Is stress the 21st century’s black death?

18 03 2012

The Japanese have a specific word for death from overwork: karoshi. Although useful for describing early death, this is not comforting to know that this syndrome is recognised enough to have its own word.

So here is a pretty interesting infographic. No surprises at some of the top most stressful jobs – but PR officer? On the other hand, my future career is as a philosopher, which features in the least stressful jobs. Of course I might be stressed about income in that job – does anyone pay for philosophers these days?

However two shockers for me:
1. Apparently relationship with boss, although a top reason for leaving a job, was not a major factor in stress levels (really? I beg to differ. See earlier postings about Psychopaths in the workplace)

2. women who felt they had some level of control in the workplace were MORE likely to die early. (The complete opposite of the Whitehall study findings from the 1960s – when the public service was 90% male. This study found that those who felt they had some level of control over their work / environment etc had better health outcomes than those who were lower down the food chain and largely powerless. We women cant seem to catch a break.)

I do however wonder how they measured stress other than early death. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and other platitudes.

The original link is here.

Interested in dysfunctional workplaces and stress? Have a look at
When organisations turn cannibal

Psychopaths in the workplace

Should I stay or should I go now?

25 08 2011

Classic, sexy seventies song The Clash.

But if this is what you are thinking about your work, how do you know when it is time to move on?

1. Have I learned what I need to know here? To misquote Dead Poet’s Society (and hence no doubt an unnamed poet), have I sucked the marrow dry? Can I demonstrate a benefit from having been here on my resume?

2. Have I done what I need to do for the organisation? It’s not great to leave in the middle of a great or risky project. Sure, it happens sometimes, the perfect job comes up at an imperfet time, and no-one is irreplaceable. But do the right thing by the organisation as well as by yourself.

3. Is there a push reason as well as a pull reason? A push reason might be a restructure, or a significant change in the organisation or its business which means your job is no longer needed or no longer what you signed up for. A pull reason might be a fabulous opportunity that has come up somewhere else.

4. Did you make a mistake? Yes sometimes in our careers we apply for a job and once we are in it realise it is not a good fit. Maybe the job isn’t how it was advertised, maybe it changes after you are there, maybe the culture doesn’t fit with your work style. The honourable thing is to move on with grace. If the organisation is open to it, you might give them notice and feedback in advance. No fault, no blame.

5. Have you stayed too long at the party? While the Postwar generation and Babyboomers often stay for a long time in positions or with the same organisation, this is increasingly becoming the exception rather than the norm. Career promotions often come from moving into other organisations rather than waiting for a vacancy to open up in your own organisation. You might not get long service leave, but you might progress faster and have a more rewarding career. And be able to share your talents with a variety of organisations.

6. If you are deeply unhappy, ethically challenged or otherwise psychologically uncomfortable. Work through what it is. It is a transient issue? No organisation is going to fit 100% with your preferences. But if you are deeply troubled by something that is happening at your workplace, then moving on could be the answer. Sadly, this is often the resolution of bullying in the workplace – the victim moves on.

7. Give some thought to how your resume looks. If you are moving on every couple of years – or worse, every couple of months – then you have a problem in your resume, and maybe you have a problem in your work expectations or your choice of jobs. No good jumping from the frying pan to the fire – employers are looking for some stability, even if you are Gen Y.

I debated putting something here about reasons not to move, but if you are happy and fulfilled in your job, you probably aren’t reading this. And even if you are, you know you are in the right place.

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What’s your personal social media policy?

24 08 2011

Working through a social media policy for work is a good reminder of the issues social media can have for the individual.

We have all heard the horror stories – career-limiting photographs and postings that last forever. Employees facing disciplinary action, losing jobs or being screened out in interviews because of social media information. People being sued for defamation. Workplace bullying following employees home.

Here are some thoughts on defensive social media management.

1. Be clear about who each social media forum is for. For instance for me, Facebook is for friends, LinkedIn is for current and former work colleagues and Twitter is for anyone. I am very clear about this to avoid giving offense. I do not have work-related people on my Facebook site. It is too easy for an innocent comment to be misconstrued to relate to a specific work-related activity. On the other hand, I know people who do have work colleagues on their Facebook site. That’s fine too, but once you have made the decision you need to post appropriately. Remember who is there.

2. Make sure your privacy settings are high. This is basic common sense, but it never ceases to amaze the number of people who have low or no privacy settings. It’s a big world out there people, not everyone has good intentions!

3. Be aware that no matter what your privacy settings, information gets out. A friend does a screen grab of a funny picture or posting you have put up, shares a comment you have posted, you comment on a friend’s site only to find that some of their friends know you as well.

4. Be careful which Facebook groups you join – despite your privacy settings your comments on someone else’s, or a group’s, page might show up on a google search. Just “liking” a page sometimes shows up.

5. Alcohol and social media do not mix if you want a career!

6. Be careful about what you find humourous, including the postings you repost. Just because it wasn’t your writing or your opinion, having it against your name for reposting may look bad.

7. Google yourself from time to time and see what pops up. Mine generally covers work related activities (quotes in media, reports presented, documents authored and conference presentations, etc) and some recreational activities including notice boards I have left comments on. I did once find an obituary in my name – I have an unusual double barrelled surname so this was slightly alarming. Turns out to be an 82 year old woman who died in Texas. I believe in coincidence!

8. Do you have a common (ie: popular) name? Is there some way you can differentiate yourself from others with similar names – particularly if they are in unsavoury businesses or making ill-advised comments you do not want associated with yourself. You need to be either clearly identified as to which comments are you (if your strategy is to make your profile stand out online), or be anonymous in the crowd of people with the same name.

9. If you find defamatory comments about yourself, request that the user remove them. If that doesn’t work, request that the site owner removes them. And remember, libel is libel, even if it happens in cyber-space.

If you like this posting, you might also like Career Networking Sites
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Rules for Life

14 08 2011

I am a great fan of NCIS, and particularly the inimitable and somewhat inscrutable Gibbs.

In honour of Gibb’s rules, I present here my own version, born of bitter experience and occasional inspiration.

1. When someone says “no disrespect intended”, they are about to disrespect you. Likewise for “no offense, but…”

2. Desperate people do desperate things. The trick is to try not to make them desperate.

3. Pick your battles. There is no point “dying in a ditch” over something that fundamentally doesn’t matter to you, or that you aren’t ever going to win.

4. Everyone thinks their point of view is rational and well reasoned. People who holding opposing points of view both think their view is well-reasoned. It’s just the way it is.

5. If you are in a bad place at work, at home or in a relationship, get out. You could of course spend a great deal of emotional energy over a long period of your life trying to work through it, trying to change others or the situation. However you know that the longer you are there the more damage is being done to your psyche. You are being changed by the experience. You don’t have to put up with it. Get out.

6. Being bored is good for you. It makes you be creative to entertain yourself. Don’t fill the boredom with mindless television (and other forms of electronic white noise).

7. Some things are not your problem. Some things are other people’s problems. Be clear about what is and is not your problem.

8. There is a difference between “want” and “need”. Or as I say to my children when they say they need something – “define need”. Oh yeah, they love it!

9. Get over it. Its your life, you choose what it is going to be about. If it is going to be about some injustice done to you in your childhood, then it won’t be about all the great things that could be happening now. Yes you were hard done by, now get over it.

10. Optimists call themselves optimists. Pessimists call themselves realists. Its a perception thing.

11. You already know what you need to do. In western society, information is freely available. If you need to lose weight – you know what you have to do. If you want to earn money or get a better job – you know what you have to do.

12. To misquote Marx, Television is the opiate of the masses. It keeps us sedate, passive and inactive. It fills up time that could be productive. Luckily, it does have an off button.

13. Alcohol and all forms electronic communication do not mix. Not with telephone, Facebook, sms, ebay, email – etc. You know its the truth!


It is fair to say this is a work in progress. I am happy (keen!) to consider additions – send them through!


23 07 2011

Bad day at the office?

In an ideal world, we would all be happy and unstressed all the time. We would deal with other with respect and kindness, and would be treated the same in return. If this is the world you live in, please email me and tell me where this place exists.

In reality however, we all have bad days – some more than others. Some in fact seem to be permanently in a bad mood. And that might be a nice way of explaining away their behaviour. No names will be mentioned to protect the guilty.

The evidence linking positive morale with motivation and performance in the workplace (and in life) is inaarguable. But this also works the other way – a negative work environment has detrimental effects on performance. And it is not just that people feel demotivated and less enthusiastic – it actually affects their ability to do the tasks required of them.

In the July 2010 British Medical Journal, Professor Rhona Flin of the University of Aberdeen cited a series of studies demonstrating that being the recipient of rudeness – or even just witnessing rudeness at work – can make you more likely to make a mistake. Students who were insulted prior to performing a series of memory tasks performed worse than the control sample.

Perhaps this is obvious. Workplace bullies the world over know if you pick on someone you can push them to make errors. Usually as managers, we are told we need to deal with bullying for OHS reasons. But this series of studies link the workplace culture and the way workers treat each other to performance. And you don’t have to be the one bullied to make the mistake – you only need to be a witness.

Prof Flin referred to the risks inherent in medical mistakes and used the example of an operating theatre. But the evidence is not limited to the medical field. A US study in a department of transportation found that workplace incivility affected not only job satisfaction, but also the effectiveness of quality programs aimed at teamwork, customer focus and continuous improvement. Decision making and team work was found to be negatively affected by rudeness and incivility in a study of high school students. A quick search of reveals over 30,000 hits.

Generally, we all want to feel what we are doing is important and respected. We want to feel we are doing a good job. We want to work in a positive and supportive environment – and to be positive and supportive ourselves.

If only “the others” wouldn’t get in our way.