Chapter OneI CAN'T KEEP UP
"I could be fired or downsized anytime. I know
I'm not the only one waking up at 4 a.m.
worrying about losing the house."
THE BEGINNING PLACE
It's often around summer vacation that you most feel the stress of a
workload. You schedule a vacation with your supervisor the previous
winter, and as the weeks wind down to your anticipated time off, you
work weekends and nights the last week or two just to be away from
your desk for two weeks. Sometimes you even delay your vacation a
day or two desperately tying up loose ends.
When you finally get to the lake (or resort or beach or campsite
or hotel), it takes three days just to wind down. And then the last few
days of vacation, your stress level starts rising again as you anticipate
returning to several hundred e-mails and voice mails - not to mention
more than a few fires to put out. The net result of your fourteen-day
vacation: about five good, relaxing days.
This is no longer our fathers' and grandfathers' world, where
a worker's loyalty to a company was rewarded by a secure career
followed by a lifelong pension. No one - CEO or driver, technician
or receptionist - is immune to being downsized out of a job. What
used to be a win-win covenant between employer and employee
has gone obscenely out of balance: The purchasing power of wages
has shriveled until it now takes two full-time incomes to sustain a
small family. Health benefits, which have traditionally kept even disgruntled
employees on the job, are similarly drying up fast. In short,
corporations have typically abandoned whatever loyalty they may
have had to their employees and invested that loyalty unmistakably
and lucratively in their stockholders.
And we haven't even mentioned the daily stresses of your specific
responsibilities and duties. As if they even matter with dispensability
breathing down your neck all day, every day.
How do you manage to be productive with this kind of stress?
How does your workplace stress influence the other aspects of your
life - your primary relationships (marriage, family, close friendships),
your leisure (or your attempt at it), your faith? Where do you find
momentary release from such stress? Are you considering taking a
deliberate step into a lot more or a lot less stress? Or are you the type
that is actually energized when the occupational odds get high?
Use the space below to summarize your beginning place for this
lesson. Describe your workplace realities, anxieties, and specific stress
points. We'll start here and then go deeper.
READ A Churning Stomach
My stomach's in a constant churning, never settles down.
Each day confronts me with more suffering.
· To what degree do you identify with Job's lament here?
· When you have thoughts like this, do you tend to dismiss them
as mere whining? Explain.
· What about your job's workload makes your stomach churn?
· Is this churning something you could relieve, or something to
simply live with?
God, show me how .
READ Always Saving the Day
From the Youthworker interview "Coping with Stress and Burnout in Youth
Ministry" with Carmen Renee Berry
The messiahs have no problems, no needs; they are the controllers
of the bad people and the helpers of the good people.
This is a dangerous hook, because when you're feeling good
and confident, you'll take on more than you should. But when
you're feeling badly about yourself, you feel you're not worthy
enough to take time for. "I can't cut back, [others] need me," you
tell yourself. "So much is going on in church right now. I know I
should take a couple of days off, but I have too much going on."
And it becomes an addictive lifestyle. To complicate matters,
churches often reinforce it. For the most part, churches underpay
and overwork their employees. A church staff member gets one
day off, but is generally on call 24 hours a day. The idea of a
six-day workweek is unheard of in most other professions, but
not in churches. Even if you're giving residential treatment, you
get two or three days off a week. Because the ministry has such
an unrealistic demand and pays so poorly, it sets you up for
stress with a double whammy
You wrap it up in Scripture and . [convey] the message
that if you're a really good person, you're overachieving. Really
good Christians are involved in every activity. Really good
Christians are there whenever the church is open. Really good
Christians do nothing for themselves, but are always involved in
ministry programs. A [Christian leader] living in the addictive lifestyle
of stress emphasizes in his or her teaching how to take care
of other people while ignoring the signals God has given you
· Are you a messiah? Are you inclined to think that if you don't
do something, it won't get done?
· If your job is a ministry job, does this description sound familiar?
To what degree does it reflect your experience?
· Even if your job isn't a ministry job, what if any similarities are
there between this description and your experience?
· In what ways do you feel the trickle-down effect in your workplace
of the boss's work ethic (and work hours, work style,
and so on) to your office? Is it a healthy or unhealthy trickle?
Lord, help me to see .
READ Fewer Places to Hide
From A Minute of Margin, by Richard A. Swenson, M.D.
It goes without saying that most employers and managers are
more invested in the job than the people they supervise. This
often makes for a natural asymmetry between their expectations
and those of their employees. Meanwhile workers, who might
not be interested in 24/7 availability, have fewer places to hide.
"Where were you yesterday?" the boss might ask. "I was trying
to reach you all day!" Never mind that it was Saturday and you
were camping with the children. Or that it was Christmas Day
and you were halfway to Grandma's house. "You know your
boss is on vacation," quipped one employee, "when you receive
3 percent fewer emails from her.".
Communication technology has entered a new era and
continuous accessibility is now a real possibility. It is time for
a rational discussion of the massive implications this holds for
workplace sustainability, morale, productivity, efficiency, innovation,
and creativity. It turns out, if you really want to be a good
worker, there are times when you must be disconnected from
· How does the availability afforded by e-mail and cell phones
impact your stress on the job?
· In what ways does this 24/7 communication decrease stress on
· What experiences have you had with 24/7 availability that have
challenged your ability to separate work and nonwork time?
· What is the value in separating yourself from 24/7 availability?
How can you do this?
Lord, give me wisdom to .
Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.
· Recall the last time you really felt fueled and aflame on your
job. How long ago was it? How long did that season last? What
caused it to end?
· Paul says, "Don't burn out"; your workload seems to require it.
Where's middle ground? Is there middle ground?
· What are some things you do that keep you fueled?
Lord, guide me .
READ Disguising Stress
From Reducing Stress, by Tim Hindle
Take note of the predominant attitudes and behavior at work to
assess your organization's approach to stress. If stress is an intrinsic
part of a job, it is often easier to glamorize it than to change
working practices. A case study of this:
The managing director of a large commercial company often
boasted that he spent more time out of the office on business
trips than at his desk.
When asked to develop a new product line, he worked day
and night to coordinate the efforts of different departments. He
flew around the world in search of information and contacts
to ensure that the new line would be a success. His free time
shrank, his home life suffered, he was constantly tired, and
he ate poorly - but because he knew that his company was
depending on him, he continued. He began to experience severe
stomach pains and was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer.
This case reflects a common problem: many high-powered
employees accept the heavy workload imposed by their companies
and brag about their responsibilities to disguise stress and
fears of failure.
In certain work cultures, some stress is unavoidable: oil and
mining companies expect employees to spend time away from
home, and management consulting firms and investment banks
expect their staff to work long hours. It is important to be able
to identify unacceptable levels of workplace stress; disguising
stress can make it harder to deal with the long-term effects.
· What is the workplace culture like at your job? Do the higher-ups
model - or perhaps even glamorize - a stressful work
· How is stress disguised at your workplace?
· What have you observed or experienced of this in ministry
environments, where a stressful workplace culture is connected
· How successful or unsuccessful have you been in cultivating
a reputation as an energetic and productive employee without
stressing out yourself (and your family, friends, and so on)?
Father, give me margin .
READ No Time to Waste
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
There is no time to waste, so don't complicate your lives unnecessarily.
Keep it simple - in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even
in ordinary things - your daily routines of shopping, and so on.
Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on
you. This world as you see it is on its way out.
· How likely is it that Paul would have included your workload
in his "whatever" category? Explain.
· Is your job situation such that you can "keep it simple"? Why
or why not?
· How do you reconcile the modern tendency to define yourself
by your job with the apostle's suggestion to "deal as sparingly
as possible with the things the world thrusts on you"?
· What's one thing you could do tomorrow to uncomplicate
God, help me to simplify .
What I Want to Discuss
What have you discovered this week that you definitely want to discuss
with your small group? Write that here. Then begin your small-group
discussion with these thoughts.
Use the following space to summarize the truths you uncovered about
workplace and workload stress and what you really need to do to reduce
that stress. Review your "Beginning Place" if you need to remember where
you began. How does God's truth impact the "next step" in your journey?
What is one practical thing you can do to apply what you've discovered?
Describe how you would put this into practice. What steps would you
take? Remember to think realistically - an admirable but unreachable
goal is as good as no goal. Discuss your goal in your small group to
further define it.
Identify how you will be held accountable to the goal you described.
Who will be on your support team? What are their responsibilities? How
will you measure the success of your plan? Write the details here.