Distressed about Job Stress? Don’t Worry, Your Employer isn’t!

So a new survey just came out from Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a global consulting firm: 48% of US employees report that stress caused by working long hours is affecting business performance but only 5% of companies are addressing this concern.* Hmmm, sounds like a new way to weed out those burnt-out malcontents and replace them with a new crop of eager and happy loyalists that, of course, will work for less and give even more. Perhaps I’m being a bit too cynical (and conspiratorial) here. Maybe the other 95% of companies are really just trying to help everyone out!

Layoffs, outsourcing, the mortgage meltdown, health care costs, increased taxes, high gas prices, the affect of the plummeting stock market on 401K’s (did I forget anything?) are all contributing to workers’ stress. To help take your mind off all of these woes – just work more hours. Ah, that’s the ticket! Wasn’t there a popular Reggae song about this a while back? Don’t Worry, Work longer.

This isn’t even funny anymore. Last week, I watched as the company that I used to work for chopped another 35 administrative and technical positions. The “non-surprise” for the survivors was that none of the work was eliminated and none of the deadlines were changed. Those who remain will just have to do more. But the few keep getting fewer, more tired, cranky and scared to death of what could be next. What a great way to work and live! To top it all off, the corporation has embarked upon one of those “Help us define the ‘values’ of our company” programs. Talk about adding insult to injury! This is just the latest gimmick to get the employees to buy in to what the top executives “value”. In my view, all the talk about focusing on the customer is just a smokescreen. Controlling overhead costs is what it’s really all about. Actions speak louder than words. Just ask airline passengers how they feel about that industry’s focus on them as customers!

Just who are those 95% of companies that don’t seem to be concerned about stress? Could it be that crop of global multi-nationals that have gobbled up many US companies? Is it our own homegrown corporations and business enterprises that have become so bottom line driven that they no longer care about the effects of stress on their once oft-advertised “Most Valuable Resources”?

I realize that the days of paternalism in American industry are long gone (if they ever existed at all). Employees are now simply a commodity to be purchased at the lowest price and run into the ground. The innovative technologies that should be utilized for creating growth in business are simply being turned into “innovative” tools to squeeze more labor out of the workforce. Look, they’ve given you a laptop, a cell phone, a blackberry, and one of those blue gizmos to stick in your ear so you can walk around appearing to talk to yourself like an escapee from an asylum.

You’re hooked up and on call constantly. Deadlines are becoming more and more compressed. It might be 4AM where you live, but it’s time for the daily teleconference with corporate HQ overseas. Get up and get going. As long as you’re up, could you also get the report ready for the regional meeting at 3PM? That’s Pacific Standard Time, of course, and since you happen to work for the division in Oklahoma, be ready at 5. You get to leave an hour early for a parent teacher conference and are then asked to work most of the weekend to make it up. Vacation? Who will prepare the trend report on Monday, participate in the conference call on Tuesday, attend the forecast meeting on Wednesday…. and on and on? There are no back ups or even the smallest of redundancies. Work from home? Of Course, so long as you do it on Saturdays and Sundays.

I got into conversation with a group of survivors who were talking about a guy in IT named Mel. It seemed that Mel was working seven days per week “Isn’t that illegal?” cried one of the participants. “Well, maybe not”, answered another, “You see he works from home on the weekends. They don’t count that as working.”

Where is the executive leadership in all of this? Buzzing around in their Gulfstreams? Please don’t feed me some line that the executives are simply trying to keep the corporations viable and that the stockholders and boards of directors are demanding more and more from them. Some would argue that the Execs are as helpless as we are. Nonsense! I’m not buying it! Remember your 401K or retirement plan? You’re a stockholder too. They sure don’t seem to be doing a very a good job at keeping your investments safe and growing. Their answers to decreased profitability always seem to result in cost cutting and staff reductions. The usual reactions from the ususal suspects. What about the egregious salaries and golden parachutes for the executives who fail? I sure don’t remember being asked to approve of those at the last stockholders’ meeting.

I’ve always believed that an employee should never have to leave work at the end of the day not knowing where they stand. Did they do a good job? Did they contribute? Perhaps that’s all a bit idealistic and seems certainly outdated. The Corporate Cynic’s own survey indicates that many employees are actually beginning to dread even getting up in the morning and going to work. Where have we gotten to? I don’t like what I’m seeing.

* Careerbuilder article, Sunday March 16, 2008


2 Responses to “Distressed about Job Stress? Don’t Worry, Your Employer isn’t!”

  1. Jenny Hyatt Says:

    In an era of possessive individualism and fear of failure, stress is internalised as it does not go down well in performance appraisal. However, the stress does impact on work results and more it damages people’s broader lives. Employers ignore this at their long-term peril when they focus on short-term profit. It is hard to know how to deal with issues of stress in the workplace – somehow there needs to be scope for allowing their open and honest airing to become part of company culture. Jenny Hyatt, Founder, bigwhitewall.com

  2. thecorporatecynic Says:

    Thank you for your insightful comment, Jenny. I appreciate your view on the subject.

    Come back anytime!


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