TECHNO-STRESS & EHS PROS

February 9, 2006
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Dear Subscriber,

Maybe you missed this dispatch from Reuters new service last month: "The round-the-clock availability that cell phones and pagers have brought to people's lives may be taking a toll on family life, a new study suggests."

You were probably in a meeting, on a plane, or deleting emails.

Chances are the consumer alert issued last year by the American Society of Hand Therapists also slipped past you: Handheld electronics are causing an increasing amount of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.

It's an unfortunate consequence of Blackberry addiction. Feel any throbbing between your thumb and wrist lately?

Or have you experienced what a researcher terms "negative spillover"? It's when life's boundaries dissolve before your eyes and you're thumbing your Blackberry under the dinner table or fielding a call at work from one of your kids whose practice was cancelled and wants to know how he's getting home.

RISING STRESS LEVELS

An association executive captured the essence of negative spillover in an email response to an interview request: "This is a particularly busy time. Today is the deadline for spring registration and winter workshop feedback worksheets, we're shipping off this year's accreditation exam to the computer delivery vendor, I'm on travel this coming Sunday - Wednesday and I just moved my 89-year-old mother from an independent apartment to assisted living!"

Sometimes spillover can be more of a flood. A well-known safety expert recently emailed: "Sorry for my earlier email, but I get stressed out when my plate is overflowing. Let me know what else I can do to expedite the process. This project is a priority in my professional life. And that is the only life I have these days."

He's right in there with the 50.2 percent of ISHN readers who reported greater levels of stress in their lives last year, according to our White Paper survey. A more fortunate 42.1 percent were at least able to keep a lid on stress, reporting levels unchanged from a year earlier. Intriguing are the 5.6 percent who figured out how to decrease their stress. Retirement? Or maybe they went cold turkey on their "Crackberry addiction," like the dean of the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies did after even acupuncture brought no relief, according to a Washington Post article.

CAUSAL FACTORS

A host of factors expose EHS professionals to techno stress:

  • It's the nature of the EHS job to be on call virtually 24/7/365. The voice mail greeting of many pros invariably includes detailed instructions for reaching them in the event of an emergency.

  • Many professionals have left the corporate world, voluntarily or otherwise, to become entrepreneurial consultants. A good percentage work from home, which is sure to scramble one's sense of time and space. And consulting work introduces a new pressure point: the client. "Sorry, I've got to take this other call," an EHS entrepreneur says, cutting off an interview. When money calls, a magazine article can wait.

  • If EHS pros aren't joining the swelling ranks of consultants, odds are good they work for multinationals, or cover multiple job sites or a region in the states.


The EHS world is becoming bi-polar. You work as consultant, or for a large company. The idea of a full-time EHS professional whose sole responsibility is, say, a 250-person plant, seems like a luxury from a generation ago. It's no surprise that the groups of EHS pros reporting the most increases in stress are those working in facilities with 1,000+ employees (65.8 percent) and those with international responsibilities (70.9 percent). Corporate life and techno stress are joined at the hip.

  • EHS work is deadline-driven. An insurance company loss control representative not long ago was searching for someone to help him out of a jam. "We're updating the safety policy manual for a client," he explained. When do revisions need to be finished? "Oh, in about a week." How many pages? "Hmm, I'd say about 500."

  • Technology keeps creating more "market opportunities" - each with its own set of deadlines, meetings, customer demands and communication challenges. Once upon a time magazine publishing was limited to producing print editions. Now we produce e-newsletters, e-zines, blogs, web updates, email blasts, audio conferences, web casts, pod casts, RSS feeds, digital magazines. It's no different than any business that intends to remain in business.


WARNING SIGNS

You very well may be too preoccupied these days to notice the effects of techno stress. Ignorance can be a cushion. But as a service in the name of professional sanity we offer these 11 warning signs to look for:

1 - That pain between your thumb and wrist.

2 - You start using your Blackberry thumb to ring doorbells or to point directions.

3 - You start breakfast conversation by mentioning how many emails you answered last night.

4 - Your business card lists a general phone number, a direct line, an 800 number, a cell number, a facsimile number, a voice mail number, your home phone line, pager number, along with obligatory email and web site addresses. Double techno stress points if you list more than one email address.

5 - You find yourself nostalgic for the days your fax machine actually spit out relevant communications.

6 - A 50-foot spruce tree falls on your house in a wind storm. Your spouse is concerned about the roof. You worry about your DSL connection.

7 - You're driving a stick shift up a twisting mountain road, scrolling through your cell phone directory looking for a number, when the car in front of you stops suddenly. You jam on the brakes, your car stalls out, and starts sliding back toward the car coming up behind you. (Or some such similar near-hit.)

8 - You have an involuntary reflex reaction to reach for your cell the second your plane reaches the gate. Or you have a similar uncontrollable urge to whip out your cell or Blackberry when leaving the lobby of a customer. Can't wait 'til you get to your car? Double techno-stress points.

9 - A colleague critiques your report in a meeting in a manner you find rude and baseless. Instead of facing off with him afterward, or calling him on the phone, you email your grievances.

10 - You find more contact with your family (text messages, calls at work, working from home, etc.) leads to greater dysfunctionality.

11 - You doze off while reading this quote from David Greenfield, a Connecticut psychologist who specializes in high tech issues: "Our culture is about distraction, numbing oneself. There is no self-reflection, no sitting still. It's absolutely exhausting."

TECH TIME OUTS

OK, if you feel some techno numbness or can't sit still, what's the antidote? An internet search using keywords "techno stress" offered these recommendations:

First, speaking of internet searches, if you can't find what you're looking for after the first two pages of links, stop. Ignore the other 537,864 listings.

Turn off all phones during family meal times - that's if you have family meals. Some recommendations call for turning off cell phones at church and during funerals. Others say vibration mode is acceptable.

Alternate with your spouse the days you will be "on call" for your kids. "Sorry about that migraine Johnny, but your mother's on call today. Want her number?"

Keep your emails short. "Tank car derailed. More later."

Take a gadget break. Do something completely different. Walk the dog. Change the oil in your car. Find your inner Luddite.

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