Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Worker Stress, Burnout Appear to Be Escalating

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Worker Stress, Burnout Appear to Be Escalating

Article excerpt

By Torri Minton

N.Y. Times News Service

A software company owner doesn't have an office, wear a watch or use an alarm clock much. He lives in a hot springs resort two hours north of San Francisco, where he eats a macrobiotic diet, gets acupuncture and chiropractic adjustments.

An equipment manager manages his job stress by getting a massage. In his office. Once a week. Twenty minutes.

A surgical-instruments marketing forecaster works out six days a week to relax during 75- to 90-hour workweeks that include business management school.

"I feel more relieved after karate than aerobics," she says, "because that's when I get to hit something."

They are burnout-busters in the fight against job stress _ the 20th century disease.

The International Labor Organization recently called stress "one of the most serious health issues of the 20th century." It's a problem not just for employees' physical and mental health, but also for employers and governments who are starting to assess the financial damage, the United Nations agency report said.

It found, among other things, that job stress costs the U.S. economy $200 billion a year because of decreased productivity.

It also found that job burnout, the result of stress, brings low resistance to illness, inefficient work and increased pessimism. In Japan, death from overwork has a name: "karoshi."

"In the last five to seven years, across the board in all professions, almost everybody I encounter is experiencing too much work and not enough time to do it," says workplace psychologist Beverly Potter of Berkeley, Calif., author of "Preventing Job Burnout."

"Computers that are supposed to lead to the paperless office mean more work instead of less," Potter says. On top of that, companies are "taking the workload, cutting it up to add to people's jobs, and people are saying, `I can't complain, at least I have a job.' . . . The stress level and the burnout level seem to be escalating."

The cure? Depends on whom you talk to.

On the cutting edge are things like theta brain-wave machines that put you into a nap-like state with flashing lights and ocean sounds. There are "smart drinks" and massage breaks at business meetings. There are anti-stress office stretching exercises, and not just the kind where you walk out the door.

Having control over what you do is tremendously important, experts say.

Many companies offer stress-management classes. Intel also has eight-week paid leaves every seven years for all but part-time employees. Sun Microsystems lets loose by getting seriously silly.

On April Fools' Day 1991, the vice president of Sun Microsystems labs found his office in the fish roundabout at the Steinhart Aquarium _ desk, filing cabinets, computer and pictures of wife and kids. Chief Executive Scott McNealy called the joke, part of an April Fools' series, part of Sun's "work hard, play hard" philosophy.

Hypnotherapy can help, too. On the other hand, so can rose-colored glasses.

Or yellow ones. Potter, also known as "Beverly Burnout," had an eye-opening experience with them. …

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