Monday, June 1, 2009

Is Stress Making You Want to Kiss Your Job Goodbye?

For me, one of the great things about Twitter is that is allows me to learn more about what people experience at work every day. It's sort of like being an invisible Spiderman, without the goofy costume. I feel like I can jump from cubicle to cubicle across the world, being a fly, er, spider on the wall.

One of the things I know for sure -- from following people on Twitter and from interviewing them -- is that there is a lot of stress in the workplace. People are overwhelmed by the demands of their job, even though they try and put a positive spin on it: "Wow! Just got a new deadline! Anyone want two tickets to the big concert tonight?" goes a typical Tweet.

Heather Blume asked me if I was hearing that more people who already had jobs were actively looking for work. The stress in current jobs, she said, was really getting to them and she had several people a week asking her if she knew of other positions. That was pretty interesting considering the job market is so tough right now and not expected to improve for a couple of years.

So I called Wayne Hochwarter, a professor at Florida State University, who spends a lot of time studying the workplace. He was not surprised to hear how many people were willing to leave jobs -- even entire careers -- and join the job hunt.

“A lot of people just don’t have anything to look forward to anymore,” Hochwarter says.“They can’t even look forward to retirement, because they’re going to have to work longer now. Most people haven’t gotten a raise in years. They’re doing the work of five people now, and they just think: ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”

Blume hears a lot of personal despair every day as she does her job as a Seattle-based recruiter specializing in property management for Career Strategies Inc.

“In the last month or so, I’ve had three or four people a week tell me – on the down-low – that they’ve got to get out of their jobs. It used to be I heard this maybe once a month. Now people are asking me if I’ve got anything for them – they say they’ll take anything to get away from the stress of what they’re doing now,” she says.

While Blume says she doesn’t “poach” from other companies, that doesn’t mean she’s not sympathetic to their plight and will quietly put out “feelers” to try and help them make job contacts. One 20-year-veteran of property management recently told Blume that her job was “eating her soul.” Another said she was looking for contacts in “restaurant work” because she was so burned out and wanted to leave the industry where she had built a successful career.

She adds that those seeking work are at all levels. “I tell them to sit tight, or to think about going back to school,” she says. “But if you’re miserable, it’s hard.”

I decided to call David Benjamin, who often posts comments to this blog and someone else I follow on Twitter, and ask what he was experiencing as a recruiting manager for The Sales Matrix in Detroit. What levels of stress was he seeing?

He noted that while he hears the despair and frustration in the voices of salesmen who are out of work, he also notes that those who are still employed “just don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Salesmen hear ‘no' in this economy a lot more,” Benjamin says. “It just wears on you and beats you down. It ‘s such a grind, such a challenge.”

In a study by Hochwarter, he found that 55 percent of bosses have become more demanding of current workers and more than 70 percent of employees say the recession has increased stress levels at work.

“I’ve never been a big believer that we’ve got good managers, and now with this economy, they’ve lost whatever humanity they had,” Hochwarter says. “They know that they’ve got to meet goals or they start chopping heads. Managers really don’t know what to do during a time like this. We haven’t prepared them for anything like it.”

What do you think the impact of this economic downturn and current job market will have on workers?


Kathryn/ said...

Hi, Anita, This post breaks my heart and I don't know if I have many answers other than to say if there were ever a time to start medicating, visualizing and doing yoga, this would be the time. People in these stressful situations are going to HAVE to reach into new territory to get them through whatever they are going through because from the sound of this post their current inner tools, practices and resources are not enough. Clearly. Maybe time for a massage?

David Benjamin said...


Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about the work force in today's economic turmoil.

I've enjoyed all your previous work but this one is special to me.

Anita said...

It is indeed a sad situation, and you can imagine how hopeless these people feel to want to jump into such a grim job market.I would agree that they're going to have to find whatever ways they can of coping, and that means really looking for something that provides balance in their lives. I'd say yoga, massage, visualizing and visiting with a doctor are all good steps. Thanks for posting.

Anita said...

I learn so much from those who post to this blog, and I've very much appreciated your thoughts. So glad we finally were able to connect in person and I look forward to many more conversations!

Glenn S. Phillips said...

Many people "are their job," so it can be very challenging when how you feel is derived from work. Especially in tougher economies.

Add to this the managers that monitor instead of lead and you get recipe for stress.

Find well managed companies and you can see that even in tough times, the environment is better than most.

Anita said...

I'd add one more thing: The better managed companies will be the ones to ride out these tough times, much more so than the ones where people are becoming so stressed and disengaged. They may be able to pile on the work and get short-term results, but I bet the long-term results won't be good at all.
Thanks for adding to the conversation.

G Neil said...

Like you said, it's hard for people to get motivated when they know that there's no hope for a raise anytime soon and they're too worried about losing their job to take a summer vacation.

I'm not sure there's much else we can do, other than just hang in there. It's going to be tough out there for a while. I like Kathryn's advice: maybe it's time for a massage.

Anita said...

Training Time,
I agree it is going to be tough, probably for at least another 1 1/2 years. A great massage may be just what we all need...:)

Kate Lorenz said...

We recently came out with a survey looking at the stress that those left behind after a layoff feel.

Yes people are thankful to have jobs, but they also have to pick up the slack of lost co-workers and that stress can affect a company's bottom line.

Anita said...

Thanks so much for offering more information and for the link!