April 1 is celebrated in the Western world as April Fools' Day, a day in which practical jokes and foolishness are generally tolerated — albeit more so by some than others — and most of us tend to view whatever we are told on this day with more than a modicum of skepticism, particularly that which is uttered by the usual pranksters. You know who they are. They don't need a day set aside to pull pranks.
As long as the pranks are relatively harmless, I say bring them on … the more the merrier. Might be just the thing to alleviate some workplace stress, and if the 2011 Work Stress Survey is correct, most of us could use some stress relief.
According to data from the survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Everest College, 77 percent of Americans are stressed by at least one thing at work. Overall, 14 percent of adults ranked low pay as the most stressful aspect, followed by commuting (11 percent), unreasonable workload (9 percent), and fear of being fired or laid off (9 percent). Annoying coworkers ranked in the middle (8 percent), followed by the boss (5 percent), poor work-life balance (5 percent), and lack of opportunity for advancement (4 percent).
"We've seen numerous surveys that confirm workplace stress has increased during the last several years, and this time we wanted to rank from top to bottom some of the root causes," said Wendy Cullen, vice president of employer development for Everest College. "Most employers are becoming well aware of the need to address rising employee stress, and those who don't address it are likely to suffer lower morale and productivity."
The survey was conducted to coincide with April's National Stress Awareness Month, when health care professionals across the country join forces to increase public awareness about the causes and cures for the modern stress epidemic.
The impact of stress cannot be overstated, said Davis K. Brimberg, a Los Angeles-based psychologist who focuses on workplace issues. Almost all psychological problems are worsened by it. People of all occupations and income levels are greatly affected. Counseling can be very helpful in relieving signs and symptoms of stress-related issues."
In yet another survey — this one by Gallup — workers with bad jobs rate their lives more poorly than those without jobs. The most dissatisfied workers, the actively disengaged, scored lower than unemployed people in all daily positive experience areas: well-rested; treated with respect; smiled or laughed a lot; learned something interesting; and experienced enjoyment.
The actively disengaged employees scored higher on three of five daily negative experiences: physical pain; stress; and anger. Unemployed people scored higher in the negative experiences of worry and sadness.
I understand the need to monitor stress. Stress can make even the best workers less effective, and stress can kill. Not a win-win for employer or employee.
Most of us who've managed to hang on to our jobs in the last few rocky employment years probably have seen our stress levels escalate as our companies have tried to do more with less. But being perfectly honest, I've never encountered a stress-free job … or life. I don't think it's possible to eliminate stress entirely, but it is possible to minimize and manage it.
When I'm feeling overly stressed, I try to think about how much worse my job or life could be — easy to do when you think about what's happening in Japan and the Middle East — and change my perspective regarding the stressors. Granted, that doesn't always work. Perspectives are really difficult to change.
Sometimes it's necessary to speak up and air my grievances. I happen to have an understanding, supportive boss, and feel safe speaking with him about what's bothering me. But something tells me not all workers are as fortunate.
It's my hope as National Stress Awareness Month begins that you will make an effort to constructively deal with and reduce your on-the-job stress. I also hope that you have the good fortune to work with some fools who will jump start your endeavor by providing some good natured April Foolery! We could all use a few good laughs.
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