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More Stress, Skipped Lunches & Temp Jobs

In the 2011 survey, What’s Keeping HR Leaders Up at Night?, Human Resource Executive® reports that 74% of Human Resources executives say their level of job stress has increased in the past 18 months. Almost one third (32%) blame that on the difficulty they encounter in retaining key talent. “And it absolutely should keep them up at night,” says Wayne Cascio, senior editor of the Journal of World Business and a professor at The Business School at the University of Colorado in Denver. “I would be worried, too, and I’d be especially concerned about replacing high performers.”

This latest survey on the insights and perspectives of 782 senior-level HR executives at organizations nationwide finds that the top two challenges identified in last year’s survey – ensuring employees remain engaged and productive (41%), and retaining key talent as the economy recovers – also remain top of mind for this year’s respondents.

No Lunch For Most Workers

Two thirds of employees either eat lunch at their desk or take no lunch at all, according to a survey by Right Management, a division of global temporary staffing and consulting giant Manpower Inc.  One third of employees, or 34%, said they take a break for lunch, but eat it at their desks. Fifteen percent said they take a break from time to time, while another 16% said they seldom do. Only 35% said they regularly take a break for lunch.

Temporary Jobs Often the Only Game in Town

Staffing employment increased 5.4% from the first to the second quarter of this year, according to data released by the American Staffing Association (ASA). This is the sixth straight quarter of temporary and contract employment growth since the industry began its recovery from the 2007–2009 recession.

The U.S. staffing industry had a healthy second quarter as businesses continued to turn to flexible workforce solutions to meet increases in demand for their products and services—Richard Wahlquist, ASA President and CEO.

“For job seekers the news is also encouraging, as staffing and recruiting firms added more than 200,000 new jobs in the past 12 months.” U.S. staffing firms employed an average of 2.8 million temporary and contract workers from May through June — 8.6% more workers than in the second quarter of 2010.

When Stress Matters Most, What Do You Do?

NeuschwansteinStress is the physiopsychological reaction to a challenge or a threat. It is particularly acute when the stressful event triggers the perception that one’s available resources are insufficient or poorly matched to successfully face it. Take for example our job, a purposeful activity that we engage in as a means of livelihood. On the job, our resources (finances, physical and mental abilities, time, image, and self-concept) are allocated and expended to adequately meet its demands, which carries great potential for stress. Being able to pay attention to warning signs of trouble, of which stress is certainly one of the most prominent, may make a difference in our ability to respond quickly and effectively.

Stress on the job is of the same kind as the threat of a saber-toothed tiger—not the same, but of the same kind. Should we ever find ourselves face to face with the feline, our body would instantly spring into full mobilization mode. The heart rate would go up, respiration would increase in depth and frequency, muscles would tense and pupils dilate, the stomach would contract, and adrenaline and other excitatory hormones would flood into the bloodstream. We would be faced with three possible choices: fight, flight or freeze.

When face to face with a job challenge of a serious nature (loss of a major client, a sudden promotion, the loss of the job itself, a major breakthrough), we are alerted to a threat and our body instantly springs into full mobilization mode, with the same biological changes as when in a close encounter with the wild cat. The threat or challenge may be very different, with linoleum under our feet instead of savanna grasses, but the body doesn’t care—a threat is a threat. We are faced with the same three possible choices: fight, flight or freeze.

Even when we know we are not going to suffer physical harm, the body can’t help but to prepare for the worst. Our chances of being killed by wildlife or to compete with the tiger for our lunch are abysmally small. The last saber-toothed tiger became extinct sometime between the Oligocene and the Pleistocene epoch. Yet, we humans continue to be instinctively and instantly mobilized when we perceive a threat of any kind. Which is a good thing.

The usefulness of stress throughout or history is undeniable. Many more of our ancestors would have been killed had they not perceived the appearance of predators as a possible threat. A great many probably did get killed when they chose the option to freeze. Others, owing to inadequate weapons, got killed while exercising their option to fight. And still others were not fast enough to take full advantage of the opportunity to flee. To be sure, one hundred percent of those who saw no threat in the approaching tiger and lingered to consider the size of her teeth, or in other words, those who felt no stress in the situation, were swiftly eliminated from the genetic pool by a process of natural selection.

Fast forward to the present, and General Motor and Chrysler executives must have felt pretty safe from the saber-toothed tigers of competition and market change, because up until the last minute they felt no real stress from their falling sales (except for SUVs) and dwindling customer base (except for SUV buyers). How many people lost their job in the current recession and never saw it coming? Or saw it coming and froze? Or didn’t flee soon enough, or did not fight for change? Stress told Ford executives to come up with a plan, a better plan as it turns out. One wishes that GM and Chrysler executives had felt a little bit more stressed out, a bit more mobilized into action, less complacent and relaxed. Stress is a bright amber light on the dashboard of our life that simply says, something requires our attention—NOW. More often than not, the light is right.

Growing Interest in Pastor Stress and Burnout

The issue of the biopsychosocial consequences of acute and chronic stress on church ministers has attracted nationwide attention over the last few years, and the level of attention appears to be on the increase. Our post Stress and Burnout Endanger Clergy Health published on August 4, 2010 rapidly rose to second all-time most-read among Stresshacker readers. Clearly, the issue stirs interest among all of us, and especially pastors, church leaders and judicatories, not only for its health implications, but also for the consequences of chronic stress on interpersonal relationships, productivity, job satisfaction, the danger of burnout and of increasingly rapid turnover among church leaders of all denominations.

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Obesity 18, 1867-1870 (September 2010) published the research High Rates of Obesity and Chronic Disease Among United Methodist Clergy by Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell and Sara H. LeGrand.

Researchers used self-reported data from United Methodist clergy to assess the prevalence of obesity and having ever been told certain chronic disease diagnoses.

Of all actively serving United Methodist clergy in North Carolina (NC), over 95% (n = 1726) completed self-report height and weight items and diagnosis questions from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS).

The questionnaires were used to calculate BMI categories and diagnosis prevalence rates for the clergy and to compare them to the NC population using BRFSS data. The obesity rate among clergy aged 35–64 years was 39.7%, or 10.3% higher than their NC counterparts in the general population.

Clergy also reported significantly higher rates of having ever been given diagnoses of diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, angina, and asthma compared to their NC peers.

This research is the most recent, most completed and empirically validated. Clearly it does not address but a few of consequences of stress and burnout. Its results cannot be extrapolated to other organizations, other locales and other manifestations of stress. Nonetheless, it is valuable as a snapshot that identifies an area of investigation that is worth exploring.

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Clergy Members Suffer From Burnout, Poor Health was broadcast by National Public Radio on Talk of the Nation (August 3, 2010) with guests: Paul Vitello, religion reporter, New York Times; Robin Swift, director of health programs at the Clergy Health Initiative, Duke University Divinity School.

The broadcast discusses how priests, ministers, rabbis and imams are generally driven by a sense of duty to answer calls for help. The guests touch on research, which shows that in many cases, pastors rarely find time for themselves. The hypothesis of the broadcast is that members of the clergy suffer from higher rates of depression, obesity and high blood pressure, and many are burning out. Listen to Talk of the Nation: Clergy Burnout [30 min 18 sec]

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Taking a Break From the Lord’s Work, written by Paul Vitello and published in The New York Times (August 1, 2010)

“Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could.”

Also published in the New York Times, Congregations Gone Wild, written by G. Jeffrey MacDonald (August 7, 2010)

“But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people. As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.”


Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, has been widely quoted to have said:

The four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in this order) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and a pastor.

The setting in which this quote was uttered is unknown, but it continues to be reported as factual. A recent retelling of this quote can be found here.


Episcopal clergy ‘very stressed,’ but ‘very happy’, written by Herb Gunn and published in the official web site of the Episcopal Church USA (August 12, 2010)

“Through analysis articulated in the Clergy Wellness Report (2006) and the initial findings of the Emotional Health of Clergy Report (2010), we have observed that there is more to the challenge of clergy stress than fickleness of congregations and the cultural pressures of increased consumerism among churchgoers.

This research points to interesting conclusions that differ slightly from the research Vitello noted, as well. CREDO’ s research found that the only major health factor for which Episcopal clergy are at greater risk than the larger population is stress. Yet, remarkably, work-related stress, which frequently leads the general population to employment dissatisfaction, job loss or job change, exists alongside notably lower “turnover intent” for Episcopal clergy. Compared to the general population, Episcopal clergy report significant levels of well-being, self-efficacy and meaning in their work.”


What Pastors Want, written by Rich Frazer of Focus On the Family (2009).

“We in the United States lose a pastor a day because he seeks an immoral path instead of God’s, seeking intimacy where it must not be found.

Focus On the Family statistics state that 70% of pastors do not have close personal friends, and no one in whom to confide. They also said about 35% of pastors personally deal with sexual sin. In addition, that 25% of pastors are divorced.”


On the cost and grace of parish ministry – Part III, written by Jason Goroncy and published on the Christian-themed blog Cruciality (August, 2010)

Mistaken attitudes to the issue surrounding clergy burnout are not helped by the frequent interchangeability of the terms ‘burnout’ and ‘stress’. While related phenomena, burnout and stress describe different realities. In his wee booklet Ministry Burnout (Grove Books, 2009), Geoff Read makes the point that ‘stress is essentially the physiological or psychological response to many different sorts of situations and demands … Burnout is one response to sustained exposure to certain sorts of stressors. A person reaches a state of burnout when the three factors of emotional exhaustion, detachment and sense of lack of achievement have reached a level of such severity that the person’s ability to function is significantly impaired’ (p. 6).”

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This is a list of sources that have published statistics, from various sources, on the state of physical, relational, managerial and financial health of church ministers across a wide spectrum of US denominations. Some of the statistics are second- or third-hand reports of data published elsewhere, and the original source is not always identifiable. Thus, readers are cautioned about drawing specific conclusions from these data.

Pastor Burnout Statistics by Daniel Sherman. Many of Mr. Sherman’s numbers below come from H. B. London’s book, Pastors at Greater Risk:

  • 13% of active pastors are divorced
  • Those in ministry are equally likely to have their marriage end in divorce as general church members
  • The clergy has the second highest divorce rate among all professions
  • 23% have been fired or pressured to resign at least once in their careers
  • 25% don’t know where to turn when they have a family or personal conflict or issue
  • 25% of pastors’ wives see their husband’s work schedule as a source of conflict
  • 33% felt burned out within their first five years of ministry
  • 33% say that being in ministry is an outright hazard to their family
  • 40% of pastors and 47% of spouses are suffering from burnout, frantic schedules, and/or unrealistic expectations
  • 45% of pastors’ wives say the greatest danger to them and their family is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual burnout
  • 45% of pastors say that they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence from ministry
  • 50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 52% of pastors say they and their spouses believe that being in pastoral ministry is hazardous to their family’s well-being and health
  • 56% of pastors’ wives say that they have no close friends
  • 57% would leave the pastorate if they had somewhere else to go or some other vocation they could do
  • 70% don’t have any close friends
  • 75% report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear, and alienation
  • 80% of pastors say they have insufficient time with their spouse
  • 80% believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively
  • 90% feel unqualified or poorly prepared for ministry
  • 90% work more than 50 hours a week
  • 94% feel under pressure to have a perfect family
  • 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout, conflict, or moral failure
  • Doctors, lawyers and clergy have the most problems with drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide.

The following pastor demographic and church statistics compiled by Mr. Sherman come from George Barna’s book, Today’s Pastors: A Revealing Look at What Pastors Are Saying About Themselves, Their Peers and the Pressures They Face:

  • 97% of pastors are male
  • The median age is 44
  • 96% are married
  • 80% have a bachelors degree and half have a master’s degree placing the pastorate among the most educated professions – but among the lowest paid as well
  • The average length of a pastorate is about four years
  • The median pastor salary is about $32,000 a year including housing allowance and other benefits, while the national average among married couples (1991) was nearly $40,000
  • 24% of the American population is 50 or older but 51% of church attenders are at least 50 years old
  • 40% of church attenders read the bible during the week
  • 30% of congregation members would seek help from their pastor during a difficult time in their lives
  • 53% of pastors believe that the church is showing little positive impact on the world around them
  • 60% of pastors believe that church ministry has negatively impacted their passion for church work
  • 51% of pastors expect that the average attendance at their church will increase by at least 10% in the coming year
  • 4% of senior pastors (say they) have a clear vision for their church

The following list of pastor statistics (and the comments that accompany them) was compiled by Jim Rose of Year of Jubilee. In some instances, the primary or secondary source of the data is provided.

  • More than 70% of pastors do not have a close friend with whom they can openly share their struggles. The dominant cause for pastors to leave the pastoral ministry is burnout. Number two is moral failure. These are alarming statistics.
  • 80% of pastors believe the pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families (Life Enrichment Ministries – 1998)
  • Only 50% of pastors felt that the education they received adequately prepared them for ministry. Most pastors rely on books and conferences as their primary source of continuing education. (George Barna – 2002)
  • 25% of all pastors don’t know where to go for help if they have a personal or family conflict or concern. 33 percent have no established means for resolving conflict. (George Barna – 2002)
  • 40% have no opportunity for outside renewal like a family vacation or continuing education. There is a very clear relationship between the amount of time a pastor takes for personal renewal and his satisfaction in his job. (George Barna – 2002)
  • At any given time, 75% of pastors in America want to quit. (Church Resource Ministries – 1998)
  • More than 2000 pastors are leaving the ministry each month (Marble Retreat Center 2001)

Several web sites cite research done in the 1991 Survey of Pastors by The Fuller Institute of Church Growth. This institute, connected with Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, does not have a web site and may no longer be in activity.  The original research could not be located for this post. The numbers refer to the situation as it may have existed among pastors over twenty years ago. It may indicate that what pastors are experiencing now is not new.

  • 90% of US pastors work more than 46 hours a week
  • 80% believed pastoral ministry affected their families negatively
  • 33% believed ministry was a hazard to their family
  • 75% reported a significant stress related crisis at least once in their ministry
  • 50% felt themselves unable to meet the needs of the job
  • 90% felt inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands
  • 70% say they have a lower self esteem now compared to when they started in ministry
  • 40% reported serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month
  • 37% confessed to having been involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with someone in the church
  • 70% do not have someone they consider a close friend

Alan Fadling  published the following ministry burnout statistics in 2009, unfortunately without referencing the source of his data.

  • Churchgoers expect their pastor to juggle an average of 16 major tasks
  • Pastors who work fewer than 50 hours a week are 35 percent more likely to be terminated.
  • 87 percent of Protestant churches have full-time paid pastors.
  • 50 percent of all congregations in the United States are either plateauing or declining
  • Two-thirds of pastors reported that their congregation experienced a conflict during the past two years; more than 20 percent of those were significant enough that members left the congregation
  • The typical pastor has his/her greatest ministry impact at a church in years 5 through 14 of his pastorate; unfortunately, the average pastor lasts only five years at a church.
  • 90 percent of pastors work more than 46 hours a week.
  • 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively.
  • 75 percent report they’ve had a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 50 percent feel unable to meet the needs of the job.
  • 40 percent report a serious conflict with a parishioner at least once a month.
  • 40 percent of pastors say they have considered leaving their pastorates in the last three months.
  • 19 percent of pastors indicate that they’d been forced out of ministry at least once during their ministry; another 6 percent said they’d been fired from a ministry position

The Francis Schaeffer Institute Statistics on Pastors was compiled by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir. The numbers and his comments are published here verbatim.

“Here are some startling statistics on pastors; FASICLD (Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development). This quest started in 1989 as a Fuller Institute project that was picked up by FASICLD in 1998.

From our recent research we did to retest our data, 1050 pastors were surveyed from two pastor’s conferences held in Orange County and Pasadena, CA—416 in 2005, and 634 in 2006 (I conducted a similar study for the Fuller Institute in the late 80s with a much greater sampling).

Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
Nine hundred forty-eight (948 or 90%) of pastors stated they are frequently fatigued, and worn out on a weekly and even daily basis (did not say burned out).

Nine hundred thirty-five, (935 or 89%) of the pastors we surveyed also considered leaving the ministry at one time. Five hundred ninety, (590 or 57%) said they would leave if they had a better place to go—including secular work.
Eighty- one percent (81%) of the pastors said there was no regular discipleship program or effective effort of mentoring their people or teaching them to deepen their Christian formation at their church (remember these are the Reformed and Evangelical—not the mainline pastors!). (This is Key)

Eight hundred eight (808 or 77%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they did not have a good marriage!
Seven hundred ninety (790 or 75%) of the pastors we surveyed felt they were unqualified and/or poorly trained by their seminaries to lead and manage the church or to counsel others. This left them disheartened in their ability to pastor.

Seven hundred fifty-six (756 or 72%) of the pastors we surveyed stated that they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons or lessons. This left only 38% who read the Bible for devotions and personal study.
Eight hundred two (802 or 71%) of pastors stated they were burned out, and they battle depression beyond fatigue on a weekly and even a daily basis.

Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

Two hundred seventy (270 or 26%) of pastors said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were adequately fed spirituality. (This is Key).

Two hundred forty-one (241 or 23%) of the pastors we surveyed said they felt happy and content on a regular basis with who they are in Christ, in their church, and in their home!

Of the pastors surveyed, they stated that a mean (average) of only 25% of their church’s membership attended a Bible Study or small group at least twice a month. The range was 11% to a max of 40%, a median (the center figure of the table) of 18% and a mode (most frequent number) of 20%. This means over 75% of the people who are at a “good” evangelical church do not go to a Bible Study or small group (that is not just a book or curriculum study, but where the Bible is opened and read, as well as studied), (This is Key). (I suspect these numbers are actually lower in most evangelical and Reformed churches because the pastors that come to conferences tend to be more interested in the teaching and care of their flock than those who usually do not attend.)”

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Forced to Lie About Stress

aaDelacroix_1852_LaMerADieppeA full 36% say it’s stomach upset, 13% that it’s a cold; 12% claim to have a headache, 6% a medical appointment; 5% blame it on a bad back. The rest cite a variety of reasons, from housing problems to the illness of a loved one or the death of a beloved relative, for not showing up for work. None of it is true. What’s going on? In most cases, nothing more than an intense stress reaction forces 19% of workers to call in sick, yet as many as 93% feel compelled to lie to their boss and coworkers about the real reason for missing work.

Although employees are willing to go to great lengths to cover up their dangerously high stress levels, the vast majority do not like having to lie: 70% say that they long to be able to discuss stress with their employers. While some try, most can’t seem to find the courage to bring it up and remain hopeful that their boss will make the first move and approach them directly when they show signs of strain. Few employers do.

Millions of people experience unmanageable stress at work, and the fact that so many people feel forced to lie about it rather than finding a solution should be a major concern for our businesses. If employees don’t feel they can be honest about the pressures on them, problems that aren’t addressed can quickly snowball into low morale, low productivity and high sick leave. We’d urge employers to encourage a culture of openness at work so they can solve problems now, rather than storing up problems for the future.–Paul Farmer, Mind Research

These sobering statistics were published in a study released by the British mental health research group Mind, an organization which campaigns vigorously to promote and protect good mental health and advocates that people with experience of mental distress are treated fairly, positively and with respect.

Not being able to come clean clean on workplace stress claims its toll: 62% of employees feel their bosses aren’t doing enough to look after the well-being of their staff and resent this apparent neglect. One in five becomes physically ill from stress, but only 10% seek help from their doctor or from a counselor on specific issues of stress. Doctors and therapists are often told a different reason, at least initially, for the symptoms the individual may be experiencing.

Stress-related symptoms still appear to carry a stigma in the workplace, as stress may be associated, at least in Western cultures, with a negative perception of one’s ability to manage a heavy workload. In this day and age, the fear of being perceived as a stressed out (and therefore unproductive) worker may have the power to trump honesty and reasonable self-care.

Mild to Deadly: Stress At Work

CloudToGround_EN-US2741696585 Stress at work can take many forms and range in severity from mild annoyance to burnout. It may be relatively easy to tell if co-workers appear to be under severe stress by observing the appearance and persistence of certain characteristic behaviors. It may not be so easy to diagnose dangerous levels of stress in ourselves, however, especially when other considerations of self-esteem, personal ambition to succeed, economic pressure, deadline requirements, and career goals may interfere with a sound and unbiased self-diagnosis.

Mild vs. Severe Stressors: It’s About Control

The first consideration is the severity of the stressors. Are they mild and can they be addressed by making appropriate adjustments? Stressors such as a noisy environment, not knowing one’s job objectives, and skipping meals can be (although not always) addressed by closing the door, asking for clarification, and committing to take lunch and snack breaks as needed.

The second consideration is whether or not the stressors are under our control. The presence or lack of control creates an internal vs. external locus of control situation, with important psychological consequences (see this post on the difference between internal and external locus of control).

Stressors that are beyond our control are far more difficult to address, as for example when there are too many things to do and not enough resources to get them done. Its opposite, the situation when there is hardly anything to do at all, is also stressful and may not have an easy solution.

Other relatively difficult stressors that may not have a solution within our control is not enjoying the job, and not knowing what else one could be doing or being in a situation where a change of job is just about impossible. In the current job market, this may not be an uncommon situation, as jobs that used to be good have become more stressful and jobs that were bad to begin with have not gotten any better.

Another difficult stressor where external control may be an issue is the experience of being caught between conflicting demands, often with insufficient information or resources to address them appropriately. Not feeling appreciated or under-appreciated while putting in long hours and hard work can also create a considerable level of stress.

On the other hand, many stressors can be successfully addressed because they do fall within our control. The most common are interruptions and how they are handled (the well-known inability to say “no”). Another is poor delegation skills, or not sharing work responsibilities with others. These are two examples of stressors that, although not easily eliminated, at least can be controlled and limited in their impact by making changes that are well within our possibilities.  

When Stress at Work Is too Much: Burnout

There are times when the symptoms of stress are just too severe, too persistent and too intractable to be dismissed. They interfere not only with productivity and efficiency on the job, but they also have important negative health consequence in addition to being detrimental to interpersonal relationships at work and at home. The resulting complex cluster of psychological, physical and behavioral symptoms is defined as occupational stress or, for short, burnout.

The emotional exhaustion of burnout can result in diminished interest in work, fatigue, and detachment. Hopelessness is common: we "give in," "numb out," and "march like robots through the day."

The depersonalization of burnout, or the defensive distancing from the surrounding world, can result in diminished contact with coworkers and the public, withdrawal of psychological investment, self-absorption, and an overall negative attitude toward others.

The dissatisfaction of burnout, or the perception of unsatisfactory personal accomplishment, can result in feelings of failure, fatalism, diminished competence, and incapacity to respond to further job, personal and environmental demands.

Early Warning Signs of Work Stress

One of the first noticeable signs that stress is beginning to have a behavioral impact is irritability. Fellow workers will notice this first. They may or may not be able to point it out, but if they do, it is worth paying attention to their feedback and asking ourselves a few questions.

The second sign is fatigue. Even though it is hard to miss, fatigue very often goes unchecked not because it isn’t visibly affecting us but because we may refuse to acknowledge it. Pushing harder can become a mantra, a repetitive “principle-driven” set of behaviors that pushes rest and relaxation aside, with potentially serious health consequences.

Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness are also early signs of severe stress. Sometimes, stress affects memory in such a severe manner that, by evening time, we can’t remember what we did all day, or what we ate for breakfast.

Sleep ceases to be a safe haven for regenerating and recharging and becomes a place of torture. Lack of sleep is linked to so many health consequences, and to stress itself, in a circular causality pattern. Less sleep means more vulnerability to stress, which leads to more stress by the time we get to bed, with even less chances of getting a good night’s sleep. A potentially deadly vicious cycle!

The body complains about stress, too. Its messages take the form of bowel irritation, chronic fatigue, asthma and other respiratory ailments, headaches, rashes, tics, cramps, and many more pains and problems that appear to come out of nowhere and stubbornly refuse to go away.

Finally, withdrawal and depression may raise their ugly head. Burnout has arrived. It may take a few years to get here, or maybe just a few months of severe stress. In any case, burnout may be the end game of one very simple losing strategy: ignoring the obvious, steaming through the warning signs and hoping that stress will just go away by itself.

How Great Companies Minimize Employee Stress

How do truly outstanding companies minimize their employees’ stress? What programs do they implement that appear to make it easier to join the company, fit in well within the organization, grow and prosper as an employee?  In their book, Best Practices in Talent Management: How the World’s Leading Corporations Manage, Develop, and Retain Top Talent, Goldsmith and Carter provide a wealth of examples of on-boarding and talent retention programs that facilitate difficult transitions, demystify the process of change, and contribute greatly to reducing tension and work stress.

The book is the Stresshacker Recommended selection for this week.

[amtap book:isbn=0470499613]

Among the case studies highlighted as best practices:

Avon Products: Clear Objectives = Clearer Execution. This case illustrates the practical implications of defining objectives around “executing on the what” as well as “differentiating on the how.” In other words, simple, well-executed practices communicated through an executive coaching model.

Bank of America: A truly exceptional executive on-boarding program. The B of A’s new hire turnover rate of approximately 12% compares to estimates as high as 40% turnover in large corporations. On-boarding reduces the stress of being new to a large company because it is a socialization process rather than just an orientation program.

Corning Corporation: Making use of the collective wisdom of internal experts rather than relying solely on external consultants. Corning seeks to grow “innovation leaders” through a well-designed 5-step development process.

Ecolab: Employees are successfully integrated into the organization’s corporate culture and values. Values include spirit, pride, determination, commitment, passion, and integrity.

General Electric: To high-stress jobs, GE applies a process of sorting (separating necessary from unnecessary items), setting in order (arranging items in sequence of use), shining (maintaining the work area), standardizing (ensuring consistent application of sorting, setting in order, and standardizing), and sustaining (maintaining and improving the previous four steps).

Kaiser Permanente Colorado Region: A practical approach for addressing the not-uncommon problem of an organization that was too reliant on hiring new people without seeking to develop the people who were already there.

Microsoft: A judicious application of research conducted by the Corporate
Leadership Council (CLC) to real-world problems in the organization. Employee development is organized around five key areas: senior leadership commitment to developing people, managers continuing engagement in the process, promotion of open interpersonal contact among employees throughout the organization, communication of development plans with clear goals, and targeting of on-the-job work experiences to build skills and competency.

6 Worst and 6 Better Ways to Manage Time

How much can time management cost in terms of stress and health risk? It depends on how we choose to manage it. Some choices appear more effective but have short-term benefits and high cost. Others appear lower in stress and health cost but do not seem to use time efficiently. What’s the right answer?

Let’s look at some of the most popular time management approaches, their costs and benefits in terms of allostatic load and stress-related health risk, and an estimate of their long-term effectiveness in getting things done.

  1. Manage time resources allowing for ample relaxation time and with the goal of avoiding all stress.
    couchpotatoAllostatic Load: Probably low to very low.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably low. There may be other health risks connected with low physical activity levels.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably not great at getting things done in a timely manner.
    Not all stress is bad and to be avoided. We experience the stress reaction not only in terms of frustration and anxiety, but also as excitement, thrill, energy and useful motivation. The attempt to eliminate all stress from our life would run counter to our biopsychosocial nature, which requires stimulation, interaction and activity.
    The Better Way: Achieve balance between work and relaxation, family and job demands, personal time and social time, activity and rest.
  2. Manage time resources on a moment-to-moment basis with little or no planning ahead because planning itself just takes more time. frantic-harrison-ford1
    Allostatic Load:
    Probably high.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as stress symptoms may be ignored.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably very good at getting some things done in the short term, giving the illusion of long-term efficiency.
    Frantically going from crisis to crisis, handling each new task as it comes up, without assigning priorities or allocating resources is a reactive approach to time management. It can appear chaotic to the observer. Each new challenge is met head-on and is always “new” because there is little or no provision made in advance.
    The Better Way: Plan ahead for demands and challenges that can be predicted, anticipated and prepared for. Planning indicates self-care, not weakness.
  3. Manage time resources and get more done in less time by using caffeine, sugar, alcohol, nicotine, “energy” drinks or other chemical enhancers. crash
    Allostatic Load:
    Probably high, but masked by chemical “fixes.” Chronic stress.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as useful stress signals for rest may be ignored, sleep suppressed, nutrition casual and expedient.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably very good at getting many things done in the short term.
    When using chemical means to increase energy and output over what the body can safely handle before needing to rest and replenish depleted resources, quality of output is likely to suffer and efficiency to diminish. The illusion of strength that can be derived from these forms of self-medicating fatigue may be merely postponing a crash,  intoxication, tolerance and, in some cases, addiction.
    The Better Way: Listen to the body’s signals. View natural sleep as vitally important, wisely use times of pause and relaxation to recharge depleted resources. Avoid becoming dependent on chemical substances to function.
  4. Take stress and inefficiencies to mean that there isn’t enough time to get done what needs to get done, and that just having more time would “easily” fix it.
    lastminuteAllostatic Load: Probably high.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as stress symptoms may be ignored.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Probably okay to get some things done in the short term, but poor long-term efficiency.
    Actually, a time management problem is not using time to the fullest advantage, and to get done what needs to be done with just the right amount of energy expenditure, no more no less. Simply adding more time slots to the schedule, cramming a full to-do list, and shortchanging quality is a short-term strategy.
    The Better Way: Find an optimal schedule that fits available energy and mental resources levels, and stick to it. Say “no” to some demands as a key to preserving balance between rest and activity.
  5. View being always very busy, and generally busier than others, as a badge of honor and a sure pathway to success.
    workaholic Allostatic Load: Probably very high, chronic stress.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, as the need for balance may be dismissed.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Can lead to some success in the short term, but may take the highest toll on physical, mental and social health.
    Although this approach is by far the preferred one by type A individuals who take pride in being productive and getting a lot of things done, it has significant drawbacks. There is an an adjective that describes its devotees: workaholic. Being always extremely busy can result in poor allocation of resources, i.e. doing mostly what is considered urgent and too seldom what is truly important.
    The Better Way: Work is a means and not an end unto itself. Success is also measured by other yardsticks besides those of wealth and power. Balance is valued as a smart, resource-efficient strategy for long-term success in all facets of life.
  6. Pursuing time management strategies that ignore the truth: I feel pretty good, I am getting things done, so I must not be too stressed.
    IBS Allostatic Load: Probably very high.
    Stress-related Health Risk: Probably high, symptoms of stress go unnoticed.
    Long-term Effectiveness: Can lead to some success in the short term, but may take a high toll on physical, mental and social health.
    In reality, many adults don’t even know when they are at dangerously high stress levels until their bodies tell them so in a dramatic way, e.g. when sudden chest pains lead them to the nearest emergency room. It is easy to miss the early warning signs of chronic stress, as long as coping still works, more or less. Many psychosomatic illnesses are directly related to stress and overwork but are attributed to other causes or even ignored altogether.
    The Better Way: Listen to the body’s signals. View pain as a precious ally that alerts us to something in our system that requires immediate attention, and self-care as more than just a quick fix that kills the signal without addressing the cause.

Women’s Heavy Burden of Stress-Gets Heavier

Lake Wanaka at Stresshacker.comThe most recent survey of stress in America indicates that women continue to bear the heavier burden of stress, particularly due to financial concerns and worries over their family’s health and family responsibilities. Women consistently report more physical and emotional stress than men, and are more likely to lack the willpower to make changes recommended by health care providers, the survey results also show. What is causing this unhealthy gender bias? Allostasis, or more precisely allostatic load, is the key to understanding gender differences in stress. Let’s first understand allostasis, its benefits, and potential dangers.

Allostasis: Too Much of a Good Thing

Allostasis defines the processes that attempt to maintain the body’s internal stability in the face of physical or psychological challenges. Physiological and behavioral changes are initiated automatically during the stress reaction to external environmental and developmental threats, such as danger, conflict, financial worries, interpersonal difficulties, family and job demands, and other life stressors. Allostasis as a process is a very good thing and aids in survival and coping. It can work well at restoring the body’s equilibrium and ensure an adequate response to the threat. However, allostatic processes can cause physical and psychological damage when they extend beyond their intended short-term activation. This prolonged state of activation creates a burden on the system, known as the allostatic load.

Four factors can contribute to the formation of a heavy allostatic load:

  1. Repeated physical or psychological challenges (e.g., prolonged financial stress, a stressful job, multiple and conflicting demands of time and resources, a serious illness, childhood trauma, adult abuse or violence)
  2. Inability to adapt to these repeated challenges (the feeling of being at the end of one’s rope)
  3. Inability to produce an adequate response to the stressor (such as the phenomenon of learned helplessness, depression or anxiety)
  4. Inability to end the stress reaction even after the stressor has been removed (chronic stress)

Allostatic load accumulates over time. The continuation of multiple small changes in physiological and psychological functioning (which are meant to be only short-term), due to a persisting state of alert against perceived threats (the classic stress syndrome), creates the potential for illness.

What Happens to the Body During Allostasis

During the normal stress response and the body’s process of allostasis, the stress hormones serum dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine are secreted into the blood stream. The immune system and neurological responses are activated, along with muscular, cardiovascular and pulmonary system. Alongside these physical reactions, psychological changes take place in response to anxious, fearful, hostile or aggressive states produced by the stressor. Behavioral changes also occur in trying to cope with the stressor, sometimes consisting of alcohol abuse and other substances,  working too many hours, or exercising compulsively. Sleep disturbances, depression and other psychological symptoms are usually the first evidence of an increasing allostatic load.

At the physiological level, allostatic load can cause atrophy of the hippocampus and structural changes in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, resulting in a more or less severe impairment in spatial learning and memory. Certain tell-tale physical responses are also indicative of a heavier allostatic load: higher blood pressure, changes in waist-hip ratio, higher serum high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and cholesterol, and glycosylated hemoglobin levels.

These psychophysical changes, though helpful in the short run, can cause damage. This damage is the cost of maintaining an allostatic state longer than is optimal for health. Numerous studies of allostasis show the risk of stress-induced illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and immune/auto-immune disorders.

What about the effects of allostatic load on women?  Details after the jump.

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Successful Leadership: What Does It Take?

David_NapoleonSt-Bernard In reporting the results of a global survey, Michael Haid discusses the factors that contribute most to exceptional leadership performance. It turns out that it is not what leaders know, i.e. their skill set, but it is how they fit in their company’s culture, how they are motivated by opportunities within the organization, and how they interact with those around them that result in high performance. Read more

Coaching Insights: Stretched or Stressed

Vermeer_1662_Art_of_painting Whether work demands stress or simply stretch is a subjective assessment and is often a matter of degree or accumulation. Subjectively, what may be stressful for one individual may be stimulating or productive in another.

I’ve been an air traffic controller at Kennedy International Airport for 20 years. Most people would call this job high-stress, but I thrive on it. You either love this type of job or you quit, or you never get into it in the first place. You’d think I was the type of kid who loved excitement or always took chances. I wasn’t. I could never be a firefighter and go into a burning house. That would be stressful. It’s just not in my makeup. (…) While we’re working, we’re “in the zone.” We work for two hours and then take a break. It’s mandatory. I don’t care how good someone is, after directing busy traffic for awhile, you need to decompress. At the end of those two hours, you know you’ve done a good job if the planes assigned to you were within the limits. I like that instant feedback.
Stephen Abraham

Degrees of stress or its accumulation also matter in determining stress vs. stretch. One may be able to manage stressful situations quite well at work (where specific motivation, competencies, skills and experience may come into play) but not in other aspects of life such as relationships, parenting, nutrition, fitness (where different skills may be required).

One way to determine whether work demands constitute simple stretch or even stimulating arousal that leads to more productive results, or instead cross over into the harmful stress category is by assessing balance. See a simple how-to after the jump. Read more

Business of Stress: Organizational Change

Kandinsky_YellowRedBlue In the turbulence created by organizational change, there is a virtual certainty that employees and managers will come under significant stress and strain.

Putting operating processes in place for people to carry out their work together may prevent or at least mitigate unhealthy levels of stress. These processes can act as safeguard that will allow the task to be achieved in a way that is as efficient and as effective as possible.

Both participation in all of the processes of the work group and the development of a collaborative approach are at the heart of effective group work. Because of the tradition of autocratic leadership, neither participation nor collaboration are natural or automatic processes. Both require some learning and practice.

Glaser, R., & Glaser, C. Team effectiveness profile. King of Prussia, PA: Organizational Design and Development, Inc.

Without appropriate operating processes in place, it is not uncommon to experience negative outcomes in the functioning of a team:

  1. Pressures and priorities can push people into silo mentality and away from the team.
  2. Individual stress can rise to unhealthy levels.
  3. There is a tendency to focus more on the task than on people processes.
  4. Tensions, conflict, and stress can lead to insufficient focus on task accomplishment.
  5. Increases in stress and mistrust can occur if a coercive leadership style is overused in an attempt to correct imbalances.
What team changes are needed to better manage change?

Putting in place sound team operating processes can act like a lubricant, enabling healthy team functioning to resume. High levels of trust within a team are the bedrock for coping with conflict.

Typical trust-building areas that the leader must promote and the  team needs to address by discussing and agreeing include:

  1. Frequency, timing and agenda of meetings.
  2. Problem-solving and decision-making methodologies.
  3. Ground rules.
  4. Procedures for dealing with conflict when it occurs.
  5. Reward mechanisms for individuals contributing to team goals.
  6. Type and style of the review process.

Business of Stress: CHD At Work

PointLobosLExp Researchers have substantially defined the specific characteristics of stressful occupations and have examined whether they promote the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), which is the progressive and often fatal hardening of the blood vessels that surround the heart.

Specifically, the question of whether high job strain can be used to predict job stress-related CHD is worth asking in this era of constant communication and information flow.

What constitutes high job strain?

Although many subjective and environmental factors can determine the level of strain in any one individual, the accepted common-sense definition is circumstances of high demand and correspondingly few opportunities to control outcomes. 

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Business of Stress: Rise of the Type A Machines

PieroDellaFrancesca_Malatesta

The now irreversible and accelerating developments in communication technology (multiple e-mail addresses available from any platform, high-speed anywhere Internet access, smart mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, and what not) have enabled greater flexibility and mobility (e.g., teleworking, telecommuting) but they also have removed traditional boundaries between different roles in life (work, family, leisure). Thanks to these ubiquitous and always-on hardware devices and the software tools they provide, there often is no solution of continuity between work and non-work states, between being somewhere dedicated to work activities and being somewhere else, where relationships or relaxation are possible.

In addition, short-term employment, work on time-limited projects, and working two or even three part-time jobs simultaneously are becoming increasingly more common. These trends may indeed be producing  beneficial effects in terms of greater task variety and flexibility, but also an increased risk of stress due to work overload, disruption of natural circadian patterns, role conflicts, and lack of time for relationships, for rest and energy replenishment through sleep or relaxation activities.

The individual executive, rather than the company, is now tasked with setting appropriate boundaries between work and other roles in life. This is a particularly challenging task for the executive who may be classified as exhibiting Type A behavior. What is type A behavior and why is it becoming increasingly problematic?

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Business of Stress: The Psychosocial Benefits of Work

David_NapoleonSt-Bernard

Being out work carries more than financial consequences to the individual. One of the most important sequelae is the negative impact on self-esteem and to the sense of well-being and adjustment.

Having a meaningful activity provides many non-economic benefits. These may include giving a consistent time structure to the day; self-esteem through achievement and self-satisfaction; the respect of others; an opportunity for physical and mental activity; a setting where to use one’s skills; and frequent interpersonal contact.

When Bohb Jadhav’s architecture firm reduced its staff by 30 percent a year ago, he turned a cozy Park Slope coffee shop, with its sitcom-style mismatched furniture and a rotating gallery of local art on the walls, into his new work space. For six hours each day, Mr. Jadhav takes up residence in one of the comfy, oversized chairs, works on his future plans, and indulges in occasional, workday-like breaks for coffee, cigarettes, lunch and general kibitzing. Mr. Jadhav says the stimulating environment, the hum of ceiling fans, music and conversation, was a crucial bulwark against the feelings of desperation that followed the loss of his job. ”This place is critical to my sanity,” he says. “If I was at home I’d be more easily distracted. And it’s nice to have the company of others. It’s like working with the TV on.”

The New York Times Nov. 27, 2009

Very often, the loss of these psychosocial benefits of employment is at least as important as loss of income to the stress levels and overall health of unemployed people.

Stresshack #1: The Top 6 Job Stressors

Bruegel_TowerOfBabel

 

The top six on-going job conditions, thus excluding exceptional events such as a job loss, that may lead to significant stress are:

6. The structural and environmental conditions in which we must perform our tasks, which can range from mildly unpleasant to physically dangerous. There may also be noise, bad breathable air, overcrowding or constrictive body positions, such as prolonged standing or sitting or heavy lifting, or even too much typing. Degree of control we can have over these stressors: Often none. Perception vs. reality of the stressor: These often are legitimate and objective constraints that would stress anyone under the same circumstances.

5. Career concerns we may harbor over various aspects of the position we occupy, such as the security of the job itself, due to job-specific or industry/general economy threats; rapid changes in the job description or its requirements for which we may feel unprepared; unfulfilled desires of growth opportunities, such as advancement, promotion or change. Degree of control we can have over these stressors: Ranging from limited to significant. Perception vs. reality of the stressor: A fear-induced highly negative perception of the precariousness of the job can be a significant factor, and may not be commensurate to the objective reality of the threat.

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