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Why Someone Else's Job Stress Can Cost You Your Job

by Raymond Yeh, PhD and Stephanie Yeh

Is it any wonder that many of us don't feel like going to work on Monday mornings? The quality of our work life has taken a drastic downturn in the last decade-we are paid less to do more. In a 2001 survey, nearly 40% of workers described their office environment as "most like a real life survivor program." Americans now work one month more per year than the Japanese, and three months more per year than the Germans.

Job stress has become a new American epidemic. The result is a dangerously high level of job stress that can cost you your job. High job stress leads to costly on-the-job mistakes like the Exxon Valdez and Three Mile Island, absenteeism, high job turnover, excessive medical and legal fees, and high worker's compensation claims. At the end of the day, job stress costs Americans more than $300 billion, and that means job security is at an all time low because of layoffs, downsizing, and corporate bankruptcy.

The good news is that you can prevent job stress from affecting you and your job. You need the simple formula followed by leaders and workers in the best and most stable companies in America: "Do the right thing, then do things right." Doing the right thing means knowing what you want from your work life, then picking a company that matches. To do so, you need to answer these three questions about yourself and any company you work for:

1. What are your values? Do they match the company's values?

2. Where do you want to go? Does it match where the company wants to go?

3. How are you going to achieve your goals? Will the company help you get there and will you help the company get where it wants to go?

When you really stop to think about what you want to achieve and what values you uphold, you won't accept the next job that offers to pay you a buck. You'll develop a sense of integrity and meaning in your work life that will alleviate job stress. Chances are that if you pick a company that really matches your values, that company will have strong values of its own that result in job security. Colleen Barrett, President of Southwest Airlines, likes to tell the company's new recruits: "If you are looking for a cause to join versus just a company to work for, then we have got something that will set you afire." Working for a company that wants to make a difference, not just make a buck, can make a huge difference, for you and the company. Southwest Airlines is the most profitable airline in the U.S., has the fewest labor problems, and the least turnover-plus, they've never laid off a single employee. The culture at Southwest Airlines is so legendary that many people have taken pay cuts just to have the opportunity to work there. It might benefit you to make a similar move, even if you have to take a pay cut--the job security can be worth it. Doing things right means:

1. Taking time to prevent stress from happening

2. Scheduling appointments with yourself to stay on track

3. Balancing your work and personal life

The most successful leaders in the business world are not all business all the time. They take time away from work to decompress. Tayau Kobayashi, former Chairman and CEO of Fujitsu, spent one hour every morning in his bonsai garden to establish clarity and peace of mind. Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, meditates every day. If the leaders of some of the biggest companies in the world benefit from this kind of decompression, wouldn't you?

In addition to taking time away from work, these leaders also make appointments with themselves so they can evaluate their progress toward their goals. For instance, Bill Gates regularly schedules "thinking days" for himself. These thinking days are held away from his office, so he has the peace to really assess where he is relative to where he wants to be. Thinking days could be the most important appointments you make!

Finally, the best leaders in the world balance their work and personal lives, not just for themselves but also for their workers. In a time when Americans are working harder than people in any other nation, taking time off for our personal lives is crucial. For instance, Southwest Airlines regularly assists employees dealing with family illnesses by sending cards and free plane tickets so loved ones can travel.

John Wooden, the winningest college basketball coach in history, always told his players, "basketball is only a part of life, not life itself." Red McCombs, owner of NFL's Minnesota Vikings, never takes work home. When he is at home, his attention is 100% at home. In fact, when one of his employees called at home in the middle of the night to tell him that his car dealership was on fire, McCombs asked if everyone was all right, then went back to sleep, realizing that there was nothing he could do in the middle of the night.

Doing the right thing increases your odds of picking a company that has a true mission and won't lay you off because of the high costs of job stress. Doing things right ensures that you stay stress free and on-track in your career. The best companies and leaders in the world do the right thing, then do things right. Shouldn't you?

Raymond Yeh, PhD, is a senior research fellow at IC2 Institute at the University of Texas at Austin. He has been a management consultant to many nations and works with executives of global companies such as IBM, GTE, AT&T, Siemens, and NEC, as well as with founders of many start-up companies. Dr. Yeh has published ten technical books and the highly acclaimed business book titled, "Zero Time: Providing Instant Customer Value-Every Time, All the Time!" Contact him at and access his work at

Stephanie Yeh has spent many years in the business world consulting with major corporations around the world, including Fannie Mae, Acer, Tatung, Children's Hospital of Dallas, and Intergraph on human resource management, process reengineering, and technology assessment. She has also coached numerous corporate executives and small business owners on business strategy and management. Contact her at access her work at

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