would give it to him but first they need him to fill an administrative role for a new division they were opening up. Believing he had no choice (he never did challenge them), he took this position. He was bored with it right from the get-go. It got worse as the job demands increased as the year went on. Then they asked him to fill in some evenings to assist with the introduction of the division to potential new clients. By now he was eating poorly, wasn’t sleeping well, was getting more anxious and feeling chest pains. He still was afraid to say “no” to the demands because he is a people pleaser. Within 6 months, he had his first heart attack. Now he is off work and seeing me.
Each of these people couldn’t see the stress they were under because of various reasons:
- Other people were also working under the same conditions, so it must be “normal”
- They didn’t believe they deserved better
- They put the needs of the company ahead of their own
- They couldn’t see that their old beliefs were from childhood – they thought everyone believed the same thing
It is analogous to a fish born into polluted waters. It won’t know the water is polluted because that is all it knew.
Work stress is a big problem. Look at these alarming statistics:
- Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress in the US and Canada and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.
- The St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. has found that, “Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than are any other life stressor-more so than even financial problems or family problems”
- Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. Industry $300 billion annually, as assessed by absenteeism, diminished productivity, employee turnover, direct medical, legal and insurance fees, etc. – more than 20 times the cost of all strikes combined.
With these stats, don’t look to what your co-worker is doing because there is a high likelihood that she is stressed too. The key is to step out of your environment and see what is really going on. You can make some effective changes if you know what to look for.
With respect to my clients...
- The first one is beginning to appreciate and value her true worth and will be looking for something that matches her higher skills.
- The second one is learning that feeling emotions doesn’t mean you are weak – it means you are human and emotions can be used as a measuring stick to decide your next steps in life.
- I am helping the third person to learn to say, ‘no” and begin taking care of himself first.
These are all important lessons and life skills. It’s just that no-one ever taught it to them.