Magazine article Communication World

Creative Ways for Managing Work-Place Tension

Magazine article Communication World

Creative Ways for Managing Work-Place Tension

Article excerpt

An undeniable fact about today's work place: Elevated stress is a reality for any whose jobs are to interact with people outside their organizations. Like the company labour relations person who must deal with unions, or the salesperson who has to pitch a product or service to customers, communicators face stressful situations when they represent their organizations to the public.

Moreover, business communicators face what stress and anxiety researchers refer to as "boundary role" pressure because they straddle an imaginary line between their company and the outside world. This is the stress you feel, for example, when senior management wants to stay mute on a subject and the media are hounding you for answers.

The stress may stem from philosophical or ethical differences of opinion. Regardless of the nature of the stress, it is real and endemic to our roles in our organizations.

Stress is a byproduct of the situation when communicators have to put themselves in the shoes of others. "When you are writing a speech for a CEO, you have to dissociate yourself from what you are writing - you are writing for someone else. It's like you are inside the head of someone else," explains Daniel Morin, a communication officer at the University of Ottawa, located in Canada's national capital.

For Akron, Ohio-based David Meeker, executive vice-president of Edward Howard & Co., the greatest amount of stress comes from uncertainty - determining what is the right course to follow when communication advice has to be provided to management.

In companies where managements don't have a proper understanding of how excellent public relations practices can benefit the organization, "an awful lot of stress" is in store for those working in the PR department, says Roberta (Bobbi) Resnick, ABC, principal of her own Toronto consulting firm that has counseled consumer product companies for many years.

The relevance and role of public relations is a major concern and source of anxiety for senior practitioners. A university study a decade ago found that two-thirds of a national sample of practitioners preferred to practice the so-called two-way symmetric model of communication. Two-thirds also believed that management preferred one of the other communication models. A discrepancy between the model preferred by the practitioner and by management resulted in high job dissatisfaction.

Stress is a major cause of low productivity, high absenteeism, poor decisions and morale. According to the theory developed by Hans Selve, the human body cannot instantly rebuild its ability to cope with stress. As a result, people become physically and psychologically weakened from trying to combat it. When workers become burned out, they are more likely to complain, attribute their errors to others, and become highly irritable. The alienation they feel often drives them to think about leaving their jobs, to seek out opportunities to become trained for new careers and to quit.

How Communicators Cope

Regularly facing tight deadlines in communicating with diverse audiences ranging from probing media reporters to angry environmentalists, to concerned customers, corporate communicators appear to have developed necessary stress-coping skills.

The most reliable anti-stress strategy that we found employed by communicators in our interviews is one in which they sought to regain a sense of personal control over their situations. Shunning so-called "escape coping" strategies (such as trying not to get concerned about a matter), which may reduce stress but hardly deals with the cause of the stressful incidents, these communicators said they have always gravitated toward a positive "take-charge" approach.

Be Prepared

Recounting that product recalls had been a fact of life for her as PR counselor to consumer food manufacturers, Resnick says the key to stress management in our profession is to "preempt. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.