Real-Life Causes of Workplace Stress

dwight
Don’t be a Dwight

I had a boss once brag that, “I don’t have stress – I’m a carrier.”  When he boasted that, it took a monumental amount of restraint to not say, “Actually, you’re a douchebag.”  Stress is a reality of work.  As such, it was finally time for me to tackle the subject…in my usually snarky fashion.  Strap in and prepare for the ride…

I was going to lead off with the traditional causes of stress at work… you know the usual culprits:

  • Things I want to do but can’t.
  • People’s values and actions clash with my own.
  • Things don’t meet my expectations.

Yawn.  I almost put myself to sleep.  While quasi-accurate, these reasons are too high level and lack the kick necessary to detail true sources of workplace stress.  As such, here is my attempt at a comprehensive list – in an unranked order.   These have come from a lot of different sources, friends in other organizations, etc.  Don’t try and attribute these to my current employer…

Project managers with no sense of reality. “Seriously, do you own a calendar?”

Deadlines that are just pulled out of someone’s ass.  “Why November 13th?”  “Why not?”  “It’s a Sunday.”  “I don’t care, that’s the date I chose.”  “I understand, you’re a dick.”

Colleagues that cook food that reeks in the office kitchenette.   “What is that smell, garlic roasted lizard scrotum?”

Mandatory social events after hours.  In fact, mandatory-anything contributes to my stress level.

When IT staff uses technical lingo for the sake of using technical lingo.  “Stop creating acronyms to sound intelligent!”

People that use shared workspaces and leave it in a mess.  “What did you do here – surgery?”

Individuals that swap out a defective office chair for mine.

Anyone involved with stocking office supplies.  “Are you a time traveler from the past?  A dozen three-hole punches?  Three-ring binders?  Ledger sheets?  I need a binder maybe once every ten years.  How about stocking some pens, paper, and maybe a thumb-drive?”

Technology people that blame problems on end-user ignorance.  “It works fine, you’re just too stupid to use it or realize how great it really is.”

Any conversation about internally branding anything.  “I could seriously go the rest of my life without hearing the word ‘branding.’

Project teams deliberately set up in five different global time zones.  “Our team call is at 5am because we don’t own a globe or access the internet.”

Co-workers who schedule meetings without consideration for anything I have in my calendar.  “You do see that I am not available in that time slot, don’t you—moron?”

Managers who make arbitrary decisions about people’s careers without discussing it with them. “I’m moving you to Dawn’s team – surprise!”

Leaders who reorganize more than twice a year.  “You know, after fifteen of these, it might dawn on you that the problem isn’t how the team is structured – it’s the fact you keep shuffling them around that is the problem.”

Individuals that say, “You own your own career.”

People that only try and put a positive spin on things.  “Some honesty would go a long way here.”

Any steering group.  “That’s all I need, another group giving me conflicting directions…”

Budgeting.  “I resent you asking me what I need, then cutting it by 34.8%.  It’s not ironic, it’s irritating.”

Anyone asking for my feedback and ignoring it.

Smoking areas that are the entrance to buildings where we non-smoker’s must wade through.

People who think Sharepoint is a solution to any problem.   “Sharepoint is the origin of many problems.”

People who ignore me when I say, “I wouldn’t do that shit if I were you…”

(This one is totally mine.)  People who critique my business writing.  I’m not perfect, but I’ve had a little bit more writing experience than you.

IFAC—Idiots from another company.  Consultants or brand new employees who brag about knowing a great deal on a subject, but have no idea how your organization works. This makes their expertise less-than-useful.

Anyone exposing leadership to a buzzword/acronym program.  Management is drawn to a buzzword program like vultures to dead possums. I still have scars from TQM in the 1990’s.

Anyone with unpredictable explosive temper.  “Seriously, that was the thing that set you off?”

Any implemented improvement that makes it ten times worse.

Coworkers that take up smoking to avoid spending time at work.

Performance review discussions where we are going to talk about my career.

A mandatory meeting that doesn’t have to be mandatory at all.

Required learning with a test at the end that no human could pass.   “Please pick the second least desirable or inaccurate response…”

People who are off sick, but posting images of themselves out having fun on Facebook.  “Gee, you don’t look feverish at the amusement park.”

Processes put in place just to make a team seem more important than they are.

Team leaders who attempt to apply Agile or Six Sigma principles on teams that have no idea what they are talking about. “No one cares about your black belt.  In fact, we may strangle you with it.  We have a plan…”

Individuals that trash the office bathroom.  “Seriously do you just throw paper on the floor at home?  And what you did to the toilet could only be described with the phrase, ‘war crime.’”

Any theme day in the cafeteria.  “I just want a hamburger for God’s sake.  I don’t care that it is Festival of Bolivian Afternoon Snacks Day.”

Rules that only seem to apply to me.

Requests for feedback from people I barely know.  “I don’t even remember you being on that project.  In fact, who are you?”

People that invite the entire world to every conference call.

Managers that think learning, all by itself, is a solution to a managerial issue (or lack of leadership).  “You presume that I am ignorant.  I am not.  I’m just ignoring you.  Big difference.”

Skype for Business.

When someone asks for my opinion then spends an hour trying to tell me that I am wrong to have that opinion.  “You lost me at the word ‘wrong’…”

Assigning me a task when I wasn’t even invited to the meeting.  “Really?  What if I say, ‘no’?”

Status reports for people who won’t or can’t read.

Contributing to any dashboard.

Namedroppers that think I care.  “You’ve mentioned Bob’s name three times.  I know who he is.  I’m not just impressed with your argument.”

When someone randomly insists on using video conferencing and I’m wearing my Captain America tee-shirt at home.  Honestly, I don’t even try and explain it anymore. One person asked me once, “what’s that you’re wearing?”  My response:  “My uniform.  I fight crime starting at 5pm.”

Any PowerPoint slide that uses more than five conflicting graphic elements or is so confusing that it disrupts space-time one foot from the computer where it is being shown.  “Go to the next slide – holy crap – you’re warping the space here in the conference room!”

Any solution involving, “throwing more bodies at it.”  “You can’t put nine pregnant women in the room and have a baby in a month.”

Not starting meetings on time.  “So, you don’t respect my time.”

Not ending meetings on time. “So, you don’t respect other people’s time too.  What a douche!”

Scheduling a meeting for something that could have been handled in a short email.

Forced volunteer work aimed at making your organization seen more hip.  “So, you want me to go and plant trees?  So mental and emotional punishment isn’t enough, you want the physical kind too?”

Any business trip through Newark International Airport.  “EWR’s Motto:  We top 3% on-time arrivals and departures most months of the year!”

When my manager refers to me as “evil.”  True story.  “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Team building activities after hours. “If it is so important we all get along, why not do it during work hours?”

Anyone asking for a deliverable that requires time travel.  “My time machine is for personal use, not because you can’t manage your project.”

Coworkers that, by default, assume everyone is more stupid than they are.  “That sir, is my job!”

Fear and speculation of layoffs, RIF’s, right-sizing, people being made redundant, etc.

Any project that has a misleading code-name.  Example:  Streak, Lightning Bolt, Fast & Furious, Slam Dunk.

Anytime the company seeks to “improve” the employee benefits.

People that show up late to the meetings and stop the gathering so that they can be brought up to speed.

When a new technology tool is implemented that really doesn’t solve a problem.

When everything at work is a high priority or “Priority One.”  “You do realize that when you do that, you’re not really setting priorities – right?”

Co-workers that text during meetings.  “Put the fuc*ing phone away.”

When management says one thing and does another.

Email message addressed to everyone that should be addressed to a handful people.

People whose entire job is to enforce pointless rules.

People who take meeting calls from Starbucks or Panera.  “Dude, I can hear the Barista in the background.”

Leaders who add requirements to a project three weeks before the unrealistic deadline.  “You are not being ironic, you’re being an ass.”

Any crisis that isn’t.  I learned how to identify real crisis’s early in my career.  Apparently I am on my own in that regard.

When routine technology fails.

When someone assumes a level of ignorance on my part that isn’t there.

Security overkill. “Why do I have to change my password every two weeks?”  “Why not?  Are you hiding something?”

When a leader tries to force a new technology on you because they think it’s trendy.

The annual performance review process.

When management sends out a message to save money by cutting travel costs – while they are at an out-of-the-country meeting.  “Clearly I am the problem…”

When I volunteer to do something and am told no.  “Why did you ask for volunteers in the first place?”

Managers who get survey results and spend hours tearing them apart attempting to invalidate them or convince me that a low number is actually a good thing.

The battery on any device.  “Crap – my Bluetooth just died.”

Weekend or late-night meetings.

Any meeting that kicks off with the person who called the meeting saying, “So why did I schedule this meeting?”

When that thing you have worked on for the last year of your life is cancelled three weeks before it was to be completed.

Anyone who says, “We don’t need to get the senior leaders on-board with this concept.”

When my routine business expense that I have submitted the same way a dozen times is rejected.  “This is Einstein’s definition of insanity.”

People who misuse the word “risk.”  “You keep using that word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”

When real life clashes with work life.  Technically it is when work attempts to override my real life.  “Oddly enough I do not live to work – I work to live.”  In my case, couple this with, “My life outside of this place is infinitely more interesting and entertaining than this cubicle-padded mental hospital.”

Leaders that make up facts.  “Our people are buried in surveys.”  “Um, we do two a year.  How exactly does that constitute buried?”

When the annual promotion list is put out.  Three letters and a question mark sum up my reaction to at least 20% of promotions…WTF?

When individuals misuse the word “strategy.”  “If you change it every six months, it isn’t strategic – it’s tactical.”

When someone ignores my expertise, experience, and skills because they perceive themselves as smarter.  “You don’t want to go there and force me to explain why you are less-intelligent or experienced as I am.”

The cancellation of meetings with no notice – even worse when they are at 7am or earlier.  “There is a special hell for you robbing me of 20 minutes of sleep.  It is dark, deep and filled with evil…”

The annual goal setting ritual.  “Light the candles and put on the robes…it’s time to make some stuff up.”

Watching someone else kiss butt with upper management.  “Why don’t you two get a room?”

People with no sense of humor.  If you made it this far, I think you qualify with having a sense of humor.

I’m sure you have some of your own – so add them to the comments list.  And don’t forget to purchase my book – Business Rules.  

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