Built to Last
Janaury 17, 2001
"We live in a moment of history where change is so speeded up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing."
R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience
Sure, your computer will hold together for 20 years, easy. But it will be obsolete, for all intents and purposes, in a mere two or three years? Unless it's changed, revamped, or updated it will. The IT worker, like the computer, lives in a world of constant change. You will be gigabytes ahead of your co-workers if you have learned to cope with your endlessly unstable surroundings.
The U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average absence from work due to severe cases of occupational stress was 23 days. And guess who topped the list. Technical positions, including those of computer programmers, account for the highest number of cases of occupational stress. The second highest number of stress cases is managerial and professional positions--including computer systems administrators, analysts, designers, and planners. No surprise there.
Do you handle modifications in your project schedule with ease, or do changes throw you completely off your game? Maybe you are the type of person who feels comforted by putting your right shoe on before your left shoe every morning, or your whole day is pretty much shot.
But in the IT world, as you well know, there are frequent modifications. When changes occur in the workplace, your stress is directly proportional to how large the modification is. Learning to manage without succumbing to road rage or self-medication is essential to your health, as well as being a barometer for career success.
Where To Begin
Look at the big picture and understand why the change has occurred. You know it's going to happen at some point. So if you know the reason why your manager has scrapped your latest programming assignment, it will be easier to accept the situation easily and move on. You may even get a chance to learn a new skill. The change may help you grow.
Or not. On the down side, if your boss reworks the project and it throws you off course, your job obviously just got a lot harder. You'll go home exhausted and not at all looking forward to getting up in the morning and starting over. Having these tricks up your sleeve may help you can handle the stress instead of fighting it.
It's All About You
Discuss the changes. Talk with your supervisor and get answers to all of your questions. And in a perfect world, you can express your thoughts and concerns. There is no need to cause yourself unnecessary anxiety, after all, especially if your concerns are due to half-truths or a simple lack of information. But in many cases, we don't have a dazzling rapport with the head honcho that affords us the luxury of actually communicating with him. Sometimes we have to take other measures.
Be realistic. Prioritize what you need to accomplish during your day and check off each item as you complete it. You're told to attend a meeting, write a Web site, and pick up your bosses dry cleaning, pronto. Make your own levelheaded assessment of the situation and figure out how you should best handle them-instead of buying in to what others think you should accomplish. Unachievable expectations can add to your stress. Ask to renegotiate your job description if your deadlines are unrealistic.
Empower yourself. Take control of your own reaction to stress. Eastern thought teaches a person to master ones problems by owning them. So when your boss throws in another new software package that you have to learn, or else you won't be enjoying that steady paycheck anymore, what are your symptoms? Do you do what Angry Angie does and storm off in a huff or do you hold your ground, like Stubborn Sam, and flat out refuse to cooperate? Knowing your gut instinct to impending change is the first step to solving and controlling the new scenario that has just been thrown at you. You'll get through the emotion faster by recognizing it and be able to obtain results--while everyone else is still sitting around festering and calling your boss four letter words.
Standard stress relievers work for computer geeks, too. Try taking your dog for a walk. Okay, so you may have to borrow someone else's St. Bernard to do it. How about getting a massage, listening to some tunes, or writing your troubles away in a journal? And you already know laughter is an effective weapon against stress.
A new challenge is energizing. But a computer that misbehaves and a manager that keeps changing the mission statement is plain stressful. And stress is exhausting. "Three-fourths of employees believe the worker has more on-the-job stress than a generation ago," according to the Princeton Survey Research Association. The ever-changing technological advancements are thought by some to be a contributing factor to this statistic.
Unpredictability causes a feeling of powerlessness; you may feel you have little control at work. But you do have the ability to be open to change and cope using the skills mentioned previously. So, now, when your boss tells you that she is going to alter one or two little things on your project... just maybe your circuitry won't burn up in an uncontrollable blaze. After all, you've changed!
Karin Call has an MBA and 14 years experience in various areas of the computer industry including network administration, Webmaster, programmer, computer repair, and instructing college computer science courses.