Originally created 01/08/01

Study: Stress is fueling job tensions



A recent nationwide study of workers found workplace tension is rising because of stress caused by unrealistic work goals and rudeness from clients and colleagues.

The survey by Integra Realty Resources Inc., a real estate advisory and appraisal company, polled 1,305 adults in October and November.

They found the following:

Ten percent of those surveyed work in an atmosphere where physical violence has occurred; 42 percent say yelling and verbal abuse take place in their office; 23 percent have cried over work-related issues; and 14 percent have seen someone purposely damage office equipment.

Jim Collison, president of Employers of America, a national association of workplace leaders, said the rise in rage is at least partly because of a culture of victimization and an unjustified sense of entitlement.

"People are being educated through the media that everyone's a victim," he said. "... At the same time, they are conditioned to believe they are entitled to win the lottery. Since the odds are so poor that they'll win the actual lottery, they see it as their right to pick up a few thousand dollars by suing someone."

The seeds for this attitude, he said, are sown before grade school.

"It has to do with how children are raised in the home," he said. "By the time they hit first grade, they believe two things: that they are the center of the universe, and they can get anything they want by screaming for it. Then the little buggers grow up and apply for a job at my company."

Michael Bruening, spokesman for George S. May International Co., which acts as a consultant to small and mid-sized businesses, said the source of rage isn't solely psychological.

The robust economy has increased workloads for many businesses; Mr. Bruening said 82 percent of companies surveyed use the same number of staff members to handle bigger workloads.

Instead of increasing work staffs, employers have heightened expectations.

"Part of job stress is not having issues adequately explained to employees," Mr. Bruening said. "They say, `Here it is - do it.' So employees aren't included in the big picture, and that frustrates them."

He said higher salaries aren't necessarily the answer to relieving the tension - in some cases, a "pep talk" might work better.

"If you give the reason something is needed, you won't need to give them the order to do it," he said. "... One of the elements of good organization is good communication. It's difficult to feel you're doing a valuable job when you don't know why you're doing it."

The National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health reports stress-related health disorders are the most prevalent reason for worker disability.

At least 40 percent of employee turnover is attributed to on-the-job stress. Job stress costs employers an estimated $200 billion to $300 billion annually.

Peggy Kelly has worked for seven years as a training coordinator with the Concern Employee Assistance Program in Augusta, which offers employee counseling and training for supervisors in dealing with workplace relations.

The program serves approximately 40 area companies, providing free, confidential services to their employees.

Counselors do a "cognitive restructuring" to identify and reframe an employee's irrational thoughts. The company also examines lifestyle habits, such as diet and exercise regimens, to determine if they could be a source of irritation.

"I've seen people at an early morning meeting eating Little Debbies and drinking Mountain Dew for breakfast," Ms. Kelly said. "They're liable to be a little more keyed up than others."

Substance abuse can cause office stress and violence because impaired workers lack emotional control. Corporate culture can also play a role. If a company's manager has a short fuse and tends to lead employees by threats and intimidation, the tone tends to have a trickle-down effect. Loose policies or inconsistent handling of rage-fueled incidents can promote workplace violence.

"Some companies breed more of this than others because they tolerate it," Ms. Kelly said. "They allow supervisors to yell at employees. If there's not an organizational tone that this is a problem, then it will escalate."

Workplace stress Top 10

Following are the Top 10 sources of workplace stress, according to Bill Wilkerson, president of the Toronto-based Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health:

10. Treadmill Syndrome: Too much to do at once, requiring a 24-hour workday.

9. Random interruptions.

8. Doubt: Employees aren't sure what is happening, or where things are headed.

7. Mistrust: Vicious office politics disrupt productivity.

6. Unclear company direction and policy.

5. Career and job ambiguity: Things happen without the employee knowing why.

4. Inconsistent performance management processes: Employees get raises but no reviews or get a positive evaluation but are laid off afterward.

3. Being unappreciated.

2. Lack of two-way communication between workers and management.

1. Too much or too little to do: the feeling of not contributing and having a lack of control.

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks15@hotmail.com