The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist (tm)
February 1998, No. 2
With a series of workshops on Rebuilding the Fire: Recovering Your Passion...Creating
Your Career-Life Path upcoming, I decided to send two cutting edge articles: how top
management can screw up a downsizing and "Laughing In the Face of Layoffs."
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"The Stress Doc Letter's" features and functions:
1. Psychohumor Writings. To provide you the best of my past and current online and
offline writngs, including Humor From the Edge columns and America On Line/Online Psych
special, topical essays, e.g, The Stress Doc Interview @ Online Psych and Make
Your Resolution A Habit With Help From Online Psych! For those not on AOL, if you'd
like a copy of these popular series, just email - email@example.com.
Finally, if you'd like your free subscription to Humor From the Edge (email me) or to The Death and Dying" Newsletter, (See,
this newsletter will make you die laughing ;-)
2. Special Projects Updates. New or special projects that are flying around or about to
a) I am now leading a twice a month "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on
AOL/Digital City - Washington. We discuss stress and wellness, relationship and family
issues, psychological growth, etc., the 2nd and 4th Mondays of the month, from 9-10pm EDT.
Next up is an hour on Surviving Downsizing and Career Transition...Monday Feb 23rd.
This group replaces the Frequent Sighers Club which never quite got off the ground. (I
still like the name.)
b) For folks in the Metro-DC area, I will be joining host Brandon Millett on March 5th,
from 7-8pm on WZHF AM, 1390, the Positive Talk Network discussing, of course, "How to
Practice Safe Stress!"
c) For those in the mental health/allied health professions, try getting your hands on
the Jan-Feb issue of Family Therapy Networker. The whole issue focuses on career
redefinition. I was one of four psychotherapists interviewed to discuss our uncommon
career paths and methods of service delivery. (And there's a neat picture of yours truly.)
c) My writings apeear in Perspectives, the electronic magaine of Mental Health Net. MHN
is a not-for-profit organization devoted to mental health information and education
resources online. They are located at: www.cmhc.com/
3. Stress Doc Calendar. To provide an up to date speaking and workshop calendar - what,
where and when. Of course, if you know of an organization or a conference that needs a
dynamic, thought-provoking and fun-filled program, my motto...Have Stress? Will Travel: A
Smart Mouth for Hire!
Speaking of speaking, some upcoming events:
a) a monthly program, Rebuilding the Fire: Recovering Your Passion, Creating Your Path.
This workshop will have it's grand opening in the Metro-DC area at the National Capital
YMCA on Sat. February 21st from 1-4:30pm. The YMCA is on Rhode Island Ave. and 17th St.,
NW, Washington, DC. For more info, email or call me at (202) 232-8662
b) a four-part "Managing Stress and Change" series for the personnel
department of the Army Corps of Engineers, beginning February 13th
c) a daylong program on "Dynamic Principles of Public Speaking and Program
Marketing," sponsored by the Metro DC Chapter of the National Assn. of Social
Workers, on Sat. February 28th. For more info, call (202) 371-8282.
d) a 2-hour workshop on "Practicing Safe Stress: Managing Anger and Building Team
Morale" sponsored by the Social Work Department of East Elmhurst Hospital, NYC, New
York on March 3rd in honor of Social Work Month.
4. Online Coaching/Training. To promote my Coaching for Consultants and Entrepreneurs
Special Announcement: I am starting a Multi-Media Coaching for Consultants Program,
especially (though not exclusively) for allied/mental health professionals, organizational
trainers and consultants, counselors and educators. For information on the products and
instructional services, including one-on-one online consultation and particpation in a
bulletin board and chat/support group, email me at Stress Doc@aol.com. With questions,
call (202) 232-8662 or mail me at:
Mark Gorkin Stress Doc Enterprises 1616 18th Street, NW #312 Washington, DC 20009-2530
5. Award-Winning Website. To remind you that there is a lot more material on my award
winning, USA Today Online "Hot Site" website. It's also just been acclaimed a 4
Star, top-rated site, by Mental Health Net, the largest review guide of mental health,
psychology and psychiatry resources online today.
Stress Doc Bio and Philosophy Stress and Burnout Managing Anger with Authority Power
Struggles: Individual/Systems Teen Depression, Parents... Cyberaddicts Anonymous Good
Grief Searching for Love Career Transition Humor: Art and Science Creativity Unbound
Achieving Peak Performance Spiritual Exploration Readers/ Submissions
6. Readers' Platform. Please submit questions, comments, criticisms, cutting edge
information as well as stories about how you've used humor to help relieve a client's,
family member's or your own stress. I will gladly print your offering and credit you
completely. (And thank you for using your spellchecker.)
"Cutting Edge" Strategies for Reorganizing or Downsizing The "Stress
Doc's" Top Ten Tips for Tip-Top Management
Warning: This article may be hazardous to the ironically-impaired. (A shorter version
first appeared in Paradigm Magazine, Fall 1996.)
In this era of organizational restructuring or downsizing, or better still,
right-sizing, or most on target, what I call "fright-sizing," the challenge for
top management is having the savvy and guts to gut much of your workforce while still
maintaining survivor productivity and team morale - that "esprit de corpse."
While some advocate a market- or politics-driven streamlining, I believe in a
higher-level, visionary downsizing mode. To create a "lean-and- MEAN" working
machine requires an Olympian management team capable of both thunderously jolting a
downtrodden, demotivated workforce and being down to earth, "hands on" role
models. (Oh yes, in these hypersensitive, politically correct times, just be careful where
you place those hands. If you have any questions, please refer to Mitsubishi's personnel
policies and procedures manual.)
Warning: Some critics will claim these forthcoming strategies produce less
"lean-and-mean" operations and more "lean-and-mean-spirited"
organizations. Ignore such soft-headed, liberal posturing. Now for your "Top
Ten" cutting edge commandments. Go for it!
1. Keep Employees Grateful and Humble. Continuously remind employee survivors they
should be thankful to have a job. By not filling those vacant positions there's less
competition for eventual promotions (assuming, of course, there's not another RIF -
Reduction In Force). For recalcitrant, insufficiently grateful employees, some cheerfully
designed signs - "thank you for not whining" and "beware the effects of
second-hand whining" - may be prominently displayed in the work and break areas).
2. Avoid Negative Feelings through Positive Motivation. Hire a hot shot outplacement
team to motivate people to ignore their feelings of betrayal, fear and rage and to
generate employee enthusiasm and positive thinking about updating the resume. Reassure
confused and vulnerable employees that a change of job or an out-of-state position is the
new learning curve they've probably needed. Hey, it's so prehistoric, so "p.b."
- pre-boomer - to work twenty or thirty years in one place.
3. Separate the Transitionally Displaced. Create a transition center for the dispirited
who no longer have a job (but are still on payroll) that removes them from the rest of the
company. Without distractions, these isolates will focus expeditiously on their future
career plans. (And don't let anyone mistake this center for a leper colony; these
individuals are ill-fated, not contagious.)
4. Beware the "Blame Game." Refuse to have management-employee team
building/group grieving sessions; open expression of feelings just makes management the
target of "another bitch session." (Please do not impute any sexist connotation
to either open blabbering or the aforementioned "b"-word. These days, being a
strong, silent John Wayne- or Rambo-type is not just a male thing. There are plenty of
Rambettes out there.)
5. Don't Get Predictable. Keep information about the restructuring as vague and
inconsistent as possible. In fact, the more disinformation the better. A certain amount of
uncertainty heightens group competition and, hopefully, will disorient your best people
and/or intimidate them from leaving (until you think it's appropriate, especially if they
may be a threat to your own tenured position).
6. Demonstrate Decisive Displacement. Have new managers rapidly fill some of the
positions of displaced managers, especially those managers who were well- respected;
people don't need to dwell morbidly on the past. On a more positive note, this
transition-transfusion also provides a real opportunity for new blood. (Of course, one
hopes we are speaking figuratively here. You might want to have escorts, though, for these
new managers as they leave work.)
7. Instill the Spirit of Overload and Accommodation. Make sure middle managers and
supervisors appear to accept cheerfully "doing more with less," even if their
employees feel they are at the breaking point. Low morale, heightened staff tension and
anger or, especially, that self-serving term "burnout," are not sufficient
counterindicators to "sucking it up"; nor is psychobabble about psychosomatic,
stress-induced illness acceptable. (Cardiac arrest, however, continues to be grounds for
excused leave.) Remember, a loyal master, I mean manager, who selflessly takes on an ever
expanding workload without renegotiating priorities and time frames is a company icon.
Such loyalty and dedication will surely inspire even surly subordinates to met the
plantation's, I mean organization's, new goals.
8. Consider Token Team Building. If absolutely necessary, allow a small matrix group to
meet sporadically to provide only positive ideas and buy-in for your ever evolving company
vision (or is it hallucination?; so often it's such a fine line). Eventually retire the
group with gilded framed team building certificates.
9. Create Social Diversions. Plan a company picnic, a Christmas dinner party, or some
diversionary event for your beleaguered, "survivor shock" employees. When not
enough people sign up (or refuse to contribute a potluck dish) send an e-mail saying how,
because of lack of employee interest, regretfully, the party had to be canceled. You can
also organize a committee to discover the reasons why people didn't sign up.
10. Retreat Reorganizationally from Reality. Avoid a sustained relationship with a
consultant trained in reorganizational crisis, conflict, loss and grief work as this
intervention will surely make things worse. You know because you once attended one of
those touchy-feely retreats where they even made people briefly hug one another. Or you
heard about a workshop facilitator who used a "let it all hang out" encounter
group-like method on a law firm retreat with thirty litigators. Big surprise...The
workshop turned into a primal attack/scream session and people didn't speak to one another
for the next six months. (So the retreat was a wash; there probably had been too much
socializing on company time anyway. Or maybe it was just one of those retreats where
people took their vows of silence to heart.)
Of course, this consultant, from a well-known firm and with a prestigious degree,
didn't have a clue how to deal with intense psychological dynamics or group interaction,
including disarming predatory creatures. A true consulting superstar, however, will
totally work out these basically minor post- restructuring adjustment problems. In
addition, such a stellar management coach, if you act right away, should offer to place,
on the same retreat, a big positive motivational bandage on all pre-reorganizational
crisis dysfunctional work relationships, at no extra cost. If you do dismiss the retreat
approach, there still is a safe, effective image enhancing option: send a couple of key
personnel on a 3-day "team building" workshop. Then you can answer
"affirmative" if anyone asks whether yours is a team-based operation.
In conclusion, if you or your executive management team has the courage and foresight
to enact one or more of these cutting edge strategies, please let me know. As a
reorganizational consultant, I certainly aspire to work with such a visionary,
progressively "lean -and-MEAN" upper management team. I understand loneliness at
the top. And believe me, you'll need all the help you can get!
Laughing In the Face of Layoffs
"How can the person displaced or downsized see both the danger and opportunity in
career change or disruption? Can we learn, even, to both cry and laugh at this career
crisis turning point?"
To be able to see the comic in the crisis requires two achievements. First we must
embrace Charlie Chaplin's penetrating insight: "A paradoxical thing is that in making
comedy the tragic is precisely what arouses the funny...we have to laugh due to our
helplessness in the face of natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy." And we
must turn a grief process into a growth process by exploring new possibilities and
developing new skills. As a psychiatrist whose name escapes me, observed, "What's was
once feared and is now mastered is laughed at." And as the Stress Doc inverted,
"What was once feared and is laughed at is no longer a master!"
The key to letting go is embracing our pain. And, with the focused support of others,
we can turn emotional exhaustion and guilt, fear and rage into exploration, new skills and
acceptance, As noted French author and philosopher, Albert Camus, observed: "Once we
have accepted the fact of loss, we understand that the loved one [or loved position]
obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain."
And the "possible" includes discovering and realizing genuine desire and
talent. Yet, perhaps, most rewarding is going through the grief process and also
"Laughing in the Face of Layoffs." How do you gain this liberating perspective?
Laughing in the Face of Layoffs
Layoffs-the "L-word" of the '90s. Whether framed as
"reorganization," "downsizing," or, perhaps, most cutting of all -
"rightsizing" - layoffs can create feelings of betrayal, a loss of face and
faith, and anxiety about the future. As one woman caught in the throes of her government
agency's reorganization exclaimed, "I once had a career path. Then this boulder fell
from the sky and crushed it."
People experiencing a layoff need to let go and transform their emotional pain, fear,
and aggressive energy into exploration and acceptance. Those going through this grieving
often overlook positive facets of their layoffs:
Job worry reduction. What a relief, you can finally stop worrying about the prospect of
losing your job. Anticipation can be worse than any termination.
Less stressful rituals. Not having to set an alarm clock is definitely a stress
reliever. What about a real daring act -- gradual withdrawal from the morning coffee fix?
And consider my radical 'Old Age" (as opposed to 'New Age") meditation
technique: I find a quiet place, then close my eyes and chant "N-A-P, N-A-P" for
10 to 20 minutes in the afternoon and/or evening.
Family highs. Layoff transition means more opportunity for you and your family to share
personal and meaningful interaction. Now there's time for family dinners and in-depth
discussions of, for example, the relationship between homework, television, and migraine
headaches. (Of course, too much joy with the family too fast can induce culture shock.
Don't try to make up in two weeks for 20 years of benign neglect.)
Boredom breakout. When we invest much time, energy, money, and/or ego in a position, it
can be difficult to recognize or admit it's time to move on. Before the layoff, were you
increasingly frustrated, restless, or underwhelmed at work? Well, now's the time to
"fireproof life with variety."
Transitional vacation time. Make the shift from being "laid-off" to having
"time off." Instead of thinking of yourself as unemployed, consider yourself in
transition. (Wouldn't you have liked a semester off during college to reconsider direction
and options?) Don't just conduct a job search-use the free time as a catalyst for
self-discovery. Explore these questions: What are my true talents, interests, passions?
What do I really want in a career/position at this juncture? What is no longer acceptable
to me? To my family? Rushing into jobs or judgments usually confines people to less
creative and meaningful paths. So here's my prescription: Take an incubation vacation to
rejuvenate the mind-body-spirit connection and to hatch new perspective.
Existential capitalism. This is my pioneering philosophy; the source of inspiration
from the challenge of not knowing where your next dollar is coming from. Money, of course,
can be a cause for worry during this trying transition, but wouldn't it be nice to
simplify your life a bit? Now's the time to get in touch with wanderlust or bohemian
desires. Live on the edge. Paint. Write poetry. If you can't move to Montana, become a
freelance consultant. Consider part-time work.
And don't be brought down by false pride: Even van Gogh regularly got money from his
brother and Thoreau would routinely escape Walden Pond for his mother's Sunday dinner.
Pursuing a genuine, fulfilling, and creative life that's respectful of one's essential
talents, nature, and spirit is a challenge. But there's no better time than transition
time to take it up. So explore and remember: We're not human doings, but human beings.
Learn to laugh at the difference. And, finally, seek the higher power of humor: May the
farce be with you!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc," is a licensed psychotherapist, national
speaker and training consultant specializing in reorganizational stress, managing anger,
team building and humor. His motto: "Have Stress? Will Travel!" Reach the
"Doc" at (202) 232-8662, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org