Workplace Stress

Futures Rambling #92

By Laurie Aznavoorian


A friend of mine has been going through a rather challenging stretch at work and recently confessed current incidents were not only having the typical impact on him that many of us experience daily due to our jobs: loss of sleep and anxiety, but that he now attributes specific physical manifestations such as: heart palpitations, itchy skin rashes and fever blisters on the lips and face to the stress he’s experiencing at work.

Over the past decade there’s been a shift in mindset regarding employee health and wellbeing, as a result the fact that someone was presenting physical signs of stress over their job was no striking discovery. What surprised me was who it was happening to, this person is strong, centered and supported and he works in a field that is hardly stressful. He’s an interior designer.

Despite what some of you might believe, neither interior design nor architecture appear on The Most Stressful Jobs list created by CareerCast, an American online source for jobs and career advice. Reviewing the list one would be hard pressed to draw similarities between selecting scatter cushions and the top four vocations that appear on the list: being actively enlisted in the military, a firefighter, airline pilot or policemen.

On the other hand a designers might share a number of the 11 stress factors used to create the list which includes: requirement to travel, deadlines, working under public scrutiny and physical demands. But when it comes to other stress factors like: environmental conditions, hazards, risks to life and interaction with the public at large – you can hardly compare.

Similarly being a designer doesn’t match the criteria for CareerCast’s list for least stressful jobs either, the top four are: Information security analyst, Diagnostic medical sonographer, tenured university professor and Hair stylist. Designers don’t make the least stressful list because they sure as heck cannot meet that criteria: the ability to offer job security, a good hiring outlook and salary, no physical demands or deadlines.

Anyone with a brain knows work stress is not wholly related to the job one does, but the conditions in which you do the work. Also, stress is very personalized, what floats one’s boat sinks another. Taking this into account any role can be stressful for a variety of reasons: the organisation you work with may be understaffed, poorly managed or the company is undergoing rapid change.

Digging deeper, the most common causes of workplace stress come from a lack of control, or not having the latitude to make decisions and that can happen in any job. Another key factor in workplace stress is unpredictability, not knowing what is happening with the company, a deadline or having clear expectations limits an individual’s ability to plan ahead and that makes it impossible to blend work and life.

Now that the sources of stress are clear, what you and my stressed out pal must take note of the following important point. Scientific studies indicate employees’ subjected to high demands at work with little control e.g. unpredictability, are at increased risk of heart attack, hypertension and cardiovascular disease – it’s nothing to ignore. In America some industries understand this well, a police officer who has a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work related injury. Doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a black teenager or pulling in a bass sitting in a rowboat, you’ll be compensated accordingly.

To add additional fuel to the fire consider the analysis of data from more than 200 studies completed by Stanford and Harvard found worrying over losing your job makes you 50% more likely to experience poor health and having an over-demanding job makes you 35% more likely to have a physician-diagnosed illness, but that’s not all. The big ‘ah ha’ from this research is JERK BOSSES ARE THE NEW SMOKING.

This will be a trending topic at cocktail parties and workplace conferences in the future. Forget yesterday’s pithy bylines and all of the brew haha over sitting is the new smoking, cease the endless diatribe over the benefits of a sit stand desks because the Ivy Leaguers have found the negative health effects from a rotten boss are as bad as what is seen in people exposed to high amounts of second-hand smoke!

This is backed by research from the American Psychological Association who reported 75% of US workers identify their boss as the most stressful part of their job, 60% would take a new boss over a pay raise. While 27% of people quit their job as a result of a bad boss a staggering 59% stay and suffer. That is very sad. Given these statistics it’s amazing more organisations don’t seriously consider the impact leadership has on workers and act accordingly.

We know few organisations do and that has led to the development of a caste of people who suggest you won’t be stressed about things you don’t care about, the approach they take to workplace stress is to cultivate what they call a F**k it attitude. Proponents of F**k it are not suggesting you shouldn’t care, but recommend being care less. By telling yourself that something doesn’t matter so much you’ll relax, feel better and shift to lower and less stressful gears.

They do warn of the possibility of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction, to a point where a person stalls and finds life meaningless which is equally damaging. The clue they say is to take hold of certain things and give up on others. It’s an old adage, pick your battles. Do something about the things you can do something about and when it comes to others just say F**k it.

Many people are buying into this approach, in America the ‘maker movement’ is revitalizing US cities. Makers are entrepreneurs who are fed up with generic, mass produced merchandise, they are bringing back local industry, building local economies and strengthening the workforce. What better way could there be to share ideas, innovate and send a message to the corporate world. One could argue this is a manifestation of the F**k it attitude

The US presidential election is another example. There is one candidate who it is said represents the status quo establishment, the second is on the Christian far right and described as ‘Lucifer in the flesh’ by fellow Republicans. The third talks passionately about the injustices done to working people by unequal income distribution and the final candidate is just a cashed up bogan who hasn’t’ said anything intelligent in months. One might conclude the latter two are running on F**k it establishment platform.



Bradburry, Travis; 4 Signs Your Boss Is Worse Than Cigarettes;; March 8, 2016

Parkin, John; How F**k it Helps With Stress & Anxiety; ; March 8, 2016

Patel, Sujan; Why More Entrepreneurs Need to Make Health and Wellness a Priority; Brooks Rainwater; March 8, 2016

Strauss, Karsten; Where Most Job Stress Actually Comes From;; February 10, 2016

The Nosh Report – Digesting the Statistics of Workplace Stress; How The Maker Movement Is Revitalizing Industry In American Cities From Pittsburgh to Chattanooga to San Francisco, people are making things again; March 8, 2016



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