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Workplace Stress

Coping with Increased Demands in the Workplace

Today it is quite common for employers to increase demands on employees to work quicker, produce more, and get along with less resource support. It's a problem because of the declining economy that has led to cutbacks and a reluctance to hire or rehire workers even when things turnaround. My concern is that some employers have gotten used to increased expectations for worker performance in the down economy and may be trying to capitalize on it by making permanent cuts in employment. One result is increased job stress as workers struggle to meet expectations, not lose their jobs, provide for their families and cope with unsympathetic bosses.

Some say the reluctance of employers to rehire or expand their employment base is due, at least in part, to rising health care premiums and uncertainty over the ultimate fate of the recently passed health care reform bill.  The problem is we are well into the election cycle and little meaningful change will occur for as long as two years thereby creating a lot of uncertainty and employer angst about the future.  Meanwhile, employees feel more stress and find little support for their concerns in the workplace.

Here's my advice if you face these workplace challenges. First, discuss your concerns with a friend or trusted advisor even before you confront your boss. You may receive advice that influences how you will approach your boss. Perhaps your friend has been there, done that, and he or she can provide insightful thoughts about pitfalls to avoid. Next, ask your boss in a polite, respectful manner, to discuss your concerns. Most bosses will be willing to listen unless they are complete jerks in which case you may want to consider changing your job. I know that's tough in today's economy but stubbornness is not a virtue and can lead to other workplace demands down the road that challenge your ethics. For example, your boss may expect you to cover up some wrongdoing on his part or financial fraud. Your boss should provide a proper ethical tone of openness, caring, and respect for all workers.

If your boss is receptive to your concerns but doesn't change the workplace environment, then you must decide whether it is too much to handle while maintaining a happy and rewarding personal life, or learn coping skills. If you decide to stick it out and meet the workplace demands, then I suggest taking frequent breaks even if it means reducing a one-hour lunch to one-half hour. Even five minute breaks can be refreshing. Learn to meditate or at least close your eyes and try to put the stress out of your mind. Create a vision of peace and harmony such as lying on the beach without a care in the world. If you can do this three or four times a day, you will feel refreshed and better able to try it again.

Everyone is different with respect to how we react to stress. The Type A person is typically high-strung and may even lose his cool when faced with an overbearing or uncompassionate boss. If that's you, please remember it doesn't pay to be incalcitrant. Your boss is your boss with character traits that dictate the workplace environment. A Type B person is easy-going and may be more accepting of excessive workplace demands although what's hidden beneath the surface can be resentment. Of course, many people have traits of both personality types.

My final word of advice is to carefully monitor your health while learning to cope with workplace stress. See a doctor and get baseline data -- blood pressure readings and maybe a stress test. You can repeat those procedures periodically to assess whether you are jeopardizing your health. No job is worth risking serious health issues or worse. The quotist Carrie Latet offers a helpful perspective: "Is everything as urgent as your stress would imply?"

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on August 19, 2011

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