The Stress of Being Stressed Out
Steven Slater's incident of air rage that made national news this past summer has triggered an onslaught of support from many who see in Slater's situation the realization of their own "take this job and shove it" fantasies.Slater, a Jet Blue flight attendant, has become this nation's popular anti-hero for his tantrum with a difficult passenger after his plane landed, responding by cursing over his microphone to all passengers before making an abrupt exit by sliding down the emergency inflatable chute with beer in hand.
His behavior has been applauded by high profile personalities, including TV host Nancy Grace, who stated "I don't blame him for grabbing two beers and taking the emergency slide. I'd be mad if he didn't." Slater's antics are more than what was referred to in the news as "a bad day." As Slater himself stated, "Something has resonated with a few people."
Why has this highly unprofessional and irrational behavior spurred so many to come to his defense, and has garnered hundreds of thousands of supporters on his Facebook page?For anyone fed up dealing with difficult customers, co-workers and even bosses, Slater lived out their fantasies of getting back by finally "dishing it back." Slater's outrage indeed resonates with workers who feel underappreciated and mistreated.
Those who feel helpless and victimized by workplace stress that has spiraled out of their control see in Slater's situation a sense of validation for how they feel. They vicariously get pleasure from Slater's expression of frustration and temporary insanity, since they themselves are way too practical to "lose it" in fear of losing their job as Slater did! Stress and the Workplace - This infamous incident has highlighted the issue of stress in the workplace.
Stress indeed has been regarded as a major threat to the workplace overall, as well as to the individuals themselves. In fact, according to Northwestern National Life, "one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives," and one of their surveys has shown that 40% of workers report their job is "very or extremely stressful."
The Costs of Workplace Stress - How do workers react to increased job stress? They are more likely to use sick time, have low morale and experience interpersonal conflict on the job, and this stress leads to decreased productivity, increased injuries, accidents and even workplace bullying and violence. Workplace stress is considered by Staywell Health Management, to be the #1 most costly modifiable risk factor to employee health, and they estimate that the fallout from stress related issues comprise 25% of a company's total health expenditures.
This number exceeds that of other common physical health risk factors such as obesity, smoking, alcohol abuse, as well as high blood pressure and cholesterol! Stress Prevention is the Key! - Employers that are sensitive to the importance of how stress can affect their workers as well as their workplace as a whole need to do what they can to be proactive in helping employees deal with stress, instead of waiting for problems to happen.
Being pro-active rather than reactive is the key to having a healthy workplace. Below are some of the characteristics of a workplace that is proactive in dealing with workplace stress. The Healthy Workplace: Promotes a sense of justice and fairness - Management and HR professionals need to convey to the employees that they have a place to turn to if they feel like they are not treated fairly, and this information will be confidential and handled without retaliation. Fear of retaliation for complaining is a major stressor in the workplace.
Recognizes the importance of a sense of control in decision making - Employees fare better when they feel they have some "say" in how things are done on the job, and that their opinions are valued. Having some input about schedules and work rules, for example, offers workers a sense of control and makes them feel valued. Brainstorming sessions, small group task forces and even the good old fashioned suggestion box are examples of how to set the stage for employee involvement.
Offers preventative programs such as Stress Management and Communication Skills Training - Since stress, along with communication issues, are so important in the workplace, offering your employees some stress management, communication and conflict resolution training by an experienced facilitator can help boost their "emotional intelligence" and work adjustment.
Has an Employee Assistance Program - As part of a benefit package, offering confidential EAP sessions to help employees deal with their personal stressors and issues is ideal, and making this program well publicized and easily accessible is vital. Provides supervisory coaching when indicated - Effective workplaces offer coaching from either in-house or outside consultants to supervisors who need help in learning how to manage and lead effectively, thereby improving their communication skills.
Identifies employees at risk - A workplace that is proactive at recognizing employees at risk, and not turning their heads when problematic behavior occurs, will be more effective at limiting workplace stress. Firm limits, guidelines, consequences and interventions that are part of objective company policy needs to be consistently followed across the board.
As in the Slater case, there might have been many red flags that he was an employee in distress to justify some type of intervention. Although we have been focusing on the negative aspects of workplace stress, it is important to note that stress is not always negative. Stress can be invigorating and boost workplace involvement.
It is all in how we handle it. As Stress pioneer Hans Selye has said, "It's not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it." Following the suggestions above, workplaces that address the issue of stress can help employees manage their stress instead of carry their stress!
About the Author:
Judy Belmont, M.S, L.P.C. is a national speaker and a corporate wellness trainer, and is a member of the National Speakers Association. She is the Founder/President of Worksite Insights, which offers an array of Mental Wellness services to the workplace. She is a licensed psychotherapist who writes and speaks on topics relating to Resiliency and Wellness.
Judy is a published author,author and her upcoming self-help book The Swiss Cheese Theory of Life: How to Get Through Life's Holes without getting stuck in them! This book will be released in March, 2011. With a B.S. in Psychology from The University of Pennsylvania and an M.S. in Clinical Psychology from Hahnemann Medical College, her experience as a psychotherapist spans over 30 years.
In her counseling practice as well as in her role as consultant and speaker, her primary focus has been to offer practical strategies to others to improve personal empowerment and boost emotional resilience. Her "user-friendly" interactive and entertaining seminars and keynotes are based on her zeal for life skills education, and her books reflect this practical wellness orientation.
From teaching at the college level to her work with organizations and companies of all sizes, from privately owned family businesses to fortune 500 companies, Judy has applied action-oriented strategies that people can use the very next day to get through the life's obstacles. Visit her web sites at www.worksiteinsights.com and www.resiliencyandwellnessforlife.com. She can be reached at JABelmont@resiliencyandwellnessforlife.com.