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Job Stress Leading To Burnout Print E-mail

Thursday June 1, 2006

It's like a TV game show. Here are the answers:

Your job. Your boss. Your computer. Your paycheque. Your security.

The question: what are the factors driving working Canadians to an early burnout?

You don't need Alex Trebek around to know they're putting their health in jeopardy.

And a new survey from Desjardins Financial Security shows changes in the workplace and worries over money are creating increasing problems for employees away from it.

Part of the dilemma is they simply can't seem to get away from it at all.

Because many can't afford to.

The study indicates 44 percent of those asked admit financial needs supercede their health requirements.

"That's your livelihood," explains one worker. "You need money to live, especially in Toronto."

Another agrees money was at the root of his work evil. "I resigned as a partner of one of the Bay Street firms two years ago because my child support was basically already in the bank," he boasts. "That's the only reason I was ever there."

It all takes its toll.

"The costs and effects on people and companies are tremendous," warns Dejardins' Alain Thauvette.

"Forty-eight percent of Canadian workers, who took time off of work because of physical health problems relating to mental health issues, told us they were absent from one to five business days from work.

"But 37 percent of Canadian workers, who attempted to keep to their work schedule while dealing with physical health problems resulting from a mental health issue, said they had to return to work to avoid lost wages.

"Presenteeism, the feeling that you must show up for work even if you are too sick to be there is a main factor in employee stress and distraction. The results are productivity losses for companies. Employers need to pay attention."

And the majority of us are being affected by the one thing we all thought would make things easier - technology.

It turns out the long arms of the Internet, Blackberrys, pagers and cell phones have all combined to make us feel more tethered to work than ever.

And many of us can't escape it even when we go home.

That raises stress levels and turns up the boiling point of burnout higher than ever before.

The survey of 1,500 people shows 40 percent of us leave our jobs because of undue stress and at least that many claim disability for the same reason.

Many also find they're losing touch with family and friends as the demands of work grow larger.

And as much as we'd like to get away from it all, worries over losing our jobs and fears of financial fallout are keeping us both mentally and physically chained to our desks.

A separate recent study shows many Canadians aren't even taking their allotted vacation time, because they simply can't find the gap in their schedule.

Among the Desjardins survey highlights:

  • 59% of employees put work ahead of family and personal obligations even if they're sick.
  • Money is the main source of stress for 44% of all employees. It's also the biggest obstacle preventing people from taking necessary recovery time.
  • 62% suffering physical health problems resulting from mental health issues continue to make work a priority, even though they need time to recover.
  • 59% say they've made sacrifices for work at the expense of family and friends and
  • 83% of Canadian workers find wireless technology is either maintaining or increasing their stress levels.

So how can you relax before you relapse?

Here are some suggestions about reducing your work stress levels.


Set reasonable goals

You simply can't continually be expected to always do more in the same allotted time. And if you try, chances are pretty good your output will suffer.

A good boss won't want you to do poor work, so if you're overwhelmed, let your superiors know.

If they care about their company and you, they'll help you work out something.

Otherwise, there's one word you may need to learn, and it's not 'quit'. It's one-syllable and it's a bon mot many have trouble saying: 'no'.

Schedule your tasks

If you know you have a report to write or an assignment to finish that will take a set number of hours, schedule that time, and don't put anything else on your plate.

Your employer will likely appreciate one job well done rather than ten that are subpar.

Beware of meetings

They're classic time wasters. Ask the organizers beforehand how long they'll be and try to remind them to stick to that timeframe.

Many of these gatherings degenerate into long sidebar issues that not only waste time but accomplish nothing.

And they leave you behind when you finally escape them, adding to that time crunch panic.

You can't control everything

Unexpected things happen and no matter how much prep you do, there's no way to stop them. Allow for them and reduce the stress by remembering you're not the only one affected and life isn't perfect.

Do you really want to start this now?

Beginning a task that could take hours you don't have will only make you feel resentful and angry.

Allocate enough time for a major project and get everything else out of the way before you start it.

Don't procrastinate

It's easy and it's common. But it wastes time you don't have, leaving you pressed at the end of the day. Learn to get at a task right away and finish it. You'll be free to spend it doing something else and maybe you'll just finish up early.

Take your full lunch hour and your vacation

Time away can be as valuable as money. And it can have an equally big payoff. If you don't recharge your batteries every now and then they run down, leaving you feeling even more powerless.

Don't try this at home

Unless there's an emergency, once you're gone from work you shouldn't return until the next day. Checking your email, writing that memo or telecommuting from your den after you've left can leave you feeling like you're on a leash you can't break.

And only in a Hard Day's Night should you be working like a dog.

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