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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Its High Stress Time; So What?

In times of high stress extreme language often enters the workplace. We talk about "the heat of battle", "failure is not an option", etc... and the impression that enters the psyche of some of our co-workers is that we're dealing with life and death. Add to that the feeling that failure to hit numbers may mean their job, and the pressure that mounts is significant. In the past three weeks I've probably done as much pastoral/parish-priest type of counseling than in any period in my career. Its a time of high stress while we still have a closing window to impact Q4 and therefore FY '08, and in such periods stress cracks start to show. If this is you, let me tell you about my week and weekend.

While I was in Texas last Wednesday (and thank you to all the Plano staff for your hospitality, by the way) my good friend of over 20 years John Kennedy of Russellville was killed in a single vehicle accident. John was a plumber, and riding with him in his service truck were his nephew and brand new son-in-law, both of whom had to be life-flighted but who we now believe will recover. I didn't find out about it until I was back home Friday morning, because my family knew how upset I would be and didn't want me to hear about it on the road. I spent about a half hour Friday night with my arms around John's wife Paula, whom I've known since we worked together 24 years ago, while she cried and talked about her husband and what she'd do next.

I got into the office yesterday and learned that Art Stern from our Plano office lost his wife unexpectedly during what was not supposed to have been life threatening surgery. She was laid to rest yesterday. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Art and his family. We had no sooner gotten flowers ordered for the Stern family when we received an email about the accidental drowning of two year old Brenner Burgess, whose dad is Rick of the Rick and Bubba show and is one of our authors. We helped spread the word yesterday to our people about a memorial fund being set up in Brenner's honor.

In dealing with these three deaths, which are part of life and sometimes part of my job, I was struck by the contrast between real life-and-death and the merely life-and-death language that seeps into the workplace in these times of high stress. If you work for your family and to build a better life for yourself, allowing business hyperbole to negatively impact your health and your relationships with those you love works at crossed purposes with why you're at work the first place, doesn't it?

Still, business is what it is and peak times demand additional sacrifice. Here are some tips that have helped our family in the past:

1. If you have a support system, use it. Talk to your spouse or significant other, and then the two of you talk to your kids if you have them. Explain what's going on, ask for their understanding, and tell them when it will be over. You'll be surprised at how supportive and resilient kids can be when you bring them into the conversation and ask them to help the grown-ups.

2. Plan Your Time. Now I know there are some of you who are creative and spontaneous and who think this is old school and rigid, but when you have less time for yourself and family, planning that time and following your plan with discipline is more important than ever. In peak work times, it makes the difference between seeing your family some days and not.

3. Keep Perspective. See above

4. Seek Help if Needed. We counsel with people who are feeling overwhelmed, and often its because we're close and listen. However, if you need someone to talk to in the middle of the night or you don't feel comfortable bringing your issues up in the workplace, we strongly encourage you to use the company's Employee Assistant hotline at 888-887-4114. This is an outside contractor to the company who, due to HIPPA laws, can never share your conversations with the company under any circumstances. Counselors are standing by now.

And remember folks, nothing is life and death but life and death.

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