An interview by Dr. Alice Waagen with therapists Anne Lee and Jessica Kramer of Bethesda Counseling Associates
Alice Waagen: As we said in the main article of the newsletter, workplace productivity numbers are up but the workforce has been reduced. In my experience, I find that people are working harder and spending more time in fear of losing their jobs. Are you seeing the resulting stress and burnout in your practice?
Anne Lee: Absolutely. We have a client right now who is struggling with stress like you’ve described. She was hired three years ago to be part of a six-person team responsible for some highly technical and skilled work. The team is now down to three who are still handling the same workload they had with six. In order to get the work done, they’ve eliminated team meetings and collaborative efforts.
Jessica Kramer: Another problem we’re seeing is that increasingly more people are working by themselves and feelings of isolation are taking a toll. Plus, they are putting in long hours and often have crushing deadlines. This client, in particular, has developed serious health issues as a result of dealing with the stress.
Alice Waagen: Has overall production been hurt by cutting the team in half?
Anne Lee: No, but the resulting health issues are the real price workers are paying today. And the really frightening part is that no one knows if workforce numbers will increase as we pull out of the recession.
Alice Waagen: I understand that another serious effect of the downsizing is “survivor guilt.” How does that play out in terms of what you are seeing in your practice?
Jessica Kramer: That’s absolutely right. When large numbers of staff are laid off, the remaining staff feels guilty that they’ve retained their jobs. This guilt keeps people from talking openly which results in an uncomfortable work environment.
Anne Lee: And since many of our knowledge-work jobs require interaction and a free flow of ideas between staff, the work suffers. The overall feeling is “good —I am still on the boat but, unfortunately, the boat is sinking.”
Alice Waagen: So what do you recommend guilty survivors do to deal with the stress?
Jessica Kramer: We strongly advocate that people take proactive measures to build a strong and supportive network. When we lose coworkers due to downsizing, we often can’t maintain the working relationships. If the person let go was a confidant and friend, it can be even more painful.
Anne Lee: That’s right. People should start now to build a strong and supportive network both within and outside their organizations. And the good news is that the internet is giving us ways to build supportive communities virtually.
By blogging and joining discussion groups, people can feel connected and can gain resources that will transcend the chaos they are seeing in their workplace.
Alice Waagen: What advice do you give to combat stress and burnout?
Jessica Kramer: The first thing is to remember to take care of yourself. Self-care sounds pretty simple but when people get stressed, they tend to let go of those activities that can help them cope. Also, really monitor things like eating habits and sleep. Take care of your body. Exercise. And monitor your self-talk.
Anne Lee: Another important step is to try to focus on the short-term and not get wrapped up in negative thoughts on the unknowns in your future. We like to also encourage people to articulate the worst-case scenario.
Ask yourself: What would really happen if you lost your job or had to increase work responsibilities? Then create a Plan B to deal with the worst that can happen. This sense of control over your future can go a long way to reduce stress.
For more information about managing workplace stress, contact Anne Lee at
Bethesda Counseling Associates — (301) 654-1583.