Monday, June 1, 2009

Is Stress Making You Want to Kiss Your Job Goodbye?


For me, one of the great things about Twitter is that is allows me to learn more about what people experience at work every day. It's sort of like being an invisible Spiderman, without the goofy costume. I feel like I can jump from cubicle to cubicle across the world, being a fly, er, spider on the wall.

One of the things I know for sure -- from following people on Twitter and from interviewing them -- is that there is a lot of stress in the workplace. People are overwhelmed by the demands of their job, even though they try and put a positive spin on it: "Wow! Just got a new deadline! Anyone want two tickets to the big concert tonight?" goes a typical Tweet.

Heather Blume asked me if I was hearing that more people who already had jobs were actively looking for work. The stress in current jobs, she said, was really getting to them and she had several people a week asking her if she knew of other positions. That was pretty interesting considering the job market is so tough right now and not expected to improve for a couple of years.

So I called Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University, who spends a lot of time studying the workplace. He was not surprised to hear how many people were willing to leave jobs -- even entire careers -- and join the job hunt.

“A lot of people just don’t have anything to look forward to anymore,” Hochwarter says.“They can’t even look forward to retirement, because they’re going to have to work longer now. Most people haven’t gotten a raise in years. They’re doing the work of five people now, and they just think: ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Blume hears a lot of personal despair every day as she does her job as a Seattle-based recruiter specializing in property management for Career Strategies Inc.

“In the last month or so, I’ve had three or four people a week tell me – on the down-low – that they’ve got to get out of their jobs. It used to be I heard this maybe once a month. Now people are asking me if I’ve got anything for them – they say they’ll take anything to get away from the stress of what they’re doing now,” she says.

While Blume says she doesn’t “poach” from other companies, that doesn’t mean she’s not sympathetic to their plight and will quietly put out “feelers” to try and help them make job contacts. One 20-year-veteran of property management recently told Blume that her job was “eating her soul.” Another said she was looking for contacts in “restaurant work” because she was so burned out and wanted to leave the industry where she had built a successful career.

She adds that those seeking work are at all levels. “I tell them to sit tight, or to think about going back to school,” she says. “But if you’re miserable, it’s hard.”

I decided to call David Benjamin, who often posts comments to this blog and someone else I follow on Twitter, and ask what he was experiencing as a recruiting manager for The Sales Matrix in Detroit. What levels of stress was he seeing?

He noted that while he hears the despair and frustration in the voices of salesmen who are out of work, he also notes that those who are still employed “just don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Salesmen hear ‘no' in this economy a lot more,” Benjamin says. “It just wears on you and beats you down. It ‘s such a grind, such a challenge.”

In a study by Hochwarter, he found that 55 percent of bosses have become more demanding of current workers and more than 70 percent of employees say the recession has increased stress levels at work.

“I’ve never been a big believer that we’ve got good managers, and now with this economy, they’ve lost whatever humanity they had,” Hochwarter says. “They know that they’ve got to meet goals or they start chopping heads. Managers really don’t know what to do during a time like this. We haven’t prepared them for anything like it.”

What do you think the impact of this economic downturn and current job market will have on workers?

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Monday, October 6, 2008

Politics and Money Worries: A Volatile Mixture on the Job


There's no escaping the economic news lately, and most of us go to work every day just trying not to think about our dwindling 401(k) plans or pensions. But even if we're trying to block it out, most of us are carrying an extra level of stress as we try to do a job already demanding more of of us than even a year ago.

Add to that the upcoming presidential election, and we're creating a volatile situation where our workplace can become a boiling point for a lot of pent-up anxieties, says one workplace expert.

Christine Probett, a San Diego State University lecturer and former Goodrich executive, says workers are increasingly anxious, frightened and emotional about the future, and that nervousness with the economy means that clear communications from top brass are critical.

“When people get nervous – as they are now with the economy – it’s really important that companies keep their workers informed about what is going on,” says Christine Porbett. “If they don’t, the rumors will start to fly. People will begin making stuff up.”

I recently interviewed Probett for my Gannett News Service/USAToday.com column, and she says that she was once told by an employee that the way the employee separated fact from fiction was by asking three different people about a rumor. If it was confirmed by those three people, then the employee accepted it as fact – and that meant she could pass it along to other workers.

“In a company, there are enough rumors going around that you can get 100 people to confirm a rumor as fact,” Probett says. “Just because you heard it doesn’t make it fact, but that’s how it happens.”

She says any during tough economic times, every closed-door meeting can spawn speculation among employees.

“If management has a meeting, they better come out of that meeting and communicate about what was discussed with the people who work there,” Probett says. “Even if all they can say is that they can’t talk about it. It’s better than out-and-out-lying about what was said."

Further, Probett says the upcoming elections also have added another layer of drama to a workplace that is already trying to deal with workers stressed by rising consumer prices, unemployment and unsettling news from Wall Street.

She says that employees must be very careful about what they say regarding elections at work, because they might be setting the stage for what is known as a "hostile work environment".

Specifically, under federal law, a “hostile work environment” means that “unwelcome comments or conduct based on sex, race or other legally protected characteristics unreasonably interferes with an employee’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.”

“A lot of people are talking about this election, and it brings up a lot of issues,” Probett says. “We’re either going to have an African-American man as president, or a woman as vice president. There’s a lot of energy and emotion tied up in that. Diversity is one of those issues that creates a lot of tension and disagreement in the workplace, because sometimes it’s hard for one person to understand where someone else is coming from.”

That's why it's important that employees clearly understand what they can and cannot say at work regarding the election. If they're not clear, and the company has no set policy, it might be best to keep a low profile regarding political views. According to an American Management Association survey, 35 percent of business people said they are uncomfortable discussing their political views with colleagues.

“I would discourage people from wearing buttons supporting a specific candidate or party, and not allow signage or fundraising while at work,” Probett says.

If you're having problems with someone at work regarding politics, Probett says you should resolve it as you do any conflict.

“Don’t let the issue get bigger. Talk to the person, and tell them what you believe the problem to be. Don’t name call, and make sure you listen when they talk. Once you understand where the other person is coming from, try to come to a resolution. Then, move on. Don’t hold a grudge,” she says.

Are you feeling more stress on the job? How are you handling it?

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Five People You Gotta Pay Attention To Today

"If you go down the hall to vent to an associate, that's okay. But if the next step is to go upstairs and vent to someone else, then you're holding onto the incident, and it can become very disruptive." -- Matt Grawitch, St. Louis University professor who studies workplace stress.

"Once a CEO is startled by seeing your cleavage, an image is set in his mind that is not going to disappear." -- Michele Royalty, a recently retired executive

"There are profound differences between acceptable work behavior and acceptable school behavior. You rated your professors 'hot or not' -- but you better not do that with your boss." -- Shanti Atkins, employment attorney

"It was just out of my heart, she (the toddler) was pointing and going 'ah, ah...' I should have gone to my purse and got the change, but it was busy." -- Nicole Lilliman, a restaurant clerk who was fired after giving a 16-cent bite-sized doughnut to an agitated child. She was later given back her job after widespread media attention.

"It's so personal, it's so emotional — I tell my artists all the time that I don't know how they do it, because I couldn't deal with the ongoing rejection that seems inherent to the job." -- Jen Bekman, New York City gallery owner, speaking about the life of an artist
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Feeling Like What You Do Is Never Enough

Why are you working so much?

C'mon, I know it's true. You're on your Blackberry at the dinner table, you get up at 4 a.m. just to answer a few e-mails and you've never been in a car without the cell phone to your ear. This is above and beyond the long hours you put in at your desk.

So, again I ask you: Why are you working so much?

Some of you are going to claim it's because you have no choice. You will say it's to please the boss, keep up with the workload, further your career or simply because you have no idea what to do if you're not working. You're worried what someone else will think of you if you're not working. Bottom line: You're scared not to work.

But here's what happens when you work too much: You get anxious. You get mad and depressed. And then you look for someone to blame.

That means you start fighting with your spouse, you yell at your kids, you begin to hate the guy in the cubicle next to yours and you begin to ignore the boss, who you hate more than anyone.

But I've spoken with some very successful people over the years, and whether they're entreprenuers or work for Fortune 100 companies, they've provided some good insight into making sure you control the work, not vise versa.

Some tips:
· Avoiding the “never enough” trap. When surveys ask people how much more money they need to be financially comfortable, without fail they answer 20 percent to 40 percent more than they are making – whether they have an annual salary of $20,000 or $100,000. We always seem to want more, and when we don’t set limits, we can get caught in compulsive behaviors, such as working more hours. But if you don’t set the limits, no one will. Determine what you need to do to be satisfied, and stick to it.
· Evaluate your work. Look at your job from an objective point of view – what would another person you respect say about what you accomplished in one day? Would this person judge it as adequate? If the answer is yes, then you have done enough for one day.
· Make choices. Pick the one or two events outside of work that are most important, and bow out of the rest. While the choices you make may not please everyone, remember that there is nothing in life that pleases everyone.
· Working for completion. If you stick to the thought that you can’t go home until all your work is done, you’re going to be at the office until your body is found covered in cobwebs by co-workers. Keep in mind that the long hours may mean you have some inefficient work habits, such as forgetting to prioritize the most important tasks each day. At the end of your work day, only unimportant tasks should be left – and those can wait until the next day.
· Something came up. It always does. Last minute emergencies do happen, but if they're a regular thing, you need to evaluate what -- or who --is causing it and try to find a way to head it off in the future or remedy the problem so it's not a continual one.

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