August 2014

Stress at Work #2

Stress In The Work Place #2

Stress Prevention and Elimination


Stress Costs You

Stress is a major problem in business and industry today. Stress manifests itself as physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual illnesses, as well as, loss of productivity, loss of sales and occasionally, what appears to be knowing or unknowing sabotage of the job. Stress on the job, like non-work-related stress, is always due to solvable problems. Hence, the employer who is not knowledgeable and alert may suffer unnecessary costs and lowered productivity.


What Causes Stress?

Stress is caused by any situation which is perceived as a threat, whether a real or imagined, to the individual's life or well-being. Most often stress is caused by normal events of daily living which are perceived to be a threat to the individuals well-being, safety or self-image. The event or action which triggers the stress mechanism is usually referred to as the stressor. Any injury or threat of injury can act as a stressor. However, most commonly stress-on-the-job is created by poor communications between employees or between employees and employers.

Stress can also occur from misperception of events or actions of others (fellow employees, managers or customers, etc.) Generally, the situation which triggered the stress was only an event or situation which required resolution of some kind but no solution was either attempted or resulted. The matter was left open and active. When a situation arises where there is a threat of some kind and the situation is resolved it is rare that stress will result or continue. Usually we see these experiences as merely brief encounters and unless there is a pattern they are soon forgotten and we move on.

When stress persists it is generally because the individual did not arrive at a safe way to withdraw from the situation or the stress which was created cannot be released. This occurs when solutions are not found, when the individual's ego gets in the way, when it triggers unresolved events from the past or when the trauma is considered a threat to the picture of their overall well-being.


There Are No Winners When Stress Exists.


Stress, the Manager and The Employer

Stress often presents an enigmatic problem for the employer or manager for his main role is to get the job done, to have it done well, safely and economically. His purpose is not to baby sit or give extreme care and attention to his employees but rather to get his product made, marketed, sold or shipped. The employer, however, often relies on his managers to stay in contact with the needs and the problems of his employees. Usually, neither the employer nor his managers are skilled in recognition of stress nor do they have the time or interest in policing for problems which will lead to stress. Every employer knows that he pays a price for the stress of his employees. The costs of medical care, increased insurance, lost productivity and legal fees are ultimately added to the cost of his product. These costs can ultimately reduce his ability to compete, lower his profits and cause him and his staff significant aggravation.

The employer generally relies on the medical profession to solve his employees' stress problems. He would like to believe that he can refer his employees to his designated Medical Group and that his employees will be helped, their problems solved and that they will be returned fully able and ready to do their jobs. In reality, this rarely happens.

What frequently does happen is that the employee is given 10 to 20 minutes of the physician's or physician assistant's (pa's) time, often stress is never brought up and when it is the employee may be told that it is "all in his head," or is treated with medications. The employee often interprets this as the employer not caring. The employee either returns to work with his problem, is given time off (which adds to the cost of the product or service the company provides) or at best is referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

In some cases this process resolves the original problem but most of the time it does not. Often the problem drags out. The employee becomes more and more frustrated, eventually angry and even hostile. Repeated visits to therapists may not help this. Frequently, the employee gets little or no help at all. Often the situation becomes adversarial. The employer is not able to get what he wants, and the employee is not able to get the results that he desires. This of course, assumes that either side really knows what they want. If this situation is not resolved early in the process, the employee may eventually feel forced to seek legal assistance. The employer may care about the employee but not have the where with all to help him and the employee may feel that the employer is not doing all that he should. The attorneys and physicians, for both sides, soon become so involved in writing reports, protecting the rights of their clients or patients or just involved in making money that the real problem soon is forgotten and often left entirely unresolved. At some point communications breakdown and the problem becomes hopeless. Once this happens, the only ones to win are the doctors and attorneys.

In the end result both the employer and the employee suffer. The employee loses income and suffers pain, fear, anger, hostility, rage and often embarrassment. The employer loses time from his business and may even have to raise the price of his goods and services. The stress levels of both are increased, both of their lives are compromised and for all concerned the overall enjoyment of life may be significantly reduced.


Prevention and Negotiation

There is, however, another possibility. Stress Prevention and Negotiation. I have for a number of years worked with employees and employers and their managers to train them how to identify and eliminate stress before it can become a problem. As a Medical Director and owner of four large medical groups which provided care for more than two hundred companies, I became an expert in the recognition of stress problems. During these years I became aware that the ability of the employer designated medical group to treat stress is based on several very important factors.

The first factor revolves around the skill of the medical staff, and the thoroughness of their intake procedures and their ability to recognize stress problems. Their experience and knowledge in evaluating and treating stress problems. Their interest in stress and their ability to solve stress-related problems. Finally, whether they spend time and talk with the employee or whether they simply prescribe medications to "make the patient feel better." In order to obtain the best results it is essential that the care providers are not only knowledgeable about stress, but that they are capable of assisting in the solution of the problems which have caused the stress.

The second factor that I have found to be significant is that the simplest and most cost effective

way of reducing stress problems-on-the-job, is to educate employers, managers and employees as to what stress is and how to identify it early. As part of this process my staff and I hold stress seminars for management and then employees.

The third factor is the ability to provide impartial, non judgmental, non threatening negotiations which bring the employee and the employer (or manager) together with an intention to solve all of the problems which are creating stress. Generally, either myself or one of my staff act as a mediator as we are impartial and can interpret the dynamics of the stress reaction. While not all problems are immediately solvable, the greatest majority are. The key here to preventing litigation is that any result achieved must be a Win/Win result, both the employer and the employee must win.

It is most essential that all parties have a clear understanding of what stress is, how it affects them and how it harms them, without a clear understanding of stress all parties cannot end up as winners. In this regard the definition of stress becomes extremely important as it allows for a relatively simple understanding of the factors that cause stress and the true nature of the problems at hand and whether solution can be accomplished.


Stress Is The Difference Between
The Way We Want Our World To Be
And The Way It Actually Is


The definition of stress that I use differs from the standard medical model and this is a major factor in why it is so often successful. It presents no medical enigma but rather operates from the level of human experience. My definition of stress is: Stress is the difference between the way we want our world to be and the way it actually is. This definition integrates well with the medical and social model of stress. This definition allows the individual to see that what is causing his or her stress is not really outside of them but rather is internal. It allows them to begin to take responsibility rather than projecting it to people or events outside of them. All that is necessary in using this model is that the people involved really want to obtain a solution. If they do, then the process requires finding common solutions that will work for all parties. If one or more do not really want to solve the problem, then I generally do not get involved for they require a different kind of mediation (arbitration or law suite) which is much more expensive then what I offer.


Four Steps to Stress Management

After agreement to eliminate stress four steps are required to move both parties closer to what they each want.

  • Recognizing the real problem.
  • Recognizing the differences between what both parties want and what can actually happen in reality.
  • Recognizing the similarities in each others goals and necessities.
  • Recognizing the price and losses, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially that will occur from
       not creating a workable agreement.

    In the next article we will discuss some of the physical, emotional and mental costs of stress and how to prevent them.