Tag Archives: workplace stress

The Bomb: A True Story about Leadership, Trust, and Control

stressed studentThere was a bomb threat at a small private school recently.  The head of school received the threat on Tuesday afternoon for Wednesday.  She immediately alerted law enforcement and gathered the appropriate group of leaders at the school and then contacted the parents to let them know school was cancelled on Wednesday (out of “an abundance of caution”) while they dealt with the threat.  The local police and FBI swept the school with bomb-sniffing dogs multiple times and even had a helicopter fly overhead to inspect rooftops.  They identified the perpetrator and made sure the school was safe (and swept again) before reopening school on Thursday.

On Thursday morning, the head of school held a special assembly for parents and explained what had transpired in as much detail as law enforcement officials would allow her to.  She then opened the floor to questions—and that’s when the real explosions occurred.  Parents criticized her actions and motivations.  They thunderously applauded each other’s accusations and tried to derail the meeting with emotionally charged diatribes.  I will stop here to tell you why I am recounting this story.

This is a story about leadership. 

No matter how much the head of school did right and how high she prioritized the safety of the children and how much she communicated with the parents, it wasn’t enough.  Nobody said, “Wow, that must have been a tough situation for you and you handled it well.”  Instead, they focused on themselves, raising one complaint after another about how little they were involved in the situation.

This is a story about trust. 

While the school leaders were managing the situation on Tuesday night, one parent called the local TV station to send reporters in to spy on what was going on and broadcast it for everyone to see.  This raised the question: why was there so little trust?  Was it the leader who was not trustworthy or was it the parents who weren’t able to trust?  I think it was the latter.

This is a story about control. 

People who have a high need for control aren’t able to trust others.  Our society currently encourages people to have a high need for control by drawing attention to everything we don’t control, like natural disasters, terrorism, and aging.  We run around in such a panic that we crave control and many of us end up trying to control things we can’t, like our children, their teachers, and even their bosses.

It’s time to loosen the grip.  Yes, it would have been a tragedy if a bomb had detonated at the school and hurt children, but it didn’t, and it couldn’t have because they closed the school.  They got police, FBI, dogs, and helicopters to ensure the safety of the school.  They did a good job.  It’s time we get hold of ourselves and learn to let go and trust others.  We can’t control everything, and we can’t control most things.  But we can control ourselves.  And we need to, if not for our own well-being, for everyone else’s sake.

Look at what the anxiety caused in this situation.  On Thursday, by total coincidence, someone inadvertently set off the fire alarm at the school.  The children were so stressed out they ran around and screamed and hid under desks.  Why do you think they were so stressed out?  Because the parents were out of control.

Anxiety is rampant right now among children and adults in our society.  According to the New York Times Magazine, hospitalization for teen suicide has doubled in the past ten years and so has the number of college freshmen who feel overwhelmed by all they have to do.

The Millennial generation of adults has the highest level of anxiety of any generation to date.  In fact, approximately one in five Millennials report experiencing depression, compared to 16 percent of Generation X employees and 16 percent of baby boomers, according to Bloomberg BNA.  This is no laughing matter.  Anxiety and depression wreak havoc on health and can lead to drug use and suicide.

We as leaders, parents, and adults need to take a deep breath, learn to trust, and role model composure for the people of the next generation.  The stakes are too high not to.

 

It’s OK to Be OK

okWhen did it stop being OK to be OK? Now it’s great, wonderful, amazing, stellar, and even epic. Epic. Really? What does epic even mean, anyway? Heroic and monumental are some of the definitions from standard dictionaries. The Odyssey is a classic example. The Urban Dictionary defines it as “the most overused word ever, next to fail.” Overused is exactly my point—for all these words, except OK.

My daughter skipped and twirled across the lawn and did a cartwheel at the end. “Ta da!” She said. “Wasn’t that amazing?” She asked, beaming ear-to-ear. I had to be honest with her. “That was cool, but I wouldn’t call it amazing.” Do you think I’m a bad parent? I think it’s better to keep it real than to puff her up to believe she’s bigger than life.

It gets dizzying and meaningless when everything is awesome. People become numb and turn to drugs to keep the buzz from wearing off and to keep reality from creeping in. The stress of having to constantly outdo oneself and others leads people to engage in risky behaviors, both in youth and adults.

Let’s face it; most of us really are OK at most things. We may excel at something, but, compared to the rest of the humans on earth, we’re in the middle of the pack. And that’s OK! It’s OK to aspire to have a middle class life. We don’t need to try to be the best or to make millions. Really, it’s OK to have a solid job and have a decent life. Maybe get married, maybe have a family. That’s OK too. And it’s OK not to.

smiley faceLook around you. Most of the people around you are OK. Yes, there are a very rare few in the media who have mansions and insanely lavish lifestyles, but most people don’t. Not to worry. Research shows that having more money doesn’t make you happier, once you have enough to cover the basics. It’s interesting, because most parents say their most important wish for their children is for them to be happy. Voila. You don’t need to pressure them to be the best. It’s OK to be OK.

Stopping Stimulant Abuse among Young Workers

prescription drugsMillennials are experiencing work stress and burnout at disturbingly high rates. Previously, career burnout was a midlife issue. Now it is happening early on, at the beginning of people’s careers.

Young workers are showing signs of burnout by asking for time off or reduced work hours, or are opting out altogether and moving back with their parents. There is also a trend for young people to start their own companies that have more relaxed work schedules. Other signs include the increased use of alternative relaxation methods, such as yoga, meditation, and acupuncture. These are the healthy ways to handle stress.

The problem is, a growing number of young workers are not handling stress in a healthy way. They are turning to drugs—namely performance enhancement drugs, such as Adderall and other stimulants. In recent years, use of A.D.H.D. medication has almost doubled among adults 26 to 34, according to a New York Times investigation. And this is only measured as prescription use.

Many young workers are getting drugs illegally. In prescription form, young adults are getting rapid and incomplete ADHD diagnoses to procure the drug and are sometimes going to multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions. In non-prescription form, young adults are buying it from dealers. Either way, they are taking too much.stress

Young workers report high performance expectations and levels of competition are reasons for turning to stimulant abuse. Abuse of performance enhancement drugs has been going on in colleges for a while. These same students are growing up and continuing the abuse as they enter the workplace.

Burnout and drug abuse are caused because healthy coping mechanisms are missing. One contributing factor is that the millennial generation has been raised by overprotective parents who have not given their kids opportunities to develop resilience and coping strategies. Instead, they have placed high levels of stress and extraordinary expectations for achievement on their children.

relaxNow that millennials are grown up, it is time for them to develop healthy coping mechanisms for work demands and stress. Running away and turning to drugs won’t fix the problem. Developing resilience and setting reasonable expectations for success will.

Why It Is Important to Take Vacation

fete de la musique
Musicians play on the streets of Paris at Fete de la Musique
coupe de monde
World Cup fans outside my window at 2:00 a.m.

By Joanie Connell

Taking two weeks off in itself is a great way to gain perspective on life. Traveling to another country is even better. I just returned from two weeks in Paris. During those two weeks I experienced a very different way of life. I was kept up till all hours of the night by the Fête de la Musique, an all-night music festival that takes place on the streets of Paris. I lost sleep because the fans of the World Cup celebrated on the streets too, by driving around with their horns on at 2:00 in the morning. During daylight hours, I was slowed down by traffic that was gridlocked due to protest marches and demonstrations and by strikes that delayed trains and planes coming in and out of Paris

None of that bothered me. Rather, I found it curiously intriguing. What bothered me–at least at first–was spending over a week without WiFi. The router in our apartment broke and the landlord didn’t seem to understand the urgency around fixing it promptly. I was planning to work while on vacation and was shut down. Public WiFi was no option. In France, free WiFi tends to be so slow it is unusable except for email—another curiosity. The French just don’t seem to have the same need for speed that Americans do.

What was I to do? Well, how about enjoy my vacation! I gave up worrying about work. I didn’t blog for two weeks. I stayed off Face Book and I hardly emailed. Rather, I immersed myself into French culture and leisure.

A funny thing happened. In more than one conversation, French people asked me why I was only on vacation for two weeks. They asked what else I would do during the summer for the rest of my vacation. I kept having to explain that this was my summer vacation and that I would be returning to work when I got home and that I was fortunate to be able to travel for two weeks because many Americans don’t have that kind of time. Now it was their turn to find my culture curiously intriguing.

Even if we only have 2 weeks of vacation per year, as compared to their typical 2 months of vacation, it makes all the difference in the world to get away from work for a while. It gives you perspective. Realizing that you’re dispensable, that the daily crisis at work really isn’t urgent or earth shattering, and that life has so much more to offer than work is truly important. Taking vacation helps to broaden your perspective and refocus your priorities in life.

As a consultant, I get an external perspective of companies. More often than not, I feel the office tension as I walk in. I see the desperate looks on executives’ faces as they try to do what they think the president wants. If the president decides he/she wants X, the executives send their teams into a frenzy to deliver X2. The executives advise me on what words to use or not use to appeal to the president’s idiosyncrasies. They demand that I turn in work proposals immediately and be available to perform without delay. They expect me to work after hours and on weekends like they do. I’ve learned my lesson because, when I do, they change their minds or the president isn’t available to look at it or the project gets canceled or something like that. We have all rushed around with elevated heart rates and stress levels for no real reason.

vacationEvery time I return from vacation, I gain perspective and vow not to get sucked into this lifestyle when I return. Sometimes I succeed. If more of us took time out to relax and gain perspective, we would probably be much less stressed at work. I highly recommend giving it a try. If anything, you’ll be less stressed for a while. If it catches on, we might make the workplace a better place for all of us.