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Porcupine Polish.
A discussion of Job-Related Stress
 


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Porcupine Polish . . .

          Have you ever mumbled to yourself, "No matter how hard I work, the stack of paper on my desk never gets any smaller."   Be careful! You are showing a signal of job stress. And stress can lead to serious physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, headaches, backaches, acne, as well as depression, sleeping problems, sexual difficulties, and behavioral problems.

          The Building Engineer routinely faces the conflicts of meeting the daily needs of the building, performing preventative maintenance on schedule as well as responding to emergencies, special maintenance requests and breakdowns within the confines of a set budget. Such conflicts often contribute to psychological job-related stress.

          Once, I saw a definition for stress printed on a T-shirt that I thought was eloquent: It said "Stress is stifling the overwhelming desire to choke the living daylights out of someone who desperately deserves it"   But, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)  officially defines job-related stress as "The harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job stress can lead to poor health and even injury."

          The NIOSH report continues, "The concept of job stress is often confused with challenge, but these concepts are not the same. Challenge energizes us psychologically and physically, and it motivates us to learn new skills and master our jobs. When a challenge is met, we feel relaxed and satisfied. Thus, challenge is an important ingredient for healthy and productive work. The importance of challenge in our work lives is probably what people are referring to when they say "a little bit of stress is good for you". "

          The difference between a challenging job and a stressful one, in my opinion, boils down to two factors: control and successful completion. A manager needs to feel he is in control of his job tasks and occasionally needs to successfully complete a task to achieve some job satisfaction. Often managers find the "deck is stacked against" them by management policies, budgets, high workloads, an insufficient or substandard labor force or job expectations that are beyond any written rules of the company. The resulting perception is one of an endless barrage of requests with no reward for completion.   "No matter how hard I work, that stack of paper on my desk never gets any smaller."

           Managers should be concerned about job-related stress, because job burnout goes directly to the bottom line. So, what signs should managers look for to spot stress? Employees complaining of headaches, backaches, acne, sleeping problems or employees who are suddenly drinking or smoking more may be exhibiting outward signs of stress even if they say they are content with their job. Managers should look for the same signs in themselves.

          My friend Jerry was usually remarkable relaxed in the performance of a daunting workload - probably because he knew his stress limit.   When the smile on his face became tight and ungenuine, he would say, "Well, no matter how long you rub, you can't polish a porcupine" and he would go home.  "It will all be here tomorrow", he would say.

          Does that sound like a healthy response to stress? I think so. By activating the mental switch to stop personally identifying with the job and taking some private time away from the workload, Jerry was able to regain his composure and continue in a more relaxed performance of his duties.

We might all take a tip from Jerry:  "It is just a job.   Stress is all in your head.  Don't let it go to your heart."


2003.06.13






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