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Job Stress
Are You Being Controlled by It or Is It Controlling You?

by Bill Malone, MSW, LISW

Are you feeling like you want to quit your job? Do you find yourself humming the song, “Take This Job And Shove It”? Is the idea of going to one more meeting so dissatisfying to you that you fantasize a summer storm knocking down your office building? Is the thought of collecting unemployment compensation appealing to you? Do you find yourself being bored with your work or have you lost your zest, creativity or enthusiasm for your job? Have you been experiencing an increased amount of conflicts with co-workers and/or your boss?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, which I would guess you did, then you have at one point in career experienced job-related stress. Job stress is not limited to any one type of job, but certain jobs like a secretary or office manager in a busy firm might experience more job related stress than let’s say a farmer or a mailman. All jobs come with some degree of stress. Stress is not necessarily a bad thing to have; it is a problem when demands get so great that a person’s normal level of coping no longer is able to handle the amount of stress. When this point is reached the feelings described above start to emerge and without some intervention the worker’s ability to do the job diminishes.

There are two approaches to use when dealing with job stress. The first approach, one which I do not recommend, but one which I have employed, is called the “I’m Tough As Nails”. In this approach the steps for dealing with stress are to: blame others for things that go wrong, work twice as long, don’t take a break and don’t let anyone else take one either; rant and rave; and complain to your boss that your co-worker is incompetent and does not do anything. Last, but not least, have a few beers at night to unwind after, of course, you have come home, criticized your spouse, yelled at the kids and kicked the cat. You are now ready to relax for the night and go out and hit it tomorrow.

The second approach, and the one I teach in my “The Art of Relaxation” class, is divided into two parts. The first part addresses what the individual can do to help himself better cope with the pressures of work and the second part is what the employer can do to reduce the amount of stress produced by a particular job. We will first examine part one.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO REDUCE YOUR JOB STRESS

1. GET ORGANIZED
As humans we tend to be organized and when things get out of whack we start to feel uncomfortable. Getting your priorities straight will help you plan your day and provide you with a road map of where you are going. By doing this, you will find that you will follow a straighter path and not be so overwhelmed and lost.

2. REMEMBER TIME LIMITS
The average worker works 9 hours a day. Trying to fit 12 hours of work in a 9 hour day does not work. It is like putting a square peg in a round hole. This is impossible and attempting to do the impossible leaves one frustrated and feeling like a failure.

3. LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THE PERFECTIONISM
Nothing is perfect nor will it ever be, so stop trying to make every project, every situation and every decision perfect. This leads to a lot of stress. Do your best and leave it at that!

4. DROP THE SUPERMAN APPROACH
Remember, even Superman was affected by kryptonite and the tortoise did win the race. Work at your own pace and maintain a steady flow or rhythm.

5. TRY TO MAINTAIN A POSITIVE ATTITUDE
Negative thinking drains one’s energy and motivation. Think positively about what you are doing. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done even if your boss fails to recognize your work. Celebrate your successes and accomplishments, they are important!

WHAT THE EMPLOYER CAN DO TO REDUCE STRESS FACTORS

Management for the 1990’s is not going to be an simple task. The demands for quality, competition from competitors, here and abroad are requiring a shift in management styles. These changes are also stressful to the managers and those they manage. Getting lean and mean is not enough. Companies who are prospering like Rubbermaid and Toyota are doing so because they are cost-wise, creative and caring.

Caring is an important part of what motivates people. Social Workers and Psychologists have known this fact for years. PEOPLE NEED TO FEEL IMPORTANT, VALUED AND APPRECIATED IN ORDER TO CONTINUE TO PRODUCE AT TOP PERFORMANCES. Let’s look at five simple practices an employer can do for her employees to help reduce the stress level.

1. PRAISE POSITIVE WORK - DON’T TAKE IT FOR GRANTED
B.F. Skinner proved many years ago that if you want a behavior to continue then one needs to reward it. If an employer would make verbally praising employees of how valuable they are, a regular habit, employees would feel important and needed, resulting in a reduction in their stress and an increased commitment to the firm.

2. SHOW APPRECIATION
No one likes to be taken for granted.

3. SEE EVERY EMPLOYEE WITH EQUAL VALUE
The sum is always greater than its parts. The surgeon is only as good as the nurses who help him. The therapist is only as good as his patients’ willingness to trust him and share their problems. We all need each other to produce a product.

4. SEE EACH EMPLOYEE AS DIFFERENT - WITH DIFFERENT NEEDS
People come in varied shapes and sizes and with different emotional needs. The reasons behind what motivates an employee to work are quite different. Some people work for money, some for creative exchange, and some for the social experience. If a manager is able to meet the varying needs, he will find that the productivity of each employee will increase.

5. COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE
Share information with employees. Give clear directions and set reachable goals for your staff. This will insure that everyone in the organization will be successful and when people feel successful they feel good and when they feel good they are more relaxed and when they are more relaxed they work better.

This information is only a small taste of the information that is available on job stress and ways to reduce it. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above and cannot find relief, professional help may be needed.

WHAT THERAPY COULD DO FOR YOU

Psychotherapy may provide you with a means to help you identify the causes of your stress and help you develop a plan to incorporate into your daily life. Therapy may assist you in approaching the problem more effectively. A treatment plan may include a career assessment. Many times job stress occurs because a person is not in his desired position and is afraid to make a change because of unclear goals. Counseling provides directions, perspectives, support and ideas that have not been considered.

Employers may want to know more about “The Art Of Relaxation” class for assisting employees in reducing their stress and becoming more motivated. This class is suitable for a group in-service program on your job location. The benefits of such a program can lead to a better, more creative, and cooperative work environment.

Copyright 1991, 1998 by Bill Malone. All rights reserved.

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