Problems with Workplace Stress Continue to Grow
> 11/29/2006 10:12:46 AM

Stress is an inevitable fact of life for employees who spend eight or more hours a day in cramped, anxious and hyper-competitive workplaces. But an inability to control one's response to such common irritants can only inflame an already delicate situation, leading to high levels of dissatisfaction, confrontation and, in extreme cases, physical violence. While high-profile examples of furious workers "going postal" and severely injuring or killing co-workers are rare, intimidation and conflict occur in nearly every workplace.

Power hierarchies often make for difficult relationships between superiors and those below them, and such perceived inequalities can lead to private resentment and outright bullish behavior. Those whose positions place them lower on the chain of command often feel powerless to confront others who could potentially put their job status at risk. Stories of pointedly unpopular bosses are unfortunately the norm, and some managers feel the need to refrain from niceties for fear of diminishing their status among employees. While productivity is, of course, the number one concern of most businesses, unrealistic expectations often come at the expense of

"Desk rage" is the newest catchphrase used to describe the angry worker phenomenon, and though it's hardly a recent development, news sources consistently report that the problem is spreading. Is this a sensational, alarmist response to the public outcry over outsourcing and its side effects? Does this sense of heightened competition for fewer and lower paying positions come from an unfounded fear or a neccessary drive for self-preservation? Perceptions aside, this is a very real issue. Its short-tempered symptoms can be expressed inwardly through self-loathing and depression or acted out in shouting matches and rude exchanges, mistreatment of office equipment, and actual fistfights.

Americans have some of the world's most demanding work schedules, with fewer days off on average than any other developed nation and a high rate of workers who choose not to take their available vacations. Dissatisfaction levels are disproportionately high. In a 2000 survey by the University of North Carolina, 45 percent of participants reported having considered career changes in order to avoid unpleasant people at the office. Of course, in such claustrophobic environments where employees often spend more time with co-workers than friends and loved ones, disagreements and strong opinions are inevitable. The options for combating  desk rage are as varied as its causes. Because excessive individual workloads often sit atop the list, a more even distribution of responsibility can reduce anxiety and prevent potential conflicts. Many companies also encourage complimentary worker wellness programs that include structured relaxation and exercise classes. With an increasing number of employees seeking outside therapy, dedicated efforts to maintain a friendly, open workspace can serve to increase productivity. And despite an increased awareness and threats of legal action, sexual harassment is also a major source of work-related tension. Bosses must often resort to staff conferences on the particulars of appropriate behavior that may seem obvious but can be easily disregarded.

Self-help seminars on workplace efficiency constitute a considerable industry whose influence continues to grow. While some may scoff at such moralizing lectures, concerns over satisfaction and safety can make extraordinary measures neccessary. And for those whose jobs serve as sources of anxiety and depression, positive change is essential. Those who sacrifice employee satisfaction in the name of productivity may ultimately suffer for their decisions, as a happy employee is, of course, a more efficient worker.

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