The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
APR 2005, Sec. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Shrink Rap: Managing Stress and Team Survival In Times of Change
Burnout Prone Organizations & Sources and Stages of
Readers: Zen Thoughts, Hump Day, Pre-Computer Semantics, Post's Mensa
Invitational, Letter and Fear, Mastery & Humor
Main Essay: Jumpstarting & Energizing Your Presentation and Your Audience:
Heads Up: CONEXPO-CON/AGG, VA Medical Center, Northport, Long Island,
RESOLVE Conference, Society for Professional
Network of Maryland
Offerings: Phone Consultation/Coaching
1) Managing Stress and Team Survival In Times
of Change (Interview). Stress Doc shares a team intervention which defused
the violence potential of a seriously hazardous work environment.
2) Burnout Prone Organizations and Individuals: Parts I & II.
Part I:Twelve characteristics of organizations that predispose employees to
stress and burnout -- the Dirty Dozen."
Part II: Three sources of burnout are identified: a) lack of boundaries, b)
rigid ideals and c) the "Bjorn Bored Syndrome." Also, a succinct summary of
the "Four Stages of Burnout."
1) Jumpstarting & Energizing Your Presentation and Your Audience: Part II
This article illustrates my signature exercise, an exercise that transforms
individuals into a team and, ultimately, teams into a sharing and learning
community. Here are the next two energizing tools and techniques, beginning
with an overview of my acclaimed interactive exercise.
"Managing Stress and Team Survival In Times of
[Ed. Note: This is an interview with the organizer of an IT conference being
held on Wed 6/29/05 - Fri 7/1/05 in Bethesda MD, just outside Washington DC.]
Michael Smith: This time we are talking with Mark Gorkin about his CFUNITED-05
talk "Managing Stress and Team Survival In Times of Change"
So why should a developer come to your session Mark ?
Mark Gorkin: Working on programming teams can be highly stressful and I will
help people make programming collaboration less stressful and more enjoyable.
MS: Can you give some example of programming team stress?
MG: In addition to the always on, "do more with less" environment, team have
deal with demanding clients. And oftentimes clients have difficulty
articulating just what they want. Or the client believes he or she knows how
long a project should take and it's wildly at variance with what's realistic
light of budget and time constraints. And during times of change, there may
well be a change of personnel: long-time team members may have moved on.
remaining are feeling the loss. Then there's the challenge of integrating new
team members, that is, learning a person's work style and developing a good
working relationship. And if the change involves reorganzation or,
some downsizing then survival stress surely comes to the forefront.
MS: Sounds like you have had a lot of experience of team stress - what was the
toughest environment that you worked in and why?
MG: My intervention work often begins when an organization or a subunit --
as a division or department -- is experiencing a level of dysfunctional stress
that's beyond management's and/or a union's ability to control. One vivid
example immediately comes to mind: the "blue collar" government division in a
white collar world, castoff by their agency as part of a budget tightening
maneuver. The group of sixty was relegated to the basement of a huge federal
agency, drifting, marking time, not sure where and when (or if) they would
permanently wash up. Not surprisingly, during this period of uncertain
all were on edge. Racial tensions flared: some white employees pulled up KKK
websites; some black employees played speeches of Louis Farrakhan on
Grievance procedures were escalating. A manager in the Diversity Office
realized that the government was hemorrhaging money in this administrative
Armageddon. Was human blood next?
MS: So what did happen?
MG: At this point, "The Stress Doc" was asked to make a house call. The
was twofold: a) provide two one-day "Practicing Safe Stress" Workshops, half
the division in each program and, hopefully, b) reduce sufficiently various
frustrations and hostilities and engender enough confidence and trust so that
management, union and employees would all agree to participate in a follow-up
team building process.
The challenge of running a program for an overflowing with emotional charge
workgroup is, of course, to release real anger without regressing into a
scream and attack session. How to start transforming individual and group
and hostility into productive passion and assertion?
MS: Wow, that is a pretty scary situation. How did you intervene in this
potentially vicious cycle?
MG: I was brought in by a Project Manager working with the division, upon
directed by an EEO Officer (who claimed that the government was losing
and thousands of dollars in grievance procedures). First there was a meeting
with management and the union to for designing the intervention process.
we quickly instituted two one-day Managing Stress, Anger and Conflict Programs
for the sixty folks in the division; thirty people per/session. Using my high
energy, powerful yet fun interactive exercises we got people beginning to talk
about the changes, the anger and rage, and the underlying feelings of loss and
helplessness: why had the government seemingly lost faith in their mission;
were they seemingly determined to contract out their services?
MS: So what did you do to discuss these issues without people getting violent?
MG: My classic discussion and drawing exercise (which will be part of my
workshop) helped the groups discuss then playfully draw out the sources of
frustration and anger. I made sure there was high diversity amongst the
discussion and drawing teams. So many of the adversaries were now working and
playing with each other. The drawing definitely identified sources of tension
and decidedly helped lower the collective blood pressure. People now better
understood how everyone was in the stress boat and that managing the
reorganizational issues didn't have to be a win-lose outcome, i.e., one group
has jobs and another group is on the outs or the street.
MS: Cool. Any other things you did?
MG: We used discussion and role play to further generate issues and to begin
strategic problem-solving and future planning to improve the sense of team
in the division.
And after the two one-days, a team building process was implemented, that is,
began meeting with the various existing teams.
MS: So what was the outcome?
MG: I won't go into all the details but suffice to say there were two major
1) the overt and covert hostile and violent threats ceased
2) and the filing of grievance procedures stopped.
As the Project Manager and EEO Manager affirmed, the critical incident and
interventions saved the government "hundreds of thousands, if not millions of
dollars" in potential law suits.
So come to my Team Survival Strategies Workshop for some intense and powerful
learning. Seek the higher power of Stress Doc humor: May the Farce Be with
MS: That sounds useful -- see you at CFUNITED.
You can see more interviews at http://www.cfunited.com/interviews.cfm
CFUNITED-05 is Wed 6/29/05 - Fri 7/1/05 in Bethesda MD, just outside
Washington DC. It costs $549 until 4/30/05 then $649. For more information on
CFUNITED see http://www.cfunited.com/
Burnout Series - Part I
Characteristics of a Burnout-Prone Work Environment:
The Dirty Dozen
24/7 always on, "do more with less" world that seems to cycle between constant
upgrading and the next downsizing should it be surprising that employees
increasingly alternate between feeling "lean and Mean" or exhausted and burnt
Three key questions need to be on an employers' and HR professionals' minds:
1) what are some of the signs of an organization fueling the burnout fires and
2) how can I identify burnout in my staff? And finally, how can I deal with
these burnout issues both from an organizational and an individual
Let's begin with the "dirty dozen" of dysfunctional organizations:
1. From TLC to TNC. People are always on call. There's little
boundary between work and home. Work environment driven by "time, numbers and
crises" not by "tender loving care." Beware a philosophy that extols
customers as kings while treating employees as peasants; it's a formula for
revolt, inertia or sabotage.
2. Rapid and Unpredictable Change. Can be either a downsizing or an
expansionary mode. Unstable leadership and a revolving work force; adjusting
to new personnel along with a loss of institutional history and wisdom. Rules
and procedures don't appear to be operational; "the book" has lost some
critical pages. Chronic uncertainty and mistrust from lack of timely
information or from communication not perceived as genuine or accurate.
3. Destructive Communication Style. The norm is condescending,
explosive or passive aggressive styles of communication; there's excessive
workfloor razzing or scapegoating. Managers are talking over employees;
nobody is truly listening. Either defensive counterattacking or robotic
groupthinking is common.
4. Authoritarian Leadership. Rigid, militaristic mindset; "superiors"
vs. "subordinates" or "inferiors." Typical slogans: "You don't get paid to
think" or "My way or the highway." Leaders blow up if challenged and break up
any participatory decision-making or team building efforts.
5. Defensive Attitude. There's an overall dismissive attitude
regarding feedback with little interest in evaluation of people and policies.
Only numbers count. Not safe to give feedback; people quick to feel
disrespected or rejected. Yelling or intimidation or, conversely, avoidance,
are the preferred ways of dealing with conflict.
6. Double Standard. Different policies and procedures, bias in
application, for management and employees, blue collar or white collar, racial
or sexual discrimination - "Workfloor vs. Tower" dichotomy. Double standard
also manifests as management gets substantial training or support for dealing
with change processes and employees get minimal orientation and ongoing
7. Unresolved Grievances. No mechanisms or only adversarial ones -
"us vs. them" - to settle grievances. Or, dysfunctional individuals protected
or ignored because of contractual provisions, red tape, old boy network or
union cover, etc.
8. Emotionally Troubled Personnel. Management not actively assisting
troubled employees get the help they need; no Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
option. No coaching for supervisors dealing with dysfunctional personnel.
This gap can create a tumor for the work team - scapegoating, loss of respect
for leader, apathy and lowered morale, etc.
9. Repetitive, Boring Work. Not just assembly line syndrome. Also,
"The Bjorn Bored Syndrome": When Mastery times Monotony provides an index of
Misery! Your niche of success becomes the ditch of excess and stagnation.
There's a lack of opportunity for job rotation or not enough new blood is
coming into the system.
10. Faulty Equipment/Deficient Training. Equipment or procedures (or
lack of same) that don't allow people to work effectively or efficiently…and
then workers are criticized for not being productive. Also, rapidly
inundating people with new equipment and operational standards while not
providing sufficient time and resources for successful startup.
11. Hazardous Setting. Disruptive ambient work conditions -
temperature, air quality, repetitive motion issues, overcrowded space,
problematic noise levels, excessive overtime, nocturnal schedule and
interrupted sleep, etc. Personnel shortage results in lack of backup
resulting in potentially dangerous work expectations and conditions.
12. Culture of Violence. There is a culture or past history of
individual and/or systemic violence and abuse, e.g., family battering, gang
membership, etc. The person has been exposed to violent or explosive role
models often with a context of alcohol and drug abuse. Finally, under
sufficient stress, employees with lingering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
can be set off.
This "dirty dozen" provides a slightly larger than life portrait of a
hazardous work environment. While somewhat "blue" in tint, the "white collar"
world also needs to pay heed. No matter the color, these dysfunctional
workplaces both overtly drain and frustrate employees and generate a
smoldering background. A seemingly trivial event can set off a chronically
stressed, troubled individual. Of course, some folks are ready to go even in
the best of environments. And Part II captures the warning signs of burnout
for the individual employee. Until then, of course…Practice Safe Stress!
Burnout Series - Part II
Sources, Definition and Stages of Burnout
In a rapidly changing, uncertain yet always on wired world, three major
sources of burnout standout:
1) the boundary between work and home is eroding; there's less recovery time
and space with today's exhausting pace,
2) when ideals, high expectations and critical or especially, pride-driven
goals prove elusive or are continuously thwarted despite significant
investment of time, energy, money and self-identity, and one can't step back
or "let go," an employee's motivational fire will likely be extinguished, and
3) when a once successful person simply rests on his or her laurels, tries to
cruise to retirement, resists new learning curves, or just habitually performs
a repetitive job or starts sleepwalking through a career path then such a
person is susceptible to what I call the "Bjorn Bored Syndrome" (BBS). BBS is
named for Bjorn Borg, the late '70s-early '80s Swedish tennis great who
seemingly burnt out and dropped out suddenly from the tennis circuit. Maybe
it was winning four or five back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles.
(Was the thrill gone?) Maybe it was the drudgery of the all too familiar
mind, body and spirit numbing hours and hours of practice. (Perhaps his inner
core had been gradually weakening and suddenly seemed depleted and hollow.)
Whatever the forces and factors of this "erosive spiral," how can you
recognize signs and symptoms? First, let me provide a definition: Burnout is
a gradually process by which a person detaches from work and other significant
roles and relationships in response to excessive and prolonged stress and
mental, physical and emotional strain. The result is lowered productivity,
cynicism and confusion, a feeling of being drained and having nothing more to
give. Doesn't sound like fun.
Now a concise summary of the "Four Stages of Burnout":
1. Physical, Mental and Emotional Exhaustion. Do you recognize this
sequence? Maybe you're holding it together at work, but as soon as you get
home, right for the fridge, get out the chocolate ice cream or the lite-beer,
put on the tube, hit the sofa…and you are comatose for the rest of the
evening. (Of course, I'm frequently hearing, "Doc, you mean there's something
wrong with that!") Consistently doing more with less not only can induce a
case of the brain strain but people often start becoming "lean-and-MEAN."
2. Shame and Doubt. When someone asks you to take on a new project,
despite wanting to help does a voice inside insist, "Who are you kidding!"
Will colleagues, friends and family members sense there's something wrong?
Uncontrollable sighing may punctuate your day. A dark cloud of uncertainty
and vulnerability may be following you.
3. Cynicism and Callousness. Eventually, some folks have enough of
feeling anxious and vulnerable. They start putting on the heavy armor: "Look
out for #1," "Cover your derriere," "Get out of my way," or "I could care
less." In the short run there may be some payoff - you become abrasive enough
and people start avoiding you. In the long term, not only are you projecting
a dysfunctional image, but you are bottling up or covering up all this fear,
frustration and sense of failure. And the risk is not only a hardening of the
psyche; you may be encouraging a hardening of the arteries -- high blood
pressure and premature heart attacks or brain attacks -- as well.
4. Failure, Helplessness and Crisis. In the final stage one may feel,
"Damned if I do, damned if I don't; damned if I stay, damned if I leave."
Your coping strategy is coming unglued. In this vulnerable state, you may be
especially sensitive to criticism and feel paralyzed. In fact, prolonged
stress can inhibit the functioning of such brain neurotransmitters such as
serotonin and dopamine, biochemicals instrumental in mood state. And when a
person has genetic predisposition or family history, early childhood loss
(e.g., the death of a parent) or unresolved trauma then such biochemical
disruption combined with prolonged stress may even foster clinical depression.
So can there be light at the end of the burnout tunnel? Most
definitely. And Parts III and IV of this Burnout Series will be your
individual and organizational guides. Until then…Practice Safe Stress!
Subj: Zen Thoughts for the Way Too Serious
A day without sunshine is like, night.
I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe.
Remember, half the people you know are below average.
Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.
Support bacteria. They're the only culture some people have.
Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7 of your week.
Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.
Get a new car for your spouse. It'll be a great trade!
Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow.
How many of you believe in telekinesis? Raise my hand.
OK, so what's the speed of dark?
If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.
What happens if you get scared half to death twice?
I used to have an open mind but my brains kept falling out.
Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?
Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.
Subj: Hump Day
A woman calls her boss one morning and tells him that she is staying home
because she is not feeling well.
"What's the matter?" he asks.
"I have a case of anal glaucoma," she says in a weak voice.
"What the hell is anal glaucoma?"
"I can't see my ass coming into work today."
Subj: Pre-Computer Semantics
Memory was something you lost with age
An application was for employment
A program was a TV show
A cursor used profanity
A keyboard was a piano
A web was a spider's home
A virus was the flu
A CD was a bank account
A hard drive was a long trip on the road
A mouse pad was where a mouse lived
And if you had a 3 inch floppy .
... you just hoped nobody ever found out
Subj: Post's Mensa Invitational
The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take
any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing
one letter, and supply a new definition.
Here are this year's winners:
1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts
until you realize it was your money to start with.
2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly
3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that
stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer,
unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near
4. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the
purpose of getting laid.
5. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the
subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
6. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
7. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the
person who doesn't get it.
8. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running
9. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
10. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all
these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth
explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day
consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido: All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem
smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just
after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into
your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm
in the fruit you're eating.
And the pick of the literature:
18. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
I loved those jokes in the end!! And as Heidi Fleiss says, "More people
are out there doing it & in kinkier ways than you think." Also your way
of constructing and sectioning this edition led into the "funnies." Want to
say that highlighting w/links made it so interesting. It was so easy to read
& pertinent to today's issues. Asking for feedback was a plus – talk about
good – you're good! Was your past life a Good Humor man??? LOL I like the
info about yourself & the new venture you're going into.
SD: No, I was too repressed, depressed and angry-scared as a kid to be a good
humor man. But with good therapy I started living this quote:
"What was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at." And as the Stress
Doc inverted: "What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a
Of course, master is a controversial word; I feel a need to give it's
counterpart equal time. Also, to distinguish between laughing at and laughing
with...a final psychological truism:
once feared and is now laughed with...likely becomes a mistress or lover!"
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a psychotherapist, an acclaimed
Keynote and Kickoff Speaker (including with Celebrity Cruise Lines), and an
OD/Team Building Consultant. Mark is the author of Practice Safe Stress:
Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and of
The Four Faces of Anger: Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict Into Inspiring
Attitude and Behavior. Also, the Doc is America Online's "Motivational
Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap ™ and Group Chat." See his
award winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" --
www.stressdoc.com (recently cited as a workplace resource by National
Public Radio (NPR). Email for his monthly newsletter showcased on List-a-Day.com.
For more info on the Doc's speaking and training programs and products, email
firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2005
Shrink Rap Productions