Stress is just part of life, and I recognize that. I think, however, that the amount of stress I experience is driven by two factors: false urgency and cognitive dissonance.

False urgency comes from the perception (imagined) that everything at work is on fire all the time. Some of this is internal — I run a team that runs the website for a well-known company. There are a LOT of requests. I take them all seriously. Because I take them so seriously, everything feels like it’s on fire all the time. It’s not. There will always be requests. Some more important than others.

Another side of false urgency is urgency for appearances. Have you ever heard the phrase, “I’d like to see you display a sense of urgency around this”? Urgency should be reserved for actual urgent matters, not used a whip to flog co-workers into burning themselves out.

The second piece, cognitive dissonance, is something that has become a real problem. Conventional management practices are pretty sterile. Many of the practices that comprise “professionalism” are designed to suck the emotions out of a situation and turn relationships with human beings into replaceable cogs in a machine constructed from human resources, or my new least-favorite term, human capital.

This is not how I choose to relate to people, be it my staff or my bosses. I think there is a big difference between being a mature adult in a situation by navigating the emotions of the moment and have a series of tricks and techniques to get past people’s emotions to make them do what you want them to do. The way businesses run today is more like machinery than humans with agency and skills coming together for a common purpose.

I just don’t support that worldview. But I have to live with it because of the positions I have held over the years. I don’t think it works well and I think it robs people of the dignity of being a true professional. To me, a professional is someone who has opinions and a definite point of view on their area of expertise. They should be respected and trusted for the knowledge they have in their field. Instead, we have a lot of talk about transparency, which is the precise opposite of trust. Instead, there is an expectation that you go along to get along instead of helping to steer the ship.

Combine that with the mixed message that your HR department wants to create a culture of passionate individuals who believe in the company’s mission. You cannot have passionate cogs in the machine. Those two things mutually exclusive. Unless you are looking for cult members.

I want to be clear, I’m not calling out my employer in particular. I’ve seen this play out over any over again at nearly all of the companies I have ever worked at. It is very difficult to be an individual when the dominant theme is “One of us…one of us…” It’s part of the management classes I’ve taken. It’s part of the idea of corporate culture.

And so, the delta between what is desired and who I am on the inside and what I believe about people is another stressor. The fact that I have some very Gen X attitudes about corporations doesn’t help.

This is why I use my addictions. Something to help me move past the emotions. Something to dull them. Something to help me bypass the frustration. Something to keep me motivated and…well…docile.

I’m pretty ashamed of that last part. But the frustration and anger are hard to get past sometimes, and they eat you up from the inside.

So you find ways to cope. Even if they hurt you.

One thought on “Stress

  1. Dear Chris,

    I think this is what Dad referred to when he talked about “office politics” and his refusal to play the game, even when it got him in trouble.

    I’ve definitely worked places where false urgency and the cognitive dissonance between being a full-fledged human and a corporate culture that demands otherwise caused a lot of stress. “I’d like to see you display a sense of urgency around this” is just incredibly distasteful to hear about anything. It sounds like “Please act busy so I think you’re paying attention to my request.”

    Not all companies are like this. A lot of them are – more than there should be. And even in the same company, various departments can end up looking very different, depending on the managers leading them.

    One thing that’s really impressed me at my current job is that when they (folks in management) talk about “transparency”, that is actually what they mean – being as clear and open as they can about what’s going on so employees aren’t blindsided. And when they talk about “work-life balance”, they respect the boundaries their employees set. Don’t get me wrong – folks will still push me as hard as I let them, but when the chips were down and I pushed back and said “I can’t do this”, the pressure let up.

    It’s been especially apparent during this pandemic – all the way up through several levels of management above my manager, the continuous message has been “let’s get the work done, let’s help each other out” with an acknowledgment that different people are handling the pressures differently (single parents vs. folks with no kids at home, folks who already had home offices set up vs. those who need to come into the office, introverts who are thriving in the work-at-home environment vs. extroverts who desperately miss the in-person communication).There’s still a strong expectation to accomplish tasks, but it’s a lot more balanced than at any other company I’ve worked.

    I hope at some point you are able to find or create a job that doesn’t cause the cognitive dissonance you’re experiencing now.

    ~ L


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