Let the Word Speak!

Job-Related Stress

What contributes to job-related stress? There are specific stress issues related to the work environment that deserve special review. One of these is well illustrated in the Karasek job strain model, which identifies two dimensions of work design conditions and how they relate to stress:

(1) Job Demands
Job Demands are High when the job holder feels the job requires working very hard or very fast.
Job Demands are Low when the job holder feels the job does not require an excessive amount of work, that there is enough time to get the job done, that the job is free from the conflicting demands of others, and that the job can produce in successful results.
(2) Job Decision Latitude
Job Decision Latitude is High when the job holder is allowed to make many decisions on their own and develop special abilities, and when the job requires learning new things, being creative, and performing a number of different tasks.
Job Decision Latitude is Low when the job holder perceives that the job provides very little freedom to decide how to do the work, when the decisions that are made are pointless or futile, when the work is repetitive, or when the work requires a lower level of skill.

Together, these two dimensions combine into four quadrants:

  • PASSIVE (Low demand, Low decision)
  • LOW STRAIN (Low demand, High decision)
  • ACTIVE (High demand, High decision)
  • HIGH STRAIN (High demand, Low decision)

One important observation jumps out of this model. It isn’t just a busy schedule that causes stress. To the contrary—a busy schedule, filled with challenges but with a sense that the situation can be positively influenced, tends to be a source of motivation and empowerment. So, a High Stress situation doesn’t have to be addressed by cutting back the activity and migrating to a Passive situation, although our minds do often wander to fantasies of deserted islands during High Stress situations. A better alternative can be to reeestablish our sense of influence in the situation.

There are several tips that can apply to reducing the stress of a job situation:

(1) “Put a fence around it”

Thoughts of conflicting demands, impending deadlines, and hopeless situations will seem much worse swirling around inside our heads than they will if we put them into words. Make a habit of writing down all the stress-causing issues, placing the list where you will come back to it—by unloading all these thoughts onto paper where you can look at them, you’re exerting control over those anxieties, building a fence around them so they can’t get out until you’re ready for them. Once the list is made, let go of all the other issues and address just the one issue at hand. You can then choose when to go back and address the others when the time is right.

(2) Nurture creativity

The “high stress” job situation feels as de-humanizing as it does because it seems to drain the creativity out of you, either because the job is designed to discourage creativity or because the job “punishes” innovative approaches with failure. Don’t let the job do that! Use exercises to stay in touch with your creative energies, even in small ways that appear insignificant to the job task. Try doing a minor task in a completely different way, intentionally make a harmless mistake, or relate a job challenge to a “random” thought in an unrelated field.

The parables of Jesus demonstrate the power of creative comparitive thinking by delivering God-inspired messages across the centuries with simple images. If we taught of the love of God for each person only in academic terms, we’d only be talking to a small part of an individual. Instead, Jesus described God’s interest in us in Luke 15:8-10 with a common, visual, emotional image of a woman sweeping the floors and checking under the furniture for that one other coin she’d lost.

Remember, even when the assignment does not need your creativity, you need it to be fully you!

(3) Maintain balance

It isn’t enough to avoid excessive hours on the job – it is equally important to invest hours in the rest of life to maintain a balance. The scriptures are full of examples of the faithful drawing away from the “work” to be renewed. I’ve always been astounded at Paul’s account in Galatians 1:15-18, describing how after his conversion he “went away at once into Arabia” to pray and meditate in preparation for his ministry, beginning three years later—when God said he was ready.

(4) Keep talking

It is easy to “drown” yourself in a difficult assignment, but remember to “come up for air” by staying in touch with others. Share with others, listen to their points of view, express your feelings, and remember that they may have a better understanding of how you respond under stress than you do. Paul instructed us in Galatians 6:2 to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Paul could have easily completed the thought by instructing us to share both the good and the bad with one another as part of God’s community.

(5) Look for “small” wins

So many times, we feel frustrated in the lack of accomplishment we see in our work, especially in the church. We see tremendous need all around us, and we want so much to fill that need that we set our own goals for God’s work. When we fail to meetour goals, we feel discouraged, defeated, and stressed out.

Remember the strange story of Philip in Acts 8:26-40. The early church, although under attack, was flourishing, and church leaders like Philip were busy spreading the gospel in cities and towns all through Palestine. God had a different plan, though, and sent Philip out into the middle of the wilderness on a road to Gaza. While waiting there, alone, away from the “work at hand”, Philip met an Ethopian government official. In talking and sharing with that man about passages in Isaiah, Philip shared the story of Jesus and God change that man’s life. As an evangelistic crusade, this looks like such a failure! The effort required ignoring the crowds at hand, taking valuable time for a long trip, and all for a single person on a deserted road. For that matter, we never find out in the scriptures if that one Ethopian official even made it home, much less if his conversion had any impact at all on that nation. However, Philip achieved what God told him to do, he achieved the “win” of doing what God called him to do, and he left “the rest of the story” in God’s hands.

Also remember the teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 on our role in God’s work:

I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
So then neither is he that plants any thing, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase.
Now he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.
For we are laborers together with God; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.

(6) Remember the goal

Abandon your goals for God’s work, and let God set the goals. On our own, we are fallable and weak. The opposite to this, the ultimate in job satisfaction, is found in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.”

Stress at Work booklet from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Job Stress Help web site

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