"It is estimated that job stress costs American business $200-$300 million a year owing to absences from the office, lost productivity, employee turnover, and direct medical costs." So remarked Doris McMillon as she led off the 2000 Annual Briefing for Administrative Professionals held April 26 at Atlantic Video Studios, Washington, D.C. The startling statistic from McMillon, program moderator at this year's annual briefing, launched the topic of discussion, "Overcoming Overload: Strategies for Staying on Top."
The live two-hour telecast presented by PBS The Business and Technology Network, in association with the American Management Association, New York City, featured Cynthia A. Lively, president of the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), Kansas City, Missouri; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and humorist Dave Barry; and experts from the fields of communication, health, and electronic information. As well as giving individual presentations, the featured speakers answered questions posed from the audience--and received via fax and e-mail from off-site registrants at locations to which the program was broadcast via satellite.
"Technology has rapidly changed the way all of us work today," says IAAP's Lively. "The use of the Internet is contributing to an unprecedented transformation of office work. Not only are workers required to do more and more, they are also having to stay on top of training and education." She adds, "Changes are being introduced faster than ever, and we are all scrambling to keep up."
IAAP was founded in 1952 as the National Association of Secretaries. In 1998 members voted to change the name to the International Association of Administrative Professionals. "The rest of the business community was asking why we weren't keeping pace with what was happening in today's workplace," says Lively. "The new name is all-inclusive and better describes the expanded job duties of our members."
It isn't news to anyone that we are deluged daily with information-- from e-mails, phone calls, voice mails, postal mail, faxes, and so forth. In fact, on an average day an employee might receive 52 phone calls, 36 e-mails, 18 pieces of mail, 14 faxes, and more, according to a September 1999 survey in American Demographics. "I think there are days when most of us look around and realize that we are overwhelmed, unbalanced, and exhausted," admits Lively.
Despite the deluge, Frank McCluskey, professor of philosophy and organizational leadership at Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, New York, and chief executive officer of Enlightened Technology, Mahopac Falls, New York, advises that the basic methods for managing information are still effective: The more you organize, the better. He offers the following tips to keep information overload under control:
* Keep your desk clean and clear. Handle each document only once--act, file, or trash. By eliminating paper clutter, you'll subsequently eliminate stress.
* Organize your files. Don't hoard irrelevant and outdated files. Code priority files in a particular color and give each folder a meaningful name. Then be brutal-dispose of old, irrelevant files.
* Keep your office environment tidy. Hold an annual organization day and hire a temp to cover the phones if that's what it will take to get the job done.
* Manage phone messages. Try batching your voice mails and responding to messages a couple of times a day. Update your voice mail message regularly to inform callers of your schedule.
* Establish an e-policy. Again, use the act, file, or delete system and make use of software tools by organizing e-mails into folders. If your job calls for sending the same e-mail back to a number of people, create four or five templates to reuse.
McCluskey, who coaches executives to become more comfortable and confident using office technology, also contends that "our lives are being driven with the pace of technology." McCluskey says we must learn to control "wired" time: "We all have the power to take it out of our lives once in a while. We-not the technology-are creating the stress."
Lively agrees that finding a comfortable balance isn't easy, but in the end it comes down to individual choices: "Our lifestyle is on the go and I think all of us find it tough balancing a career, family, and home life. Balance, I believe, is a state of mind more than a set of achieved expectations." She adds, "Making it all work depends on our unique abilities and how we prefer to structure our personal environment."
Andrea Nierenberg, a professional trainer and founder of The Nierenberg Group, New York City, maintains that interruptions cost a lot every day in terms of time and productivity. According to Nierenberg, it is possible to handle and even prevent interruptions. She recommends planning your day every day: "Create a daily strategy in the morning--write a to--do list and prioritize your projects-because if something else comes up, the list will help you get back on track." Nierenberg also suggests using voice mail and e-mail to alert others about your day's schedule. By recommending the best time to phone or e-mail you back, you can stop interruptions before they happen.
Do you always put off particular tasks? According to Nierenberg, procrastination is something that we can control and prevent. She says that if there are tasks that you find yourself avoiding, by following these five steps you will be in a better position to tackle assignments that you would rather put off:
1. Create a to-do list by identifying the tasks that you consistently avoid. Find the subconscious reason for putting off the task.
2. Separate complex projects into manageable tasks. Break large projects down into bite-size pieces. "Compare the project to putting together a jigsaw puzzle," recommends Nierenberg. "Begin by laying out all of the pieces, sorting the larger pieces into one group, and perhaps gathering up all the pieces that look like they will constitute the border. Then you can begin filling in the blank spots.
3. Draft a time line. Compare your project to writing a story with a beginning, middle, and end. This will help you foresee any problems that might come up.
4. Develop a clear image of the finished project. To motivate yourself, try visualizing yourself completing the task. "In the 1960s, President Kennedy visualized someone walking on the moon, says Nierenberg. "By firmly embracing that image, he then began to motivate others, and put together the plans to make it happen."
5. Ask for advice. Explain your challenging task to a senior person or peer and ask how he or she might go about it.
Taking care of mind and body
Virginia Inglese, registered dietitian, wellness expert, and founder of Total Health Concepts, Vienna, Virginia, emphasizes the importance of selfcare. To stay on the right track to healthy living, Inglese says you must make yourself a priority, even on the most hectic schedule: "It's important to make time for yourself. Learn what your body needs and educate yourself about how different foods affect energy and blood-sugar levels, and, ultimately, your ability to perform." Combining nutrition, a positive attitude, exercise, and relaxation techniques can help to conquer and manage stress.
Inglese claims that it's easy to turn stress into energy by managing how we eat, balancing what we eat, and exercising regularly. Her ready-to-use tips include these:
* Eat small, frequent meals. Eating every three to four hours will sustain blood-sugar energy levels.
* Combine proteins and carbohydrates. Inglese recommends two ounces of protein in every meal; too much carbohydrate makes you tired.
* Drink water, water, water. Keeping your body well hydrated is vital in reducing fatigue.
* Try nutrient-rich superfoods and vitamin therapy. Incorporate into your diet dairy foods high in calcium and dark green leafy vegetables for fiber and antioxidants. According to Inglese, most people take too many vitamins. She suggests calling a nutritionist in your area for customized lab-tested vitamin therapy.
Take a timeout
Inglese encourages everyone to find a way to build a simple fitness activity into their lives such as stretching in the morning and walking in the afternoon. "If exercise were a pill, we would take it. People think that it takes too much time. Break it into 10-minute segments--it's less intimidating." Inglese recommends that instead of internalizing stress, workers take many short breaks--every two to three hours throughout the day--making one an exercise break. Schedule reminders on your electronic scheduler to tell yourself to take a break.
Laughter is key
According to humorist Dave Barry, the biggest reliever of stress is humor. Barry encourages chief executive officers to leverage laughter in the workplace to make it a more productive and pleasant place to spend the day. (See sidebar, "A Behind-the-Scenes Bonus.) With tongue firmly in cheek, Barry cites three major sources of stress and overload: other humans, children, and spouses or significant others.
Other human beings. People are the single biggest cause of stress. "That's why I seldom venture out of my home office," quips Barry.
He offers the following "tried and true" methods for relieving stress:
* Avoid contact with others (if you don't already work at home).
* Wear camouflage clothing, perhaps disguising yourself as a filing cabinet.
* Learn to work from under your desk.
* Avoid the humor-impaired.
* Don't answer the telephone. As an alternative, Barry jokingly suggests that you disguise yourself as a voice mail message and tell callers to try calling back after 5:30 p.m.--at which time, of course, you'll be gone for the day.
Children. Your offspring are the biggest causes of home-related stress, says Barry. "I've learned to use parenting as an embarrassment to my children," admits Barry, "like singing in public--it makes them nuts."
Your spouse or significant other. This relationship is particularly stressful because "some idiot" came up with the idea of making different genders, quips Barry.
On the serious side, if he has one, Barry urges us to remember that "humor is a lifelong strategy to help relieve stress." IAAP's Lively agrees. "I very much encourage humor in the workplace. In today's work world it is the only saving grace. If we can forgive ourselves, laugh at ourselves, and most of all recognize that we are all human--that we all have limited time, resources, and energy, and we all make mistakes--then we will live far healthier lives. And as they say, laughter is the best medicine."
Clare N. Harman is editorial assistant of ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT arranged to meet with the presenters of the 2000 Annual Briefing for Administrative professinals, "Overcoming Overload: Strategies for Staying on Top," after the live PBS broadcast in Washington, D.C. In individual interviews, ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT asked the experts to expand on the topics they had introduced to the audience-- and to relate more specifically to the magazine's readers their recommendations for reducing stress. Here are some of the comments that came out of interviews with humorist Dave Barry, educator and technology consultant Frank McCluskey, personal trainer and coach Andrea Nierenberg, and dietitian and wellness expert Virginia Inglese.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Many ASAE members and their staffs are working under tremendous pressure. How can association leaders use humor in the work environment to help workers lighten up?
Barry: First, you don't introduce humor in the workplace by saying, "You all must go to the humor workshop, and if you don't you'll be fired." Humor is something that should be a natural or organic part of the work process. If you can't see humor in an office situation, there's something wrong. Everyone can see it; that's why Dilbert is the most popular comic strip in America. Unfortunately, there are still some organizations that refuse to acknowledge the fact that lots of things in the office setting are very funny.
When the CEO allows the people on the staff to see that it's OK to laugh, if he or she can actually make fun of things they've done then workers feel the CEO is authentic and that laughter can be spontaneous. If the CEO is willing to say, "Hey, what we do here is not brain surgery--and making a mistake is not the end of the world," humor can have a real place in the work environment of that Organization.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Do you find that humor can he contagious"
Barry: There are very few people who don't have a sense of humor--or who don't appreciate humor in others. If you laugh with people, they love it and they will respond in a similar way. Some people seem to think, "If I let down for one second and let people know that I think this is funny, they won't respect me any more." What association and business leaders need to realize is that having a sense of humor in the workplace does'n make them any less efficient or professional.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Do you think there is any possibility that the current information glut may level off at some point--perhaps when the novelty wears off?
McCluskey: I don't see that happening. Information overload will he with companies and organizations for the long haul, simply because they constantly want people to be more productive and to increase profits. It will be individual people who make the decision to take them selves out of the communication loop. The CEO, for example has the decision to make on week ends as to whether he or she wants to take phone calls or open e-mail messages at home.
Someone once referred to electronic communication devices as digital leashes. Everytime you purchase-or someone supplies you with a cell phone, a laptop, or a Palm Pilot this is not doing you a favor--it can make your life worse. IF someone tells me they have a lap's top they can take to the beach, I think that's bad. And I think that over time the average person is going to figure this out and make conscious decisions to reduce his or her availability.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT. There has been a lot of talk about the paperless office, but we continue to be inundated with paper and all sorts of other communication. How do you explain this, and what do you recommend for sorting and preparing information for later access?
McCluskey: I believe the reason that the paperless office has not materialized is that people don't yet trust electronic communication. So you see people printing off all of their e-mail messages, retaining lengthy reports that are stored online, and so on. During the week before Y2K, I went to the bank to find everyone demanding printed bank statements-as if by having the bank statement prior to the New Year their money wasn't going to evaporate.
Having said that. I think we will see the paperless office when the next few generations of people who grew up with computers compose the bulk of the workforce. They know that not only is it a lot smarter to do this, but they trust that information stored on networks is just as safe as something sitting in a file cabinet.
Whether communication is on paper or digital, the tips for organizing and managing information overload are the same ones that I covered in the presentation. (See main article, "Lighten Up.")
TAKING TIME FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Many of our readers do a tremendous amount of traveling. What do you recommend for reducing stress while on the road?
Nierenberg: First and foremost, give yourself plenty of time to get where you are going. I'm always amazed by people who call their car service 45 minutes before the plane is scheduled to take off. By giving myself a little extra time to get to the airport, I avoid the stress of rushing. And while I bring a lot of work, I also slip in a favorite CD or a novel in case I feel like I can take a little break.
Once the flight has taken off, take a little time to plan ahead. To be effective in our fast-paced world, you can't underestimate the importance of being organized. While I do often remain "wired," time on an airplane can be quieter time during which I can focus on organization and review my to-do lists. I also know when to turn all of it off and take a break, because we all must have some down time and some balance.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: Associations have a special need for volunteers-who are also stressed people with little time. Do you have any suggestions as to how to convince people to become volunteers?
Nierenberg: First of all, offer your volunteers something quite specific to do. Many people are reluctant to join an organizational committee, for example, because they don't know what their responsibilities are likely to be. If you define a project that has a beginning and an end, the person is more likely to try to fit it into his or her schedule. The worst thing to do is to tell someone the volunteer assignment will require two hours a week of their time, when it actually takes them 20 hours a week. That's a quick way to lose a relationship.
KEEPING FIT AT WORK
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: In your work with organizations, what types of leaders are recognizing workplace stress and are responding with programs that might reduce it?
Inglese: I've gotten calls from many government agencies and some large corporations asking for advice on how the organizations can arrange the work environment to be more pleasant and healthy, and how to schedule effective staff breaks that will help make workers more productive. While this is a positive trend, it's only part of the answer.
I've identified a three-phase solution. Phase one is attitude. There is no way that you can fit self-care into your day without setting boundaries and learning to say no. The clients I see are extremely stressed because they may have difficulty setting healthy boundaries and cannot put themselves first. I try to work them through an understanding of this attitude and make them aware that without changing that, the rest of the self-care program will have minimal effect. This ties in with phase two, which is to establish an awareness of what you need and want.
Once the first two steps are reached, then a person is ready to take action-step three-such as taking frequent breaks, eating small snacks throughout the day, exercising at the desk, and so on.
ASSOCIATION MANAGEMENT: What additional tips do you have to offer for establishing or maintaining a healthy lifestyle while on the road?
Inglese: The main thing I recommend-as Andrea Nierenberg does-is to plan ahead. I recommend what to pack as far as portable, healthy snack foods. And I teach people exercises that they can do with just a wall and a chair. That way they don't have to locate a gym, pack exercise clothes, or worry about any of those kinds of details. Having the portable snacks on hand is a must, since we often are trapped in airports or in rental cars.
One of the most important things that I do is to teach people how to effect balance in their lives and address their wants and needs. For example, I teach people how and when to take short breaks, I educate people not to feel guilty about putting themselves on their schedule, and so forth. No one can perform when they have a headache or when they are tired. If people can set time aside for personal care, short breaks, and rejuvenating snacks, it's really amazing how their attitudes change.
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|Title Annotation:||stress management|
|Author:||Harman, Clare N.|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2000|
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