It's not just's personal

The theme of stress at work needs little introduction. According to one survey, over 80% of Americans experience stress at work.

An idea that I try to incorporate into my clinical work is that one of the primary antidotes to stress is compassion, for ourselves and for those around us. But what if you feel like your work environment requires the opposite of compassion? What if the prevailing value in your workplace is that the bottom line is more important than harmonious relationships and self-care? In an article for APA, psychologist Ramani Durvasula writes:

"Our rubrics of success are so often tied into bottom lines — economic success and material outcomes — that we do not pause to consider whether the traits that generate these successes translate to the “stuff” that close relationships and families need to function and thrive — emotional presence, empathy, respect, mutuality and self-reflection."

Durvasula goes on to explore whether the very traits that make someone financially successful are also going to make success in interpersonal relationships less likely. It isn't hard to imagine someone who knows exactly how to achieve success in their workplace...yet when they apply those same skills at home it drives a wedge in the middle of their relationships. Imagine some adjectives that might describe successful employees--particularly in stressful work environments: cunning, sharp, competitive, driven, persistent, aggressive, decisive--will these people be able to provide the empathy, understanding, flexibility, patience, and generosity needed to make family relationships succeed? In some cases, yes! In others, it might be a struggle to make the switch.

The TED talk below describes an experiment that compares the egg-laying productivity between one group of chickens--bred normally--to another group of chickens--bred so that only the best egg-layers reproduce. Guess what? The super-egg-producing chickens don't fare so well in the end...

Success in business doesn't have to be at the cost of compassionate relationships with coworkers or meaningful personal relationships. Heffernan cites research in her talk that high degrees of social sensitivity and empathy are essential for success both in business and in relationships.

What we know about these traits, social sensitivity and empathy, is that they can be developed with practice. And there is a reciprocal relationship: empathy and compassion can reduce one's own stress, which can then make empathy and compassion more possible.

If you are stressed at work, and this stress is impacting your ability to be successful--at work or in your relationships--that might be a sign that you could benefit from learning some skills to cope with stress and improve your relationships. If you're not sure, let us know and we can offer a consultation to help you determine if therapy is right for you.

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