LEARN A LITTLE:
How Gratitude Can Help Us Handle Stress
Recently, my wife and I were returning to our home in Illinois after attending a conference in Louisiana. While on a busy stretch of Interstate 55 in Missouri, a tire on our vehicle blew out–and that was the beginning of this month’s blog.
Heavy traffic and an abundance of semi-trucks made the trek across the busy lanes to the narrow shoulder of the highway a rather harrowing experience. We were very relieved to make it safely and called our emergency roadside service at 10:30 a.m.
The service representative couldn’t have been any nicer. He told us that he would contact one of their contract vendor towing services immediately. As we talked, he could hear the semi-trucks roaring past our car window, so he made us his first priority given our dangerous traffic predicament. After hanging up, we sat in silence for a few moments and then shared some grateful thoughts.
- Thank God, it hadn’t been a front tire.
- We were thankful we had an almost full tank of gas and could keep the car running and the air conditioning on in the tremendous heat. It was a very humid 92 degrees.
- We were thankful that it had quit raining and the tire had blown out during the daylight.
- We were grateful we had an emergency towing service.
- And we were grateful for the kindness of the company rep.
There was no doubt that turning our thoughts to the positive helped take our minds off our fears.
Waiting, however, became a true test of our fortitude. At 11:00 o’clock, the company representative called back to check on us. He asked if we were okay and wondered if we wanted him to call anyone.
Unfortunately, he was also calling to let us know that he still had not been able to reach anyone. He said this was most unusual and that his supervisor was working with him to find a towing service as quickly as possible, too.
He further indicated that we could make our own independent search if we so chose, assuring us that the company would pay for it. When we decided not to, he promised to call as soon as they located a towing service. Finally, he recommended that we check out nearby tire vendors and repair services to locate an option that the towing service driver could take us to.
We spent the next many minutes trying to find a tire service in the town closest to our location and found two such businesses. Luckily, they both had the tire size we required, but unfortunately, since it was Saturday, they closed at noon. It was now nearly 11:20, so we knew that we had a problem.
Just at that moment, a state trooper pulled up behind us and approached our car on the passenger’s side, talking to us through the lowered window. He was very nice and clearly understood our dangerous situation. We told him that the emergency road service was not having much luck finding a vendor in the area. He returned to his vehicle and came back in a couple of minutes. He said that he had received a call and would have to leave immediately, but offered us some water and gave us his card with his phone number on it. He promised to check on us later, and said that if we didn’t hear something reasonably soon, we should call him. He would then assist us more directly. Lastly, the officer asked that we stay in the car with our seat belts on since this was the safest course of action given the heavy traffic on the highway. As he left, he informed us that there was a Walmart in the next town, five to ten miles up the highway, that had an automotive department.
At 11:30 the emergency road service representative called with good news. He had a towing service on the way, though unfortunately they were 44 miles away. So we continued our anxious wait.
At about 11:50, a rather dilapidated, old vehicle stopped in front of our car. The driver turned his hazard lights on, got out, walked to the passenger window and asked if we were all right. Noting the heavy traffic, he volunteered to drive us to the next town so we wouldn’t have to stay in the car under such scary circumstances. He also offered us some water. We thanked him but decided to remain in the car.
The wait continued, and we added to our gratitude list:
- We were grateful to the state trooper and his offer to help.
- We were grateful for the gentleman who stopped and checked on us.
- We were grateful that a towing service was on the way.
A few moments later, we decided to call the Walmart that the state trooper had mentioned to find out their hours of operation. A delightful young woman answered the phone and, when I informed her of our dilemma, she immediately asked if there was anything she could do for us right then. Call someone on our behalf? Call the highway patrol? I thanked her for her kindness and, while laughing, told her I would settle for a tire. Because she was concerned that they might not have the required tire size, she put me on hold so she could go check. A few minutes later, she came back on the phone. They had one such tire, so she put it aside for us. She also said they were open until 7 p.m. Then before she hung up, she again asked if there was anything else she could do for us.
The last half hour of the wait was an ordeal. To make matters worse, we both now had to go to the bathroom. Finally, at approximately 12:25, the towing service pulled up. We got out of the car and watched as the driver winched it onto the platform of the car carrier.
The driver was very kind and friendly. He also commented on how weird it was that a more local towing service could not be secured. What was unusual was that he didn’t typically work on Saturdays, but on this day did so because he wanted to pick up some extra money. As he was getting ready to leave, I thanked him, tipped him and told him he was a Godsend.
We got to the Walmart automotive department around 1:20. The older gentleman who ran the automotive department couldn’t have been more supportive and compassionate. He couldn’t believe we had been sitting on the side of the highway for two hours. While we sat in the waiting area of the department, he would come over and check on us. We found out he had talked to his lead worker and a couple of customers and, after telling them of our dilemma, was able to move us up in line a little bit. Later, as he handed us the car keys and wished us well, he was singing “On the Road Again.”
We were still about six hours from home in terms of driving time when we left the shop around 2:30. We were truly glad to be back on the road again.
After a few minutes of silence, we finished our gratitude list.
- We were grateful that Walmart was open on Saturdays and had our tire.
- We were grateful to the towing service driver who decided to work that Saturday.
- We were grateful to the Walmart employees who were so kind and compassionate.
- We were grateful for bathrooms.
- We were grateful to be alive.
And as you would probably guess, we were most grateful to get back home that night.
Life is truly more joyful and satisfying when we acknowledge our gratitude and work to leave behind our complaints, anger or dissatisfaction. There is no doubt that gratitude helps diminish our fears and face adversity.
P.S. Since gratitude has an even greater impact when shared, I sent a letter to the manager of the Walmart store thanking him for the assistance that the two employees had given us.
LAUGH A LITTLE:
REFLECT A LITTLE:
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and
be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
READ A LITTLE:
Anxiety at Work
Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton with Anthony Gostick
(Harper Collins, 2021)
Anxiety at Work, a book by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, offers readers several strategies to build resilience in the presence of the inevitable stresses that occur in the workplace. You may remember Gostick and Elton as the authors of Leading with Gratitude and The Carrot Principle.
Some of the research findings, cited early in the book, caught my attention. In a 2018 survey, 34% of all workers reported feeling anxiety at least once in the previous month and 18% had a diagnosed anxiety disorder—and this was before COVID-19.
According to the authors, “Anxiety involves the body and mind and can be serious enough to qualify as a mental disorder. Anxiety can combine stress, fears and worry in ways that interfere with life.” Even more poignantly, by May 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, “More than 30% of all Americans were reporting symptoms of an anxiety disorder, including a remarkable 42% of people in their 20s.” One last statistic in this regard: research published in the Harvard Business Review cited a study revealing that more than half of all millennials and 75% of Gen Z “reported that they had quit a job for mental health reasons.”
There is no doubt that today’s world and workplace is much different than the days of “Father knows best.” It is also my experience that more employees are seemingly depressed, discouraged or restless as well as being anxious.
Nevertheless, I would like to see additional research findings from diverse employee populations who did not know the assumptions of the researcher regarding workplace anxiety. I would also be interested in knowing whether liberal arts degree graduates are more anxious in a business environment than those who majored in the field.
Anxiety at Work is being recommended, especially for those managers who may be struggling with the current workforce. The authors’ goal of curating a healthy workplace is genuine, and they share many helpful suggestions across the eight chapters which, in their judgment, reflect the primary sources of anxiety in the workplace.
The chapters identify each of the problem areas and offer strategies for managing within that context. The eight sources of anxiety are:
- Job uncertainty and job security
- Work overload
- Lack of clarity regarding career growth
- Fear of speaking up, contributing
- Feeling micromanaged
- Being excluded socially
- A lack of confidence, feeling undervalued
What follows are some helpful management strategies that stood out.
- It is most important that managers check in frequently with their employees. Ask them how they are doing and don’t forget to ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
- Meet with employees and ensure the fact that they understand the expectations of their employment.
- Be aware of work overload, and if appropriate reduce demands, including digital ones and excessive red tape.
- Help people prioritize. The authors suggested labeling work priorities as critical, important, moderate or low.
- Spend enough time with subordinates so they are confident in sharing their concerns regarding job security, growth and advancement.
- The chapter on perfectionism is especially cogent whether one is a manager of those struggling with this behavior or a person with such tendencies. As the authors observe, “Perfectionism isn’t about a rational quest to get things right when they have to be; it’s a corrosive impulse to appear perfect, and often to push others to perfection as well.” In this regard, I like the notion of “clarifying what ‘good enough’ is.”
- Managers and leaders must take the time to listen to their employees, support them when they need it, offer coaching when necessary, deal with the conflict-avoidant and communicate the importance of compromise. “… The eventual winner must be the team, not an individual.”
Until next time,
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