Is your job making you sick?

Janet feels like a gerbil on a wheel. She is an administrative assistant who reports to two managers. They don’t communicate with each other or coordinate their work, so she ends up with mixed messages and conflicting priorities. Thomas works a split shift which wreaks havoc with his sleep patterns as well as his family time. Pauline feels stuck on her job. She can’t get her supervisor to sit down and talk about how to expand her responsibilities.

What do they all have in common? Their stress levels are dangerously high. Last week I tested your stress awareness with a quiz about the high cost of stress. Some of the answers revealed that nearly 50 percent of all American workers suffer from symptoms of burnout. 40 percent of worker turnover is due to stress and an estimated 1 million workers are absent on an average workday because of stress-related complaints. (From the American Institute of Stress, Yonkers, NY)

Workplace stress comes from many sources but here are some of the biggest culprits (as Reported in "Occupational Stress Management: Current Status and Future Direction in Trends in Organizational Behavior", L.R. Murphy, 1995, Vol. 2.).

  1. Factors unique to the job (such as lack of control, workload, hours of work and isolation).
  2. Your role in the organization (such as multiple supervisors, role ambiguity and too much or too little responsibility).
  3. Career development (such as lack of job security or lack of opportunities).
  4. Interpersonal relationships (such as a poor manager or problems with coworkers).
  5. Organizational structure or climate (such as no participation in decision-making, no flextime, not family friendly).

Are you wondering if you are suffering from some stress symptoms? Here are some of the stages of stress that you might spot in yourself or others:

Phase I Warning Signs

§      Feelings of anxiety

§      Depression

§      Boredom

§      Apathy

§      Emotional fatigue

Phase II Mild Symptoms

§      Sleep disturbances

§      More frequent headaches/colds

§      Muscle aches

§      Irritability

§      Withdrawal from others

Phase III Entrenched Cumulative Stress

§      Increased use of alcohol, smoking, drugs

§      Depression

§      Loss of sex drive

§      Marital discord

§      Crying spells

§      Rigid thinking

§      Restlessness

§      Sleeplessness

§      Physical/emotional fatigue

Phase IV Debilitating Cumulative Stress

(This phase is often considered to be self-destructive and tends to occur after 5 to 10 years.)

§      Asthma

§      Heart conditions

§      Lowered self-esteem/self-confidence

§      Uncontrolled anger, grief, rage

§      Suicidal or homicidal thinking

§      Over-reaction to minor events

§      Frequent accidents

§      Carelessness and forgetfulness

(Adapted from "The High Cost of Caring: Coping with Workplace Stress," by B.L. Anschuetz and the American Institute of Stress.)

If you think you are suffering from some of these symptoms, I encourage you to take a hard look at those things over which you have some control and do something about them. For example, you can take responsibility for managing your own stress response by getting enough exercise, sleep and eating healthy. If you find that your manager holds the key to something about your job that is stressing you out, it’s time to schedule a meeting to talk about it. For example, if your workload is out of control or you would like more flexibility in your schedule, it’s worth a conversation to determine if changes can be made.

If your job is making you sick, it’s time to do something about it, even if it means leaving to find something that better suits your personality and family needs.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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