Work and Stress

Fine little interview here:

Q: You identify three big 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: As a physician, you have insight into the biology of stress as well as the psychological effects. Why have some workplace changes contributed to individual stress?

A: First, people are expected to multitask. Really, what we’re doing is switch tasking — toggling back and forth. But it’s also very stressful for the brain and raises cortisol (a hormone released in response to stress) levels, which have damaging effects for the whole body. Cortisol, when there’s too much, also affects memory. Another aspect is multiple and conflicting priorities. Deadlines are getting tighter. That’s tremendously stressful. People are being asked at job interviews if they’re good at multitasking. We have to stop thinking of it as a virtue, because when we try to multitask, we are inefficient and make more mistakes….

Q: So what can we do, other than quit our jobs?

A: I’m trying to raise awareness of this problem and make it OK to talk about it. Stress is affecting everybody, all the way up the hierarchy. It’s not just front-line workers. The second thing is to identify small things that can make a difference and can help. For example, taking breaks throughout the day. There should be a mid-morning break, a break at lunch, a mid-afternoon break and a break at supper. In other words, we need to pace ourselves. Every couple of hours, your energy and concentration start to flag anyway. Stress builds up and there’s no time to let it settle. Taking time-outs through the day is crucial and everybody needs to understand this. What individuals can also do is get the sleep they need. Not enough sleep makes us less resilient in dealing with stress and makes us less productive. Another one is, people need to get regular exercise, which they are not getting — even walking around the block or walking at lunch or going to the gym.

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  • DAK

    Whoa! Dr. Posen is describing me and my workplace. Ever increasing demands for more output in less time coupled with several immediate supervisors who work 70-80 hour weeks and make that normative for everyone makes for a stressful, multi-multi-multi-tasking workplace. I’m considering asking my department director if I can move to an academic year rather than an annual year contract. Less money for sure, but more time to spend with family, decompress, have leisure time, and actually think about something other than work. I’ll be a better teacher and better supervisor and a better husband, father, friend, church elder etc. with some time off. I was going to write something else, but the build up of cortisol is affecting my memory; can’t remember what I was going to write. 🙂 Now, back to work!!