You know the feeling. Every so often things at home or in the office get a little heavy. Oh, what you wouldn't give to have the day off. Maybe you should call in sick. You could justify it (at least to yourself) as a "mental health day."
Absenteeism is just one of the symptoms of a person under stress, a problem getting increasing attention in the workplace because of its impact on an employe's health and productivity.
Too much stress also can lead to accidents and alcoholism, both costly to the corporate budget.
Often people don't realize it when they are undergoing stress, says Michael S. Haro, a University of Houston psychologist hired by Tenneco to develop a stress-awareness test for its employes. Haro described his "tension quotient" test at the General Mills American Family Forum in Washington.
About 300 of the Houston-based oil company's 2,500 home-office staff have taken the test in a series of noon-hour seminars. The focus, says Haro, who as a professor of education trains school counselors, is on "creating awareness -- to help employes who may be facing concerns that they don't know what to do about."
Although the tests are confidential, says Haro, many employes talked to him about their results. From this, he determined, "a lot fell into the moderate-to-high-risk" category of his scale.
He is quick to point out, however, "that because a person is a moderate-to-high-risk doesn't mean they have a problem."
"I'm sure that all of us sitting in this room," he told the forum, "are stressed. If we weren't stressed, we'd be dead. We all need a little stress to keep us going."
The problem comes, he says, "if you feel at any level it's getting in the way. Then you ought to address it."
People can expend a lot of energy coping with their stress, he says. If some crisis then comes along, "they can't handle it because they don't have any energy left."
The employes, he believes, have found the test beneficial. They're now asking for seminars dealing with how to resolve stressful conflicts within their families and on-the-job relationships.
An abbreviated form of the tension quotient test appears below. In the four categories, says Haro, people who get high scores may exhibit these characteristics:
Type A Personality: "This person may be restless during leisure hours and experience a sense of guilt during relaxed periods." He or she also can develop "extreme nervousness, anxiety, sleep disurbance and depression."
These risk factors, adds Haro, "may be further complicated by high blood pressure, heavy cigarette smoking and high cholesterol levels."
Agression: This person "enjoys combat and argument," is "easily annoyed" and is "sometimes willing to hurt people" to get his way. You may, says Haro, "seek to get even with people whom you perceive as having harmed you." Other Characteristics: "aggressive, irritable, hot-tempered, hostile."
Anxiety: There are experiences of increasing uneasiness of a diffuse sort, accompanied by severe and disturbing physiological reactions," such as trembling, perspiring, irregularities in breathing and a pounding heart.
Autonomy: This person "tries to break away from restraints, confinement or restrictions of any kind." He or she "enjoys being unattached, free, not tied to people, places or obligations." They "may be rebellious when faced with restraints." They are "independent" and "nonconforming."
Remember, says Haro, "If you fall into a crisis area it doesn't mean you should run out to your physicial for a checkup. You must determine if the stress is helping or hindering you."