Working harder? Working faster? Feeling tense? Does your job seem less like the livelihood you once enjoyed and more like the sure-fire formula for a stomach ulcer?
You're not alone.
From hospital nurses to flight attendants to corporate chairmen, workers today are struggling with jobs that are faster, more tension-packed and, overall, more exhausting than they used to be.
"There are new pressures in the workplace, and they take a human cost," says Harley Shaiken, a professor of work and technology at the University of California at San Diego.
Work and pressure have always kept close company. But lately, certain realities have been pounding the employee harder than ever.
Foreign competition is an abstract concept -- until the threat of a shutdown hovers over your factory. Even for highly paid executives, job security has eroded sharply in an era of merger mania. At all levels of the job ladder, millions of people struggle with the migraine-inducing balance between work and child-rearing.
Not surprisingly, job-related stress medical claims have skyrocketed. And if anything, the varied pressures facing workers will increase in the coming years.
Many U.S. manufacturers, for instance, now race faster than ever to be first out with new products, a key to surviving in the increasingly global economy. At home, deregulation of airlines has meant that flight attendants now must cater to more passengers per flight and pilots spend more hours maneuvering through crowded skies.
"It's a job that I don't know if I could start today," said Shirley Barber, an Irvine, Calif., resident who has worked as a United Airlines flight attendant for 19 years.
Certainly, such pressures are not all bad. Higher living standards depend on productivity gains. And progress need not always take a human toll: Experts agree that the biggest improvements in personal performance are attained when people work smarter and not just harder.
But productivity has translated into increased stress for employees in all kinds of industries.
Consider flight attendants. At the time of 1978 airline deregulation, United Airlines's DC-10s were equipped with 242 seats and employed up to 10 attendants per flight. Since then, United and its rivals have packed more and more seats into their jetliners.
Today, it is not unusual for eight flight attendants to handle a United DC-10 with 287 seats. And that adds up to more bending, reaching, walking, stowing suitcases and other chores for a typical flight.
"I deliver a lot more things to a lot more people than I did before deregulation," Barber said.
In other fields, new technologies have had the effect of an electronic poke in the shoulder to workers who once could take a bit more time. Take facsimile machines, which enable workers to transmit documents almost instantly. While enormously convenient, the technology also can put new pressure on employees to finish work sooner than before.
''In the past, clients would say, 'Give it to me in two days,' '' said Michael Waldorf, a legal search consultant in Los Angeles. ''Then there was Federal Express and overnight mail. Now people want it to be faxed. There's just a much faster pace.''
Increasingly, technology serves as an all-knowing work monitor, toting up the number of key strokes and corrections made by word processors, allowing supervisors to eavesdrop on telephone calls, even watching over the workplace and cafeteria with video cameras, according to a recent report by a secretaries' group called 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women.
''Electronic snooping causes fear and stress, which leads to illness'' rather than increased productivity, complains Karen Nussbaum, director of the Cleveland-based group, which estimates that 10 million American workers now are subject to some form of electronic surveillance.
A key change affecting corporate America in the 1990s is the reality of thinner work ranks in many places, a result of cost-cutting and restructuring.
Since 1982, about 4.5 million Americans at all levels of the career ladder have lost their jobs because of restructuring, said Jerome M. Rosow, president of the Work in America Institute in Scarsdale, N.Y.
Those that remain are fighting back.
Mental stress claims against employers skyrocketed more than 500 percent in the 1980s in California, according to the California Workers' Compensation Institute.