Managing Stress and the Work-Life Balance
Stress Takes Its Toll
Larry Field had a lot of fun in high school. He was a fairly good student, especially in math, he worked harder than most of his friends, and somehow he ended up going steady with Alice Shiflette, class valedictorian. He worked summers for a local surveyor, William Loude, and when he graduated Mr. Loude offered him a job as number-three man on one of his survey crews. The pay was not very high, but Larry was already good at the work, and he believed all he needed was a steady job to boost his confidence to ask Alice to marry him. Once he did, events unfolded rapidly. He started work in June, he and Alice were married in October, Alice took a job as a secretary in a local company that made business forms, and a year later they had their first child.
The baby came as something of a shock to Larry. He had come to enjoy the independence his own paycheck gave him every week. Food and rent took up most of it, but he still enjoyed playing basketball a few nights a week with his high school buddies and spending Sunday afternoons on the softball field. When the baby came, however, Larry’s brow began to furrow a bit. He was only 20 years old, and he still was not making much money. He asked Mr. Loude for a raise and got it—his first.
Two months later, one of the crew chiefs quit just when Mr. Loude’s crews had more work than they could handle. Mr. Loude hated to turn down work, so he made Larry Field a crew chief, giving his crew some of the old instruments that were not good enough for the precision work of the top crews, and assigned him the easy title surveys in town. Because it meant a jump in salary, Larry had no choice but to accept the crew chief position. But it scared him. He had never been very ambitious or curious, so he had paid little attention to the training of his former crew chief. He knew how to run the instruments—the basics, anyway—but every morning he woke up terrified that he would be sent on a job he could not handle.
During his first few months as a crew chief, Larry began doing things that his wife thought he had outgrown. He frequently talked so fast that he would stumble over his own words, stammer, turn red in the face, and have to start all over again. He began smoking, too, something he had not done since they had started dating. He told his two crew members that smoking kept his hands from shaking when he was working on an instrument. Neither of them smoked, and when Larry began lighting up in the truck while they were waiting for the train to stop, they would become resentful and complain that he had no right to ruin their lungs too.
Larry found it particularly hard to adjust to being “boss,” especially since one of his workers was getting an engineering degree at night school and both crew members were the same age as he. He felt sure that Alfonso Reyes, the scholar, would take over his position in no time. He kept feeling that Alfonso was looking over his shoulder and began snapping any time they worked close together.
Things were getting tense at home, too. Alice had to give up her full-time day job to take care of the baby, so she had started working nights. They hardly ever saw each other, and it seemed as though her only topic of conversation was how they should move to California or Alaska, where she had heard that surveyors were paid five times what Larry made. Larry knew his wife was dissatisfied with her work and believed her intelligence was being wasted, but he did not know what he could do about it. He was disconcerted when he realized that drinking and worrying about the next day at work while sitting at home with the baby at night had become a pattern.
- What signs of stress was Larry Field exhibiting?
- How was Larry Field trying to cope with his stress? Can you suggest more effective methods?
Larry showed his first sign of stress when his brow began to furrow after he and Alice had a baby. The next stressor to hit Larry was his promotion to crew chief, a position he felt forced to take because he needed the money. Signs of stress included waking up terrified every morning that he would be "sent to a job he could not handle." Other symptoms of stress were regression—reverted to behaviors that Alice thought he had outgrown—such as stumbling over his words, stammering, and turning red in the face. He felt a coworker studying engineering was positioning himself to take over his job and began to snap at him.
Larry began smoking again and started drinking to cope with the stress. Less destructive coping methods could have been to see a therapist so he could talk through his issues, meditate, practice deep breathing, take up exercise, reach out to friends from high school both for support and relaxation (including perhaps a date night with Alice), listen to soothing music, and start a gratitude journal to remember the good things in life.