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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

Section I

Shrink Rap:     Managing Stress and Team Survival In Times of Change (Interview); 
                       Burnout Prone Organizations & Sources and Stages of Burnout
Readers:          Zen Thoughts, Hump Day, Pre-Computer Semantics, Post's Mensa 
                       Invitational, Letter and Fear, Mastery & Humor

Section II

Main Essay:   Jumpstarting & Energizing Your Presentation and Your Audience:  Part II
Heads Up:      CONEXPO-CON/AGG, VA Medical Center, Northport, Long Island,
                      RESOLVE Conference, Society for Professional Journalists, Hospice 
                      Network of Maryland
Offerings:       Phone Consultation/Coaching

Sec. I

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."

Sec. II
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.

Shrink Rap:

"Managing Stress and Team Survival In Times of Change"

[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 to
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 in
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. People
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, especially,
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 -- such
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 survival
all were on edge.  Racial tensions flared:  some white employees pulled up KKK
websites; some black employees played speeches of Louis Farrakhan on cassettes.
Grievance procedures were escalating.  A manager in the Diversity Office finally
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 strategy
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 primal
scream and attack session.  How to start transforming individual and group rage
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 being
directed by an EEO Officer (who claimed that the government was losing thousands
and thousands of dollars in grievance procedures).  First there was a meeting
with management and the union to for designing the intervention process.  Next,
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; why
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 CFUNITED
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 some
strategic problem-solving and future planning to improve the sense of team work
in the division.

And after the two one-days, a team building process was implemented, that is, I
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 team
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

In a 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 out?

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 perspective?

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 support.

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 finally
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!

Readers' Submissions/Letters

Subj:  Zen Thoughts for the Way Too Serious
From:  SWWSews

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
From:  PCorell@HOPSTEINER.com

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
From:  MDodck

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
From:  m.sheffer@thegrid.net

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.

From: Barb

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 master."
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:


"What was 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 stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.

(c)  Mark Gorkin  2005
Shrink Rap Productions