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Stressing Out

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Im willing to bet that a lot of people in the business were able to relate easily to the cover story in our Nov. 15 issue, which was titled “The Stress Factor in Underwriting.”

While the article by Linda Koco dealt with the ramifications of stress in underwriting life insurance, stress is a topic that goes way beyond this business and has broad resonance across wider and wider swaths of our society in the early 21st century. Who among us doesnt know what it means to be stressed?

Granted, periods of stress are part of life and we all have experienced them from time to time. But the fact is that stress as a continuing condition of life is something that lots of people are feeling most of the time.

Most often, the origin of the stress lies in having too much to do in the time allotted to do it. So, what happens is that the amount of time allocated to work or do other necessary tasks has to increase to absorb the greater amount of work. This in turn puts pressure on all the other things a person has to dobut now having less time in which to do them.

In the workplace, this condition of spreading stress has been given a positive-sounding spin. Its called increasing productivity. And who can argue with that?

Productivity is good; ergo, increasing productivity must be better.

Unfortunately, the way it generally has translated in the last few years among employers is that when an employee is let go, his or her work remains and has to be spread around among the surviving employees or is assigned to just one other employee.

That doesnt mean that the duties of the cashiered employee were added on to those of some malingerer whose work only filled half of his or her time. Quite the opposite. It means that employers are getting two jobs done now for the price of one.

Now, multiply that by hundreds of thousands of employees in hundreds of companies in many industries across the land. You can see why stress in the workplace is nothing less than an epidemic of catastrophic proportions.

Companies routinely lay off thousands of people now at one fell swoop. Just the other week Marsh Inc. said it was laying off 3,000 employees in the wake of its being embroiled in scandals uncovered by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Most laid-off employees are reabsorbed into the workplace sooner or later, having undergone in the interim the stress of being without work while the bills continue to pour in through the mail slot.

Meanwhile the on-the-job survivors have to pick up the slack because the same amount of work remains to be done.

So, youre stressed if youre working and stressed if youre not.

Of course, the situation from the surviving employees vantage point is not helped by the fact that the additional work was not accompanied by a concomitant increase in salary, or at best came with a chintzy raise. You see, thats the beauty of productivity if youre an employer. More bang for the buck.

Most employees accept the situation where they are because they know (or think they know) that its probably not much better elsewhere (and could be worse). However, the toll on mental and physical health can be dangerous and overwhelming.

Depression, burnout and mood swings are just some of the emotional effects of stress, while high blood pressure, broken sleep and weight gain or loss are among its more common physical manifestations.

Theres a lot more I could write about this, but its late, Im out of space, my deadline is fast approaching and I have a million other things to do.

Steve Piontek


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, November 24, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.