There are end of the year deals to close, budgets to meet, gifts to buy, and just thinking about it has your stress level rising. But when does stress turn into distress and at what point should your employer intervene?
For American workers, coping with workplace stress is a year-round concern that employers are beginning to see as partly their responsibility. Three-fourths of employees believe that workers have more on-the-job stress than a generation ago and nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage it, an Attitudes in the American workplace study by the American Institute of Stress shows.
Most of us harried workers struggle with the daily pressure of time demands, but some cross over into the danger zone. The telltale sign that a breakdown is near is a complete lack of work-life balance.
“Often these are the people working 14 hours a day and expecting others to do it, too,” said Charles Nemeroff, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “I’ll ask them when is the last time you had fun and they look at me like are you kidding?”
Service professionals such as lawyers, financial advisors, accountants and doctors particularly are susceptible with increased client demands and technology making it more difficult to shut off job stress. Often they push themselves harder and harder to achieve.
Attorney Harley Tropin, a shareholder at Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton, just doesn’t see that formula leading to a long career. He wants to help his lawyers strive for balance and change the way their brains and bodies react to stressors. Last month, he brought in medical experts to help them identify stressors and learn coping skills such as breathing and meditation. “It’s important to deal with stress the right way, to make a conscious effort to do something about it and not assume it will take care of itself,” Tropin says.
Tropin personally defuses the stress of arguing in court, by practicing Mindful Meditation, a widely adopted form of meditation that has become increasingly popular with business leaders. It involves focusing on your mind on the present and becoming aware of your breathing.
Alan Gold, a federal judge for the Southern District of Florida, also practices mindfulness meditation and has become a proponent of teaching practices for stress reduction to attorneys. Gold has advocated for the creation of a task force on the mindful practice of law with the Dade County Bar Association and the local Federal Bar Association.
Gold says he regularly sees attorneys shuffle into his courtroom on the brink of a breakdown. He links erosion in the degree of civility in the profession with lawyers’ inability to cope with extreme stresses.
They may lash out in anger at a co-worker, assistant, client — or even a judge.
“If you recognize you’re in this situation, the next step is to get out of it. The quickest and simplest way is to slow down and take time to focus on your breathing. This is not something that comes naturally for lawyers. It’s counterproductive to their bottom line way of doing business,” he says.
Outside of meditation, some employers are turning to on-site yoga, or just simply workload management to help employees better manage stress. At Kane & Company, a South Florida CPA firm, employees recently learned from a psychologist how to become more effective controlling their job-related stress. Suggestions included breathing exercises, exercise in general and focusing on relaxation techniques. Monte Kane, the firm’s managing director, says the workshops help his staff with everyday stress, but he makes it his responsibility to know when they have entered the burnout zone.