5 Business Life-work Stress Factors

It takes a village to make sense. I posted Business, Pleasure, Death Sentence Wednesday on Small Business Trends, about the alleged stress of blogging. I quoted John Jantsch and Alan Johnston making fun of a poorly aimed (my opinion) New York Times story about bloggers dying from presumed stress. As of yesterday morning that post had collected several fun and interesting comments.

What is it that really causes stress while working? Granted, the NY Times story could have been written about any pursuit that anybody ever overstressed over. That’s not very useful. But are some jobs more stressful than others? Or is it perhaps the match between the job and the person, the skills and the requirements, that causes stress? Or is it perhaps just the person, because some people will overstress about anything? This has been making me think.

Last August I posted Passion or Ability? on this blog, about a question I got in email. The key quote was this one:

So my question is even though I’m good at sales and advertising, should I stick with it or find something that I’m passionate about? What’s more important–passion or ability?”

That post generated some interesting comments too. I think we’re getting somewhere.

Hypothesis: could it be that work stress is related to mismatches? Not just the obvious working too hard, or mismanaging stress by mixing urgency with importance or failing to breathe deeply and settle it down on occasion? More specifically, these two key factors:

  1. Mismatch work and values. Could it be that if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, that makes things harder, and causes more stress? I’d like to think most businesses believe in what they’re doing. People who work in the restaurant have to like the food they serve. People who sell software have to believe it works, and that it’s good for its users. People who fly planes have to believe in the planes.
  2. Mismatch work and abilities. Some people love the phone, some hate it. Some can work all day alone with a computer, some go stir crazy. Some want to sit at desks, some want to climb ladders and pound nails. We had an employee at Palo Alto Software who was fluent in six languages and had a PhD degree, but wanted only to disassemble returned product. We tried to get him on the phone with customers and he hated it.
  3. Mismatch work and preferences. Some people love to travel. Some hate it. I’ve been in heavy travel jobs off and on for most of my life, and I’ve seen colleagues who hated leaving home and colleagues who couldn’t wait to get back on the road. Family makes a big difference with that. Notice I distinguish between this one and the abilities one. What you like to do isn’t necessarily what you’re best at; I think both factors are important. Some people like to dress up, some don’t. One person at Palo Alto Software asked for “dress-up Fridays” because we’re so casual. Some people like the office, some like working alone at home.
  4. Working in a vacuum. No feedback. No metrics. Am I doing a good job? How would I know?
  5. Work competing with life. This is really just a restatement of point number 3, but I can’t help it. I’ve seen companies that discouraged the rest of your life, wanted people in the office as much as possible, and I’ve seen companies that wanted people to have the rest of their lives. How driven are you? Are you disappointed when teammates leave at 5 pm?

I don’t mean to suggest that this is an inclusive list. I bet we all know people who turn anything into stress, and people who glide through anything. So personality typing, and attitudes obviously make a big difference. And — who are we kidding — some jobs are more stressful, and some bosses are more stressful, and some companies are more stressful, and some cities (commuting and all that) are more stressful.

One of the comments to the Small Business Trends was this one:

That whole “do what you love and the money comes later” thing sounds trite, but it is true.

I like that. Sometimes the truth of these things is trite, but still bears repeating.

And then there’s the comment from Anita Campbell, founder and creator of Small Business Trends, which has more than 100,000 subscribers, about her life in blogging compared to the so-called real world:

My positions in the corporate world were 20 times more stressful than anything I do now. Not to mention all the time I used to waste in commuting (2 hours a day) plus writing reports (1 hour a day) plus meetings that were just people jockeying for position vis-a-vis one another (1 hour). That was the equivalent to half a work day right there — before I even got anything accomplished! THAT was stress, not what I do now.

So this is just my guess. Stress isn’t by type of job alone. This is one of those difficult things that’s hard to isolate. It’s probably different for everybody.

Maybe we need a refresher on why zebras don’t get ulcers.


  • Ankit Gupta says:

    Tim, great points, especially the first one. If your values are in line with the business, you'll be motivated to be a part of the team because you want to, not just because you need a job. This makes a world of difference in terms of the thought a team member puts into their decisions.

  • David Mackey says:

    Great article Tim. I think you've down out some great points.

  • Tim Berry says:

    Thanks Luke, and thanks for the heads-up, I corrected the error in the link, it is working for me now (but it didn't, I had it wrong until you noticed, then I went back and corrected).

  • Luke says:

    Hi – Good article, and a timeless topic. Balance…keep passion/ability in perspective at all times. That's all I have to add 🙂

    The Zebra link didn't work for me. I am really curious now what that leads to!

  • Chris R says:

    Great post Tim…I will be following your blog! Passion is more important than ability hands down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *