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This Job Is Killing Me!

by Yank Elliott, MBA & IAHBE Staff Writer

The idea for this article came from “My job’s giving me a heart attack!” You can read it here. Whenever this subject comes up, I’m reminded of several things that have happened around me. One almost killed me, and I just realized what happened. For years I worked for a small family-owned manufacturing company. I really liked the President and everything about the business for the first three or four years. Then the President’s son returned from college; he was a really nice fellow and I still like him. But his return changed my relationship with the company. He never did anything unkind to me, but it just seemed he was always looking over my shoulder with some slight disapproval. And everything my wife and I bought, like a home or an automobile, his wife threw up in all of our faces, “Why can’t I have that? We own the place and he (referring to me) is just a worker.”

Then, my own wife (now ex) never stopped wanting more things; I have to say I wanted more as well, but there just wasn’t enough money to do more, and I could not see any way to get more. Meanwhile, the company began to have financial problems. I was the financial officer, so much of the stress fell upon me. When we found a buyer, I thought all my worries were over—they were just beginning. I had to kick myself every morning just to get out of bed.

While all this was going on I became very involved in two community programs that made a difference in people’s lives. All community service groups constantly need money, so add two more stressful situations to my life. Everybody needed more money: business, home, community service groups. Fortunately I had a heart attack; I didn’t die, but it got me out of all the stress, but in a very undignified manner. I ended up with nothing but a new life, free of all the unhealthy conditions I was living in, along with a chance to begin from the very bottom of everything.

I always felt those stressful conditions contributed substantially to my health problem, but I also feel the heart attack may be the luckiest thing that ever happened. Now I’m beginning to find confirmation of this health thinking from recent articles and research into the relation of job stress to poor health.

Which leads to another thing that is in the form of a local advertisement I hear repeated several times daily. It’s a take-off on the saying from the movie “Nine To Five,” “Take this job and shove it.” The local ad is by a Community College seeking students. The ad is based on “Take this job and LOVE it.” Makes me sick! Without getting into an entirely different subject, let me just say all the schools are just turning out expendable bodies to make some corporation money.

It is true that most people must work to live. This will be true until the robots finally begin to do everything, which may not be too far away. When that time arrives, there will be an unsettled period when most people are out of work; after a while, some way will be found to divide the robots’ profits and everyone will have to learn how to play checkers or golf to pass time. Until then, as many as possible should start one or two sideline businesses while they are still working so they can eventually work for themselves or at least not starve to death if they are fired.

Those who don’t want to work for themselves, or can’t make it on their own, should take the attitude described in Die Broke, available from Amazon. This book advocates the idea of quitting your job, even the first one, as soon as you begin to work. The quitting is in your mind, meaning you should at once begin to look for a better job. When you find one that suits, at a higher salary, of course, you should actually quit your present job and take the better one. As soon as you begin the new job, quit in your mind and repeat the process. The point of this idea is to improve your financial position continuously so eventually you can do whatever you want, spend every last cent, and die broke when you sense the end is near. I totally recommend this approach, if you must work for someone else. The better way is self-employment.

Now, where is the proof for all this about stress at work killing people, other than my own example? We can begin by looking at the blog of Dr. Helen Smith, the subject of the original article that caught my attention. She is a forensic psychologist who solved her particular health problems, several heart attacks while very young, only 37, by working from her home rather than at a workplace. Some of the comments related to her blog show that workers in a wide range of fields suffer from a number of stress-related conditions, such as:

* One worked for a large law firm for six years and felt that stress constantly washed over him, like a river. He quit to enter a PhD program.

* IT workers seem to be under a lot of stress. One comment expressed willingness to change jobs frequently when the work structure began to be stressful; this is a great strategy, but not available to many jobs.

* A biotech worker was told they had no choice but to accept a lot more work and responsibility with no additional pay; they simply quit and began their own small profitable photography business.

* Another stressed employee did the ultimate; they retired early!

From About.com come these findings from various surveys quoted in the British Medical Journal:

* High stress levels increase a person’s chance of developing metabolic syndrome.

* Presence of this syndrome increases the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

This article, “Is Your Job Heartbreaking?”, from Workplace Health, is based on a large study by the Belgian Stress Project. This research found some results not considered by the conventional medical community which focuses on classic risk factors for heart problems like cholesterol levels. The report developed some questions a worker should ask about taking a new job or staying at their present work:

* Do you have the opportunity to develop new skills?

* Are you allowed to organize your own work?

* Do you have enough authority to make decisions?

* Can your coworkers and bosses make you happy more than making you want to hit something?

Some more proof of job stress is in the comments to this blog by Linkedin Answers:

* One comment related to an abusive management environment. Workers who quit took as much as nine months to recover completely. These people suffered dental problems, alcohol abuse, acid-reflux, and inability to relax because of a constant feeling of impending doom.

* Two comments address the ability of your boss to control your health and your life. One said “your boss is 80% of your life!” The other used the often quoted government finding that most heart attacks occur around 9:00 AM on Monday morning. (My comment: It’s tough to go where you hate to be).

* One comment mentions a condition at his company that he called “Rectal Cranial Inversion.” Go figure. Whatever it was caused gout, edema, and use of a cane for awhile. After leaving that job he worked for AOL enduring constant layoff rumors. He had a heart attack on Monday and was back at work on Friday.

* Another writer listed 14 health-related problems people her work group experienced. A few are anxiety attacks, nausea, vomiting, can’t sleep, headaches, and loss of libido (this one would make me quit immediately!).

In “How Does Stress Affect Health?” the author lists ways stress becomes a health problem. Here are a few of these:

* Depression often results from continued stress.

* The author says stress can cause hair loss, especially if it causes a person to literally pull out their hair.

* Obsessive compulsive behavior disorder can res

ult from too much stress.

* Stress often results in obesity, because eating seems to relieve stress symptoms in some people.

* Of course, heart disease is on the list as well.

This should be enough proof that stress in the workplace is detrimental to the health of many employees. When you read through all the blogs and attached comments, you will find a substantial number of people who believe workers should modify their own behavior in order to endure work conflicts with bosses and coworkers. No doubt this can work, but at what cost? You’ve already given at least half your life, most of your family relationships, as well as your health to the company. Are you now supposed to give your soul as well?

The better way to do this would seem to be getting along with all your employment problems until you can find something better. People fear change and they don’t like all the work required to find a new job. Aren’t your health and family worth a little effort to improve the future for everyone?

The perfect solution is to do as I did or as the subject of the original heart article in this discussion did. Work for yourself or telecommute. This may not be available to everyone, but the Internet has improved the possibilities. You should at least look into the possibility of doing this.

So, what are the most stressful occupations? While researching this I concluded there are probably as many different lists as there are groups making the surveys. It’s sort of like statistical analysis. You can prove anything you want if you set the right parameters. Just for your information here is one such list from Health Magazine:

Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs

1. Inner City HS Teacher
2. Police Officer
3. Miner
4. Air Traffic Controller
5. Medical Intern
6. Stockbroker
7. Journalist
8. Customer Service/Complaint Worker
9. Secretary
10. Waiter

One final thought worth considering is what about those who survive a layoff? They are really fortunate, don’t you think? Maybe not. Read “Keeping your job may damage your health.” The author says many layoff survivors suffer from what he calls “layoff-survivor sickness.” If a company fails to recognize this problem and does not help the survivors, there is likely to be a significant loss in productivity and resulting low morale.

And my final shot for self-employment is this miscellaneous poll I found from January 2, 2007:

Would you like to work from home?

Yes 77%
No 23%

End of story.

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© Yank Elliott. All rights reserved worldwide.
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Yank is a home-based entrepreneur and freelance business writer living in Hurricane Alley, North Carolina, USA. His Website is http://www.alternate-choice.com and you may contact Yank at mailto:newideas@alternate-choice.com.

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