News Column

Workplace Stress Worsening, Doc Says

April 8, 2013
job stress

Q: What is it about work today that seems to make it so much more stressful?

A: A lot of people talk about the fact that work is killing them. I would say it's killing their family life and their personal life. It's killing their spirit, and in some cases, it's causing very serious health problems. But the psychological effect of stress -- after a while -- is very damaging. They are not engaged and not enthusiastic. There's kind of an underlying resentment. There's a sullen compliance to the demands of work. They know they have to do it, but it's a struggle just to be there and be present and be focused.

Q: You've written about stress at work before. Now though, you blame the workplace. Why?

A: I don't necessarily like the word "blame." I want to hold the workplace accountable and responsible for a good part of the problem. Too much of the onus has been put on the employees to deal with their stress themselves and their work-life balance. I believe now that the workplace is shirking its responsibility and generating stress that even the most expert stress manager can't dissipate. Downsizing is the biggest contributor to increased workload, which leads to longer hours.

Q: You identify three problems that contribute to burnout and low productivity. What are they?

A: The first is the volume of work -- the workload itself -- which I attribute to too few hands to share the load. The volume of work contributes to longer hours that affects home life and family life. The second problem is what I call velocity -- the pace of the workplace. Everything has gotten faster, largely because of technology, and expectations have increased. The third aspect is abuse. There's a pattern of being rude, embarrassing people in front of other people, of harassment, of bullying, of game playing and head games. It can include sexism and racism and things like trying to steal credit for other people's work. It can come from colleagues, bosses and even subordinates.

Q: Why have some workplace changes contributed to stress?

A: People are expected to multitask. Really, what we're doing is switch tasking -- toggling back and forth. But it's very stressful for the brain and raises levels of cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress) which has damaging effects for the whole body. When we try to multitask, we are inefficient and make more mistakes.

Q: What has technology done to our stress levels?

A: It has increased the speed of not only the workplace but life in general to a level that is uncomfortable for most people and not sustainable. It has contributed to off-hours work. It's increased work hours. It has interfered with sleep.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013