The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Networking Today, HR.com, Training Kit/Book, AOL Chat
Stress Q&A: Being the
"Token Black" in Corporate America
Main Essay: Maximizing Benefits of
Incentive Travel Programs
Readers: The Art of Enlightenment
and Shopping for Husbands
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Stress Doc Work Stress Q & A
the "Token Black" in Corporate America: The Trial of Survival
In the last
two months, I've received an emotionally charged call and, most recently, a painfully poignant email
from African-American women, one a nurse, the other a paralegal. Both are cycling between
states of anger and a sense of helplessness at the psychological and interpersonal pressures of
being their department's or organization's "token black." The women perceive
colleagues as somewhat incredulous regarding their obvious competence; neither conforms to the
larger culture's image of minorities with limited income and education. While their competence
is self-proclaimed, my phone conversation with the nurse revealed a thoughtful, articulate woman
without a chip on her shoulder. The email from the legal assistant (see below) also reveals an
intelligent observer, though this woman's bubbling anger is more evident. Perhaps it's just
closer to the surface than the anxious frustration and burnout detected in the nurse's voice.
Of course, emailing often lubricates anger expression. (Email me if interested in my essay on
"Email or E-missile?") Or maybe just hanging out in those Type A law firms
("A" is for "attorney" and "adversarial") eventually helps foster an
aggressive survival mode of being. Though I do sense our writer, at least initially, tried to
"fit in." But no matter how accommodating, an ongoing flow of racially tinged darts
leaves drops of poison even under the thickest skins. However, the issue of bias and racism is
not as simple as black and white.
Sometimes, of course, the minority professional may misread
or exaggerate the motivation, intention or severity of the perceived or real offensive action.
A cry of bias or discrimination can be influenced and exaggerated by:
a) generalized pent up
anger over a lifetime or from specific prejudicial or racially-motivated encounters, i.e., painful
encounters in one's own family, at school or previous jobs, etc.,
b) a highly suspicious or
overly sensitive nature,
c) the accuser's success in handcuffing supervisors and colleagues, HR
Departments, etc., from holding a consistently unsatisfactory or marginal performer accountable and
the filing of grievance procedures that inaccurately or disproportionately attributes a relationship
or workplace problem to racial factors
Conversely, there's also evidence of members of the
majority culture, frustrated by some of the above or by affirmative action or "reverse
discrimination," dismissing legitimate minority grievances. Or, bias raises it's head
when people discount the accomplishments of a minority because he or she has been aided by
affirmative action (or there's a perception or an assumption of the same.)
let me present the email. It covers a lot of ground, on individual,
interpersonal, organizational and cultural levels:
Job survival as a token black
I am the "token" black on my job. I am a paralegal at a very large
prestigious law firm that has several offices nationwide. I have a college education, come
from an upper middle-class family, and live in the suburbs. I've been a paralegal for 17 years
and I've been on my present job for almost 3 years. I try very hard to "fit" into
these "good old boy" firms but it has become increasingly difficult. I have what
many would consider to be a "good job" with "good" pay, "good"
benefits, and "good" hours. I am often the only person of color at office parties,
meeting with clients, etc. Everything starts off fine but I become tired of trying to
"fit" in and being accepted. I have stopped going to lunch with colleagues due to
their racial attitudes and beliefs. I sometimes feel honored that I have been chosen to
represent my race on these jobs. But other times, it is a burden because I feel that I have to
be someone other than who I really am for 8 hours a day.
Some of my fellow colleagues have
never been around other black people and if they have it's been blacks who were poor and uneducated.
Sometimes I think they feel a bit threatened or maybe even jealous because I don't fit into their
stereotypes about blacks. I eat, sleep, and breathe just the way they do. I enjoy black
sitcoms, black comedians; I eat soul food and read the latest Ebony Magazine or
black-authored books at lunch. I belong to the NAACP and attend a black church. This is
the essence of who I am, black.
However, my coworkers frown upon these things.
They comment, "Why do you read that 'junk?'" or "Ooh, you're into that 'black
thing.'" I often avoid topics regarding politics because of my views as a minority.
Sometimes I hide what I am reading or avoid going into detail about my life outside of work if it is
of an ethnic nature. I have started isolating myself from them but by doing so I have now become a
topic for their gossip.
One woman, white, who I had considered my friend at work, kept
touching my hair. She claimed that her motherly nature always felt the need to remove my long
bangs from hanging over my eyes. At least once a week she would touch my hair or make a
comment about my unkempt hair. Other than that, we got along great and I would not say
anything to her about for fear of losing my only friend at work. She was always supportive and
made certain that I was including in luncheons that I would otherwise not have been invited to.
a year, as this woman went to touch my hair, I blocked her hand and pushed it away. I angrily
told her that I like my style hair and was offended by her touching and comments regarding my hair.
In my anger, I also pointed out that she should look in the mirror at her hair since she shaves the
left side of her head right down to the scalp. She did not apologize. She was actually
offended because I was offended by her offensive touching and comments or maybe she was offended
because I finally stood up to her. I lost my friend. She now has chosen to talk about me
behind my back and make comments about my hair to others as she passes by my desk.
stopped eating in the lunchroom after being called "antisocial" (twice) because I chose to
sit at another table to read a book or magazine. I have truly gotten tired of
"Catty" women and racial stereotypes.
I recently requested a transfer to another
office, primarily to get into a different legal practice area. (I am interested in
labor/employment law). I was told that there are no current openings to transfer to. In
the meantime, racial occurrences are becoming more frequent but very subtle. I am considered
to be friendly but very quiet and mild mannered. However, I blew up in anger after being
provoked by a young guy who works under me who had refused to do an assignment that I had given him.
It is very apparent that he does not want to work under a black woman and he has taken every
opportunity to try to push my buttons.
I am reluctant to discuss my feelings with my (white)
bosses for fear that they will not understand, and my inability to prove the subtle way in which
racism is rearing its ugly head. I job hop a lot. My duration on a job is usually about
3 years because I get burned out of tying to "fit" in. I've only lasted this long
because I'm quiet and try very hard to keep to myself in order to stay out of trouble. I have
a very impressive resume and background.
Most employers and employees think of diversity
training as a joke and something that they don't need. I feel that if a company labels itself
as an "equal opportunity employer" then it must hire more than just a "token or
2" of blacks and other minorities. In addition, employers need to train their employees
on how to interact with other races or they end up chasing away the "good" minority
employees that they have. We try very hard to "fit" in but we are not truly accepted.
I would love to find out how people like Colin Powell made it to the top. (I bet he had to eat
a lot of crow.)
How do I correct someone (or do I?) who makes a racist comment without
worrying about losing my job, being called too sensitive, or making waves? How do I tell when
a person just doesn't like Me or does not like me because I am black? I fear that my firm will
eventually fire me after they try to dig up things wrong with my work performance that would
legitimize the termination and avoid a racial lawsuit. I do not want to sue anyone. I
just want to do my job without all of the petty stuff that is going on. Does working in
corporate America mean that one has to give up their ethnicity to survive? Do you have any
suggestions on how to survive on a job when you're the "token black"?
While I did reply quickly and briefly to my emailer's letter, she also
gave me permission to publish and reflect in greater detail. I've decided to respond by
dividing the letter into segments based on issues and questions raised. Let me say this is a
somewhat risky undertaking being a white male. I can never fully walk in either woman's shoes
nor appreciate the blisters and calluses accrued (though my feet aren't particularly large at 9 ½
D). With this caveat, here goes:
1. Fitting In. The "Good Old
Boy" firm can be problematic for many, not just a person of color. And many -- of all
colors, sexes, orientations, etc. -- feel pressured to adapt a work persona or toned down work
personality in order to blend and survive in the corporate environment. I guess this is why
they call it work and not play. So let's focus on another definite pressure point: how
you should be so appreciative of having a "good job" along with the other goodies.
This is especially demeaning if the message is paired with, "You should really feel honored to
be let in." And as you note, this message can come from your own inner voice as well as
an outside source.
Of course, it's not fair that you should carry the responsibility of
representing your race. First, you need to remove this shoulder boulder before it becomes a
chip. Once free of this burden and some of the tension and resentment it engenders, you'll be
better able to constructively engage others' inappropriate assumptions, if not strategically
confront their prejudicial acts. Unfortunately, if some of your colleagues' life experiences
have been shaped by social class-culture segregation then the likelihood of irrational thinking and
bias may increase. And the organization has the responsibility to educate all parties and set
limits on offensive or racist behavior.
2. Affirming vs. Announcing Being Black.
I'm sure it is more than frustrating having to dampen down "the essence of who you are."
A two-pronged hypothesis and strategy comes to mind:
a) is it possible that in response to
having enough of trying to "fit in" you have dramatically or persistently announced your
cultural blackness? Of course, this becomes a question of balance: there are times when
it's natural, necessary and desirable to display one's full self. Still, bringing into the
open one's essence -- for example, as a corporate consultant when I model sharing emotions,
especially healthy anger around conflict issues -- invariably makes some people quite uncomfortable.
are quick to hit me with a label: "You're (being) too touchy feely!" Perhaps
if I made my point more "rationally" fewer would be upset. Sometimes there's little
that can save you. One time I was axed from a contract after being asked to facilitate a
dysfunctional team process. I tactfully confronted a micromanaging executive stifling genuine
group discussion at a department meeting to which he was an internal consultant. This exec
later become the head of a division during a reorganization and the Stress Doc was history. So
being direct and passionate may be effective (the fateful meeting was the staff's most productive)
and may reflect integrity, but there may be consequences. Clearly some people may not
appreciate my being real and "out there." Some may not like me. Usually this
has less to do with my behavior and more a reflection of the other person's low threshold for
feeling threatened, having underdeveloped communication skills, the arrogance of authority and/or
low self-esteem problems.
b) while affirming and strategically asserting your blackness is
vital, can you work to find or (in light of the isolation) rebuild common ground, even if it's a
common enemy, e.g., egotistical or emotionally-challenged attorneys. Or, engage around the
positively stimulating aspects of work. Or allowing for some sisterly connection even if it's
not soul-ful may breathe fresh air in the toxic atmosphere.
3. Getting Under Your
Skin. It's hard to know if your colleague's comments about "junk reading" and
that "black thing" are racist, ignorant or purposefully hostile (or a combo) just to get
under your skin. And as you acknowledge, isolation may only shift the target with people
talking behind your back.
I don't subscribe to the school of never showing hurt feelings to
an aggressor, as you don't want to give this person the satisfaction of having gotten to you, of
having won. Holding it in all the time often leads to moodiness, lack of confidence, elevated
blood pressure and other mind-body stress ailments. Conversely, blowing up and railing about
the aggressor's racism may make it easy to shift the focus to your hypersensitivity or lack of
emotional control. And isolation allows others to attribute your behavior to being standoffish
or arrogant, not to their provocation. (Of course, as an individual, we rarely can control how
other adults will think, especially when they don't put much effort in; we can only try and make it
a bit harder for them to avoid looking in the mirror.)
preference for confrontation: Let the person know you don't appreciate the remark or comment,
with a firm yet mostly even-toned voice. Use direct eye contact. If the person tries to
blow you off or discount your statement, repeat your pithy yet powerful message.
disparaging behavior were repeated, I would assert the following: "Obviously, we have a
problem in communication. I don't seem to be able to get through to you. I want us to
discuss this with Human Resources." And if the person is reluctant to go, let him or her
know that you intend to ask for a three-way meeting.
Now some may criticize you for running
to the "Authority." Or some may try twisting the knife further while backpedaling by
saying, "Can't you take a joke?" Let's be clear: a pattern of hostility is
hostility (and your situation likely racially tinged) no matter the content or context in which it
I liken these hostile jibes to snake bites. If you don't suck out and
spit out the venom with an assertive response (not spit the toxin in your antagonist's face, as
tempting as that may be) then the poison will fester and weaken you. Even trying to remove
yourself cannot protect you from "anti-social" snipes. I'm sure it can feel like a
The reality is that immature or subtly hostile behavior will continue
if you don't get some backing from management. At the same time, when I respond assertively
then I am affirming my essence as a person, worthy of respect, no matter how boorish or hostile the
other's behavior. And as noted, a pattern of hostility or an incident of obvious abuse and
intimidation must be confronted and reported immediately.
4. Catty and Chatty Women.
Catty. The number of complaints shared by women against their female bosses and their
colleagues is scary. And sharpened claws come in all sizes and colors. Why is this so?
Some pretty obvious theories have been posited:
1) to succeed in the highly competitive,
power-driven business world women imitate or are mentored by aggressive male authorities,
presence of a glass ceiling and unequal pay transfers career path frustration into rivalry with
female colleagues and
c) sibling-like conflict, whether based on unresolved family of origin
dynamics or springing from competition for male attention. Actually, I'm interested in all
readers' ideas as to why women have garnered the "catty" label.
As for your former friend at work, with her weekly hair-raising behavior, clearly she was
overstepping her bounds despite her "motherly" rationalization. However, it usually
takes two for a dysfunctional dance. Your "fear of losing your only friend," meant
that instead of early on, politely but firmly, setting limits on her intrusive actions, you let her
pester and you to fester. This is one reason for your counterattacking "you"
message. Affirming that you liked your hairstyle was fine. I would have preferred:
"I'm uncomfortable with (or "I don't appreciate") your touching my hair" as
opposed to the emotionally charged "offended." This is akin to the overused lament
about being "disrespected." To paraphrase Elenore Roosevelt, rarely can a person
take away our self-respect without our own complicit involvement.
Also, I suspect your
pent-up, somewhat hostile directive for her to "look in the mirror" was a case of
displacement. Over time, frustration, hurt and anger had been building from many sources.
The dam finally broke spilling your wrath over your closest friend. It's not surprising in
light of your pressure-filled efforts "to fit in"; this is similar to how people take out
their tension from elsewhere on family members or the ones they may love but with whom they are also
dependent. When strong enough, dependency needs can generate a sense of vulnerability.
One often has mixed feelings toward the person whose approval or sustenance we so dearly need or
whose rejection or abandonment we fear.
If you are up to the high road, I would approach this
former friend despite her catty counterattacks. Admit that you overreacted to her motherly
touching and advice, while affirming with a non-blaming "I"-message your discomfort with
her past behavior. (You can bring in the effect of in-house/interpersonal pressures; less as
an excuse and more a statement of fact.) And note that you'd rather have this friend on your
side then her joining the gossiping crowd. Perhaps the hardest step is acknowledging the value
of your past friendship.
Alas, there's no guarantee that you will be able to rebuild a
bridge, but you will likely find more peace having taken this self-affirming step toward détente.
And now the maturity-immaturity "hairball" is squarely in her court!
Collegial Insubordination. Again we see the "button pushing" interaction along
with, perhaps, arrogance, if not intolerance. While not leading with an accusation of racism,
I would directly ask this individual why he's refusing to do the work you've assigned. Is he
getting contradictory messages from a higher up? Keep a written record of his unsatisfactory
Also, you need to overcome your trepidation of conferring with your white
bosses. Unless deciding on formal legal action (which can be a risky and draining procedure
both financially and psychologically; more thoughts on this option later) couch your discussion in
terms of your colleague's specific and tangible inadequate performance and actions, not prejudicial
motivations. Assuming that your boss acknowledges that there is a problem, you might ask for a
meeting that includes the problematic employee and both your supervisors. Try to establish
agreement on the unacceptable behavior, the expected performance and cooperation goals and action
plans, including your sphere of authority with respect to this colleague. Also, ask for a
two-week follow-up evaluation meeting with all parties.
6. In-House Options. If
your boss basically dismisses your concern from the outset, you may still have some options:
if the firm has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), schedule an appointment. Sometimes an
EAP counselor can get management's attention. And having an objective person to vent and
problem-solve with, as well as help you grieve your loss of an "ideal" -- a good fit work
environment in which you do not have to banish your ethnicity -- as well as grieve/rehab your
current burnout condition is strongly recommended and
b) speak to the head of Human Resources
about the variety of your concerns. From the content and tone of your letter -- diversity
training is seen as a joke, the façade of "equal opportunity" -- I'm not encouraged.
But it's an avenue that should be tested.
7. Being Set Up for Failure and Outside
Options. Are your suspicions unfounded about the prospect of your supervisor or management
digging up "black marks" on your work performance? (Clearly, it's hard to escape
completely the effects of racism when it is so embedded in our language.) Living in
Washington, DC, I know this kind of subterfuge and sabotage do occur for a host of reasons and
motivations. Still, my recommended strategy involves a forthright discussion with management:
a) about the stressors (non-provocative word choice) in the work environment and b) asking for help
in coming up with individual and group coping and remediation strategies for improving the
cooperative and productive fit for you in the firm.
For back up, consider consulting
with a labor or NAACP attorney. This consultation might enable you to come up with some
specific, realistic and achievable short-term actions that management might consider.
Management addressing the systemic-racial issues without more formal pressure seems questionable.
Though, who knows, this seems to be the time for female whistleblowers, e.g., think of Ms. Watkins
at Enron and Ms. Cowley of the FBI. (You might even playfully note you aren't trying to be the
next Ms. Watkins; but only say this if you think the guy has a good sense of humor ;-). At the
least, will they make a good faith effort to keep their "good minority employee?"
If not then two basic options: a) a legal suit, which is a large investment of time, money and
anxiety and not to be undertaken casually and/or b) pulling up stakes. (More on this shortly.)
Equal Opportunity Employer and the Challenge of Diversity Training. I'm sure there are
companies claiming to be "equal opportunity employers" and are engaging in false
advertising or half-hearted practice. And abuses of Affirmative Action programs also occur.
And while establishing a floor on minority hiring makes sense to me (in order for a diversity of
perspective and experience) ultimately the numbers for hiring and promotion should be based on
talent not tokens. What I like about affirmative hiring is it gives some folks who might
otherwise remain on the sidelines a chance at the starting gate. The reality is that a
percentage of these folks will not be able to run, compete or complete the race even with proper
training and support. But a significant percentage will
and keep running well.
challenge to the issue of Affirmative Action and viable race relations is when people
indiscriminately cry racism as the explanation for sub par performance. As the Medical
Director of a health unit of a major federal agency (btw, an African-American woman) recently
shared, "many grievance procedures inappropriately site racism as the source for the
grievance." Yet, as you note, racism can be subtle and still quite aversive.
complex backdrop surely puts added pressure on cultural diversity training programs. Many
folks do become defensive and dismissive believing, as you note, "it's a joke and something
they don't need." While it's not time for getting on my soapbox on how to run live
training programs, one caveat must be emphasized: diversity training that only focuses on the
overt and covert racist behavior of the majority is bound to fail. Again, better to identify
inappropriate, provocative and dysfunctional behavior -- subtle and otherwise. At the same
time information that helps employees appreciate different values, cultural expressions,
communication styles and tastes is vital. So too some open dialogue that allows all parties to
express some of their frustrations, rational or otherwise, as long as this occurs in a
non-attacking, non-scapegoating manner under the supervision of a capable leader/facilitator.
In my mind, all parties learning some universal, "emotionally intelligent" communication
and conflict resolution skills are as critical as raising diversity awareness.
course, top management must affirm that there will be significant negative consequences when
workplace standards are breached. Finally, if needed, disciplinary action must be applied in a
timely and proportionate manner.
9. To Be Liked or Not to Be Liked? How do
you tell if someone doesn't like your attitude or behavior or doesn't like you for being black?
And if your essence is your blackness as you note (though your being human and female are two other
essentials I would argue) this is hard to untangle. As for determining if another person's
position is racist or biased, in addition to sometimes just trusting your gut, consider these
a) after you civilly and assertively express your state of discomfort, how do they
respond immediately and in the short run? Many of us have a tendency to get testy when
initially corrected or criticized and
b) assuming you remain pleasant and professional, do they
become more considerate and friendly in the next interaction or over time? If so, there's hope
that they can make some personal and ethical growth.
10. Surviving in Corporate
America. You need one or two people in your workplace corner for support - a colleague, an
attorney, a supervisor or HR person. Long-term survival in this work environment without
developing some serious stress-burnout-depression symptoms is unlikely. At this point, the web
of negativism has too many racial-hostile threads to be easily disentangled without some serious
efforts by all parties involved. And this change process would likely need to be guided by a
skilled outside organizational consultant.
Lacking the above, I believe you will need to
change jobs; maybe even leaving the firm is best. I have done a lot of programs for paralegals
in Washington, DC law firms. While many of the firms still have diversity issues,
African-American women often head the legal assistant department or are the legal administrators for
the firms. Diversity issues can usually, at least, placed on the table. To find a
working environment that's more comfortable with diversity you may have to move to a location where
you are not such a token minority. I know this would make me feel enraged. Why do I have
to move, when you all have the problem? But people have been leaving home for wider horizons
and prospects throughout the history of humankind. So do you're your due diligence - in the
psychological, communicational and legal realms - and consider these quotes, the first by
songwriter/singer Kris Kristoferson, the second by Nobel Prize-winning author, Albert Camus:
just another word for nothing left to lose."
"Once we have accepted the fact of
loss we understand that the loved one obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky
washed by rain."
Surely words to help us all
Practice Safe Stress!
let me hear your thoughts on this complex and compelling issue.
is a brief reply from our emailer just prior to my publishing the June newsletter:
for your responses. I will think about everything that you have said. I am currently
searching for another job. Hopefully, it won't take too long. I do feel anger building
in me and I'm the type that holds a lot in. I think I will try to finish up some projects at
work and take a vacation. By all means, you may use my story for your newsletter.
Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is an internationally recognized speaker and
syndicated writer on stress, anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR!
He is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" with a USA Today Online "HotSite"
- www.stressdoc.com. For more info, email email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
Mark Gorkin 2002
Shrink Rap Productions
(Eds. note: This
essay evolved from specific questions recently posed by Event Solutions magazine.)
Stress Doc reflects on both the value of Incentive Travel/Corporate Rewards Programs for high
achievers and the restorative and creative opportunities when taking an "incubation
vacation." He provides some tips for maximizing both. Enjoy the ride.
the Productivity and Psychological Benefits
of Incentive Travel Programs
today's "lean-and MEAN" economic world almost all employees are subjected to the rapid
cycling of corporate downsizing and constant upgrading. Stress, employee retention and company
loyalty, not surprisingly, are critical issues. One way of recognizing and refueling
individual hearts and minds as well as the bottom line is through a potent Incentive Travel Program
(ITP). In addition to their glamorous and exotic appeal, Incentive Travel Programs (ITPs) most
effectively increase productivity when they are "Four 'C'-ing": they bolster
"Confidence" & "Competence," "Camaraderie" &
"Cooperation" both between the corporation and the high achievers and within the specially
designated group of performers. A climate of healthy competition, high performance and company
appreciation and commitment is instilled when ITPs are:
a) perceived as fair and not clouded by
b) potentially winnable by most, if not all, relevant personnel,
c) offering a
meaningful and memorable award,
d) reflecting some personal recognition of the individual's
personality and workstyle,
e) structured so that throughout the year there are periodic incentive
milestones, that is, a stepladder of success, culminating in the distinctive travel reward and
paths, processes and products for improving on past performance. I call it offering
Corporate IRAs: Incentives, Rewards & Recognition and Advancement Opportunities.
Benefits for Individual-Corporate Connection
The psychological -- personal and
professional -- benefits of vital incentive programs are significant. These include:
strengthening the emotional, conceptual and ideological bond between high performers and the
corporate identity, the vision and mission and the goals and objectives. When we feel
passionate about a product, process or service not only do we work harder in the short-term but also
this dynamic helps build longer-range commitment and loyalty,
b) giving individual
recognition to high achievers beyond financial reward. As Mark Twain observed: "I
can live two months off a good compliment." Does this kind of recognition help affirm a
person's self-esteem, strengthen confidence and a sense of one's marketability? Just ask those
Hollywood stars if they covet an Oscar nomination let alone the award!,
c) especially with a
national (or international) incentive program, bringing together high performers from across the
country or the globe, there's a unique opportunity for far-reaching brainstorming. A company
can disseminate new ideas and, if smart, truly allow attendees to give feedback and engage in design
and development, not just be the "Amen" chorus. You want to both find commonality amongst
the divergent group ("the one in the many") and recognize diversity and difference (of
people and procedures, ideas and ideals, etc.) in the corporate collective ("the many in the
d) integrating entertainment and the educational by creating a vibrant vacation
that mixes reward with some playful team building activities (without the program becoming a
professional conference). For example, my Practice Safe Stress Programs have been successfully
incorporated in ITPs. A discussion and drawing exercise safely and playfully encourages
participants to identify the sources of workplace stress and conflict. After itemizing various
company stressors, teams of four or five, with colored markers and large flipchart paper in hand,
come up with a stress logos, visual symbols, even their own Dilbert-like cartoon. Believe me,
when doing programs for the US Navy, I see plenty of sinking ships and sharks swimming in the
water. Also seen: stalking dinosaurs, devils with whips, whirling tornadoes, etc.
And invariably there is near riotous laughter throughout the drawing and post-drawing/large
group-sharing segment (where groups show and tell about their creative designs). Allowing the
troops to occasionally blow off steam or poke fun in a creative, team-focused manner (not just
through griping) is a great way for letting folks share real feelings and frustrations, not feel
isolated, see another's perspective, experience team synergy, strengthen morale and trust (that is,
top management can handle some criticism), and
e) heightening the company
recognition and visibility of top performers. These individuals are better able to become
mentors and role models -- in such areas as commitment, tenacity, risk-taking, creative
problem-solving, building networks, etc. -- for folks just starting the climb up that ladder of
Taking an "Incubation Vacation"
In addition to specific
features and rewards of Incentive Travel, there are the general and psychic benefits of being on
vacation and breaking from the routine. The ideal vacation provides both relaxation and
stimulation. Go for "R, R & R": Rest, Recreation and Rejuvenation!
After a year of intense pushing, the mind, the body and the soul need to be nurtured. A
vacation allow us to:
a) get briefly off "The Type A Race Track"...to get refueled,
refreshed and refitted,
b) get outside the box or cube. A change of scenery, literally
letting go of the habitual patterns or daily schedule, taking an "incubation vacation,"
allows one to hatch a new perspective, to truly think and create out of the box. Vacations
allow more psychic space for our intuitive, pre-verbal and, often, subconscious right-brain to
maneuver. Also, there's nothing like gazing across the ocean or being contemplative on a
mountain range for gaining or percolating "the big picture."
c) be exposed to new
physical settings and cultures. For example, years back, flying from New York City (where I
was born and lived most of my first two decades) to New Orleans (where I resided in the mid-'70s and
'80s - my "American in Cajun Paris" years) I was sitting next to a NYC banker heading for
a conference in "The Big Easy." Somehow the conversation turned to a new customer
service innovation: feeder lines. The banker noted that more efficient ("Jet")
service was "The Big Apple" rationale. His eyes widened upon hearing that the new
procedure "way down yonder" was called "Personal Service" for the more private
window experience. Different strokes for different folks.
d) And speaking of flying,
ITPs are a great way of helping individuals who have become disgruntled or hesitant to fly to
overcome their travel inertia. Or to help folks realize, once again, that cyberspace is not
the only way to travel. ITPs should reveal the limits of virtual reality!
the Reward and ROI
In addition to blending rest and stimulation, education and
entertainment, big party nurture and big picture nature, three final suggestions for maximizing the
ITP reward factor, psychological benefits and return of investment:
a) when workforce numbers are
sufficiently large, employ an award gradient. Using the Olympics as a model, provide ITPs for
your Gold, Silver and Bronze top performers. (Consider playing your golden guy's or gal's
school song at an award's ceremony. Just kidding. ;-) Of course, there's special recognition
for your Gold Medal winners, but this paradigm shift increases the numbers in the company committed
to top performance, the ITP process and to the company itself,
b) continuing the sports
reference, why not rewards for "Most Improved Performer" and "Rookie of the
c) integrate spouses in the ITP. In our 24/7 world, where the walls
between workplace and home are forever being chipped away, the role of the supportive spouse or
partner is more critical than ever. A mate has had to accept and cope with the top performer
coming home late, out of town business trips, workplace tensions occasionally spilling over to the
home front, etc. The behind the scenes support person deserves to be rewarded as well.
Bottom line, this truly "significant other" is often a critical factor in sustaining a
top-flight individual's performance level and commitment to the company. And having a mix can
be fun. I recall a Las Vegas getaway speaking to business owners the first day then doing
joint owners-spouses programs the next. The spouses-partners really got involved: they
had an arena to good naturedly vent and playfully poke fun. (Maybe this addition also adds a
needed touch of humility when these high performers' egos are constantly being feted.) The
owners had a chance to affirm how much the spouse meant to their success. It was truly a fun,
affirming and win/win production and an opportunity for all to...Practice Safe Stress!
The Art of Enlightenment
A SHIPS CAPTAIN NOTICED A LIGHT IN THE
DISTANCE ON A COLLISION COURSE WITH HIS SHIP. HE CONTACTED THEM AND TOLD THEM TO CHANGE THEIR
COURSE 10 DEGREES NORTH. HE RECIEVED A RADIO MESSAGE TO ALTER THEIR COURSE 10 DEGREES SOUTH.
HE RADIOED BACK, I AM A CAPTAIN AND I AM ORDERING YOU TO CHANGE YOUR COURSE 10 DEGREES NORTH. THE
RADIO REPLIED, I AM AN ENSEN 3RD CLASS, YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE TO 10 DEGREES SOUTH. THE SHIPS
CAPTAIN GOT ANGRY AND REPLIED, I AM
A BATTLESHIP CRUISER... THE ENSEN REPLIED, I AM A
shopping for husbands...
There was this "Husband shopping
Center" where a woman could go to choose from among many men, for her husband. It was laid out
in five floors, with the men increasing in positive attributes as you ascended up the floors. The
only rule was, once you opened the door to any floor, you must choose a man from that floor, and if
you went up a floor, you couldn't go back down except to leave the place. So, a couple of
girlfriends go to the place to find men.
First floor: The door had a sign saying, "These
men have jobs and love kids." The women read the sign and say, "Well that's better than
not havring jobs, or not loving kids, but I wonder what's futher up?" So up they go.
floor: "These men have high paying jobs, love kids, and are extremely good looking" Hmmm,
say the girls. But, I wonder what's further up?
Third floor: "These men have high paying
jobs, are extremely good looking, love kids and help with the housework." WOW! say the women.
Very tempting, BUT, there's more further up! And up they go.
Fourth Floor: "These men
have high paying jobs, love kids, are extremely good looking, help with the housework, and have a
strong romantic streak." Oh mercy me. But just think! What must be awaiting us further up! So
up to the fifth floor they go.
Fifth floor: The sign on the door said, "This floor is
just to prove that women are impossible to please. Please exit the building and have a nice
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The
Stress Doc" , is an internationally recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress,
anger management, reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! His monthly newsletter was
just featured by List-A-Day.com and syndicated writings appear in HR.com, WorkforceOnline, Mental
Help Net, Event Solutions, Financial Services Journal Online, etc. He is America Online's
"Online Psychohumorist" (Keyword: Stress Doc) leading a weekly chat group for
AOL/Digital City -- http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr DC Stress Chat. Check out his USA Today Online
"HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com Stress Doc homepage. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org
or call 202-232-8662 (in Wash, DC).
(c) Mark Gorkin 2002
Shrink Rap Productions