"Emotional pain exists in every organization at some point, and it takes a heavy toll," says Peter Frost, Ph.D., professor
of organizational behavior at the University of British Columbia. "More frequently than we'd like, valuable employees have
negative experiences that leave their hopes dashed, their goals derailed, or their confidence undermined."
Frost, author of Toxic Emotions at Work: How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict (Harvard Business School Press, 2003), says individual employees, managers, or staff members often step into emotionally
poisoned work situations to help deal with the pain. These "toxic handlers," as he calls them, frequently suffer more emotional
and physical damage than the people they're trying to help. "Sometimes the major toxic handler is the owner or manager, and
that can mean serious damage to both the organization and the individual," Frost says.
Retired veterinarian Dan Bleicher of Abington, Pa., agrees. "In a veterinary practice where the staff must constantly deal
with anxious pet owners, difficult animals, and life-and-death situations, workplace stress is a fact of life," he says. "We
need to deal with that stress effectively to enjoy long-term success in practice."
Identifying workplace stress
According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, job stress is "the harmful physical and emotional
responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of the worker. Job
stress can lead to poor health and even injury."
The Canadian Mental Health Association has found similar results. According to the organization, several symptoms may indicate
difficulty coping with workplace stress.
Physical: headaches, grinding teeth, clenched jaws, chest pain, shortness of breath, pounding heart, high blood pressure, muscle aches,
indigestion, constipation or diarrhea, increased perspiration, fatigue, insomnia, and frequent illness.
Psychosocial: anxiety; irritability; sadness; defensiveness; anger; mood swings; hypersensitivity; apathy; slowed thinking or racing thoughts;
and depression and feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, or of being trapped.
Behavioral: overeating or loss of appetite; impatience; quickness to argue; procrastination; increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes;
withdrawal or isolation from others; neglect of responsibility; poor job performance; poor personal hygiene; change in religious
practices; and change in close family relationships.
If untended, workplace stress can lead to employee turnover, reduced efficiency, illness, or even death. Visible by-products
of an over-stressed workplace can include absenteeism, illness, alcoholism, petty internal politics, bad or snap decisions,
apathy, and lack of motivation or creativity.
Causes of job stress
Most scientific studies suggest that certain conditions will be stressful to a majority of people. Such things as unreasonable
workloads, biased treatment by managers or supervisors, and lack of control over working conditions are certain to cause workplace
stress. In this case, improved working conditions and more attention to job design are the most important ways to minimize
job stress. (For more on overcoming the common stressors in veterinary practices, see "Top Pollutants in Your Practice".)