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Please note: This article has been taken from the book GoodStress: The life that can be yours by Wayne Froggatt (HarperCollins Publishers, Auckland, 1997). 'Rational Effectiveness Training' refers to the methodology developed by Dr. Dominic DiMattia, which is described in more detail earlier in GoodStress.
We will begin by studying a type of stress that is particularly associated with work. We will then select several of the practical strategies described in Part Three of GoodStress to see how they apply to the workplace (though of course all the strategies apply to that context). After that, we will briefly review some of the many ways in which rational effectiveness training can be used in the workplace. Finally, we will see how the twelve rational principles can help workers and organisations not just to cope, but to become more effective.
The typical symptoms are exhaustion, decline in job satisfaction, difficulty coping with role demands, absenteeism, impatience and bad temper, resentment toward colleagues and consumers, and alcohol abuse. It usually progresses in three stages.
How to identify burnoutIn the early stage, the person may become over-responsible toward consumers, over-involved with the job (staying late, no breaks, avoiding colleagues) and experience minor health problems like colds and headaches.
In the middle stage there tends to be a continual negative attitude toward the organisation with non-constructive complaining to coworkers and blaming of others, occasional inefficiency (slow, rude, forgetful), over-compliance, rigid application of rules and instructions, and worsening physical symptoms (migraines, influenza, menstrual problems, backache).
In the final stage, there can be open conflict with the organisation including tears, rage, hearings, sacking or resignation; an inability to function in the work role leading to total retreat or paralysis; and more serious physical symptoms like nausea, anxiety and stomach problems, such that employment may be terminated for medical reasons. Psychiatric referral may occur. The person may renounce their profession or role and retreat to menial tasks or manual work.
Avoiding burnoutRecognising the early signs of burnout will enable you to take corrective action. Prevention, though, is better than cure - if you practice healthy living and good stress management, as described throughout this book, you will stay well away from even the early stages of burnout. Getting support at work Maintaining good relationships with others in the workplace is a key way to avoid burnout. You can get help with problem-solving, avoid feelings of alienation, and operate better as part of a team.
What causes isolation in the workplace?
Time.If the workplace is busy, maintaining relationships may seem a low priority. People moving up the promotional ladder are especially prone to become too busy to take time out for support.
Differences in status and power. If you are in authority over another, then you have more power than that person. Subordinates are only too aware you can recommend for or against their promotion; enhance or reduce their work satisfaction; and, ultimately, play a part in terminating their employment. This power differential makes it hard (and, mostly, undesirable) for managers to seek personal support from their subordinates.
Few peers available. If you are in an executive position, there may be few people at your level easily available to you. This gets progressively worse as you move further up the ladder. Any competition among peers will make mutual support even more unlikely.
The assumption that support should just happen. People in the workplace often assume that integration into a group, and the giving and taking of support, are things that naturally happen. Consequently, they may do little to see that a new person is included, or take notice when a colleague begins to isolate.
It is incorrect to say that we do not have time. We always have time - twenty-four hours a day of it, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. We use that time for whatever we think - rightly or wrongly - is important.
You can choose to see support in the workplace as a priority and allocate time to it. In fact, time spent on support is time well spent. By reducing stress, you will increase your efficiency and effectiveness.
Give some time to informal visiting and chatting with peers and subordinates. Linger behind after a meeting with a colleague. Talk to coworkers during your breaks and take other opportunities to socialise with them.
Look for support in many places
As well as informal contacts, consider having formal meetings with coworkers about your own or shared concerns. Arrange a regular meeting with a supervisor or mentor where you can deal with issues on a continuing basis. Take opportunities to meet with people in your field from other workplaces, at conferences, seminars, workshops, or interest group meetings.
Return the favour
You can increase the likelihood of support from others if you offer them support. The principle of enlightened self-interest is just as relevant to the workplace as it is to your personal life.
Maintain appropriate boundaries
If you are a manager or supervisor, communication with subordinates can help ease any sense of isolation - but it is important to maintain some boundaries. It may be appropriate to problem-solve with subordinates on matters to do with the workplace - but not to seek their help with your own emotional issues. Save these for your peers, partner or non-work friends.
Be wary of developing intimate relationships at work. Between peers, there may be some advantages - co-workers are easy to meet, you can learn about them before committing yourself, and they are likely to be similar in socioeconomic status, education and income level. But there are some dangers:
If a supportive relationship at work develops into something more, stand back and ask: is this in my interests, or would I better to re-establish the boundary?
An important part of feeling supported in the workplace is to get feedback on your job performance. Unfortunately, it is not easy to get honest feedback. People tend to be anxious to please and afraid to offend.
Directly invite people to be honest with you. When they give you negative feedback, dont get defensive. Encourage them to continue. Ask questions, help them clarify their thoughts and be specific in their comments.
You may find people within your organisation - a supervisor, mentor, or trusted colleague - who will provide you with feedback. It may also be appropriate, sometimes even necessary, to go outside the organisation and seek feedback from a spouse, friends, or independent consultant.
To get started, complete a variation of the form illustrated on page*. List your various task areas at work, and as well as showing potential sources of support for each area, show possible sources of feedback. Assertiveness at work
Stuart Schmidt and David Kipnis describe six strategies that people commonly use to influence their superiors - reasoning, confrontation, friendliness, obtaining support from others, gaining the patronage of higher authorities, and bargaining.
Which ways work best? It appears that people who use confrontation, both men and women, end up with less than those who use reason and the other methods. Confronters also have the highest levels of stress and the lowest levels of job satisfaction.
Many people confuse influence with power. But as Elaina Zuker points out, power is often the least effective form of influence. There may be short-term gains in pushing others around, but in the long run, power leads to unwilling cooperation rather than mutually beneficial relationships.
Whether manager or employee, you are likely to get more of what you want if you learn how to exercise influence rather than power. Sometimes confrontation is necessary, but is best used after all else has been tried. Old-style managers and union leaders would do well to take note! Many of the examples of assertiveness versus aggressiveness on page apply to the workplace.Rational Effectiveness Training at work
How RET can enhance the effectiveness of your workplace
The emotional control and behavioural-change techniques of rational effectiveness training can help your workplace in two main ways. First, if people are able to control dysfunctional emotions, they will experience less distress and be free to use their emotional energy more productively. Second, RET can help people use essential workplace skills that are often blocked by self-defeating thinking:
RET will improve performance - not lower it
Helping people learn new ways of dealing with their emotions and stress will in the long run increase their performance and effectiveness. Perfectionism, for example, paradoxically hinders excellence. Fears of failure or what others will think blocks people from trying their hand at new things. High levels of anxiety slow people down and distract them from problem-solving. Hostility and resentment hinder effective teamwork.
The time you put into rational effectiveness training will be time well-spent. It facilitates problem-solving and task-completion rather than avoidance. It is aimed to help people achieve excellence - and distress-free enjoyment.
We can best sum this up by seeing how the twelve rational principles may be applied to achieving effectiveness in the workplace.Applying the 12 principles
(The Twelve Rational Principles are contained in GoodStress and are also on this website).
Self-acceptance and confidence
Tolerance for frustration and discomfort
Emotional and behavioural responsibility
Self-direction and commitment
Flexibility aids survival in organisations:
Acceptance of reality
Finally, be able to roll with the punches, as they say. No matter how well you do as an employee, an executive, or as the boss, you are unlikely to succeed at everything to which you set your hand. Acceptance of reality will help you avoid overreacting when things dont work out, and instead of railing against fate, to pick yourself up and start over.
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Cuozzo, Jane Hershey and Graham, S. Diane. Side by Side Strategies: How two-career couples can thrive in the nineties. Mastermedia Limited, New York, 1990.
Ellis, Albert. Executive Leadership: A rational approach. Institute for Rational Living, New York, 1972.
Hilsgen, Laurie and Vause, Helen. Working From Home in New Zealand. GP Publications Ltd, Wellington, 1993.
Ingham, Christine. Life Without Work: A time for change, growth and personal transformation. HarperCollins Publishers, London, 1994.