The Stress Shop — Part Two
ome time ago, it was illuminating to read and to then write a review of Toxic Work: How to Overcome Stress, Overload, and Burnout and Revitalize Your Career by Barbara Bailey Reinhold, Ed.D. (Dutton/Penguin Books USA, Inc., 245 pages, $23.95). Inasmuch as most of the commentary about this insightful book presumes workplaces in large corporations and institutions, it was good sitting down subsequently with Professor Reinhold to explore with her the unique situation of the owner/ manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur.
Stress is commonly the result of fear — of uncertainty and insecurity. Working within a large organization, this fear may appear to stem from one's immediate boss or from "management." It is often manifested in uncertainty about what one's job really is, and what the performance expectations are for one's job. It is manifested in the lurking insecurity that one's job may not even exist tomorrow. These fears can also stem from the inevitable rivalries and challenges encountered with one's co-workers. While the large organization offers the convenience of readily identified persons who appear to be the "cause" of one's stress (and in some instances this may be correct), the real culprit is the intensely competitive economic, political and cultural global environment in which all of us live and work today.
Bailing out of the large organization to set up "my own business" is popularly viewed as a panacea for workplace-induced stress. But if the real culprit is the intensely competitive global environment in which we live and work, the same stress will re-emerge in the new workplace — "my own business." Isn't this expressed in the Gospel parable, "... and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first"? 1 Before we can free ourselves from workplace-induced stress, we must honestly identify the sources of that stress, and not simply attribute it to the demons of "the boss" or "management."
Workplace-induced stress arises from two sources. The first source is internal — viz., psychological. Benignly, we say some people are just "born worriers;" in most cases, these fine people function quite effectively, and merely fall into the realm of the diversity of our human peculiarities. Of course, there are then a great many competent people who simply do not have the psychological profile to be entrepreneurs or self-employed. But most gravely, persons suffering with chronic fears, insecurities and anxieties must accept and welcome professional intervention; changes in one's workplace are not likely to alleviate these clinically-diagnosed disorders. Happily, the combination of effective counseling and pyschopharmacology can be expected to assuage internally-sourced stress.
The second source of workplace-induced stress is external — both from within the organization as well as from our global competitive environment. Let's first examine stress within the organization. The good news is this is seldom as devastating within the smaller business as it is within large corporations or institutions because — obviously — the playing field for internecine rivalries and company politics is so very much smaller. But, except for the one-person venture, this kind of stress is certainly not unknown within the smaller business.
The owner/manager of the smaller business and entrepreneur must grapple with the stressful antagonisms and conflicts between employees — even a handful of employees — and often challenges to his/her authority. Fortunately, these are more tractable problems than those encountered in the large organization. Professor Reinhold emphasizes, "Small business managers cannot be as insulated from the real world as their big business counterparts." The stressful problem is the undefined or unresolved problem. The strength of any relationship is founded upon openness and effective feedback — what Reinhold calls, "truth-telling." In the smaller business, it may be easier — but equally essential — to know what is going on, and to address "problems" openly.
Stressful antagonisms and conflicts between employees and even challenges to the owner/ manager;s authority are frequently found to be the distorted expressions of potential strengths for the enterprise. It is a primary job of the owner/manager of the smaller business and the entrepreneur to confront these stressful "problems" early and directly. You lose the pressure in the pot by removing the lid." (Realistically, the occasional need to dismiss a troubling employee may be encountered.) Within even the small organization, enervating stress for the "boss" as well as employees — once acknowledged and understood — can most often be redirected to constructively support the goals of the enterprise.
How the owner/manager of the smaller business and the entrepreneur can overcome stress, overload and burnout originating from one's external environment will be the focus of our subsequent column.
1 Matthew 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26.
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