Tech writing and stress

Subject: Tech writing and stress
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 6 Dec 1995 09:44:00 PST

Someone writes (in response to a discussion of tech writing and stress):

>I guess you shouldn't try going into a really high stress profession such as
>health professional, fire fighter, police work, or teaching junior high
>school in the inner city. I'm not saying that the stress level is low in
>tech writing, but it may be more medium. We do have to contend with
>deadlines (sometimes unreasonable), equipment failures, uncooperative SMEs,
>and lack of information, *sometimes*. But we are rarely in physical danger,
>nor do lives weigh in the balance if we flub up.

I think this overlooks most of the research about stress in the workplace.
If I recall correctly, the most widely accepted model of workplace stress
suggests that some of the major stressors are

Too little autonomy (not enough choice about how to do the job)
Too little role clarity
Your role not considered important in the organization (too little
Little or no influence over the final product
No sense of completion (you don't get to participate in the whole thing,
you just put the nut on as the thing goes by)

Many people have a model of stress built mainly on TV images. TV shows tend
to suggest that anyone who works in an office is, by definition, in a
low-stress job.

And, surprisingly, physical risk is not as high a stressor for many people.
Many people actually crave the adrenlin rush that such jobs offer and would
be stressed in a job that never provide that rush now and then. (Not to say
that cops, teachers, and fighter pilots are not stressed--but that the
research suggests they are most stressed by the same factors as everyone
else; their stress goes away when the organization responds to ameliorate
these problems.)

Air traffic controllers, a popularly perceived "superstress" job, is
actually not that bad--if the "right" person is in the job . . . the right
person being one who likes to juggle a lot of critical decisions. Many of
the fired PATCO workers spent *years* trying to get back in the tower
because they *loved* the job. Many report that they never found any other
work they found so satisfying.

My experience in working and looking into organizations tells me that, for
many reasons, tech writer can be a very high stress job. Doesn't
necessarily have to be, but it sure can be. We shouldn't overlook that on
this list--if anything we should look at trying to tie compensation to some
of the *real* stressors in the workplace. Judging by the kinds of
complaints we see here, many companies have set tech writers up for *lots*
of stress.

John Gear (catalyst -at- pacifier -dot- com)

The Bill of Rights--The Original Contract with America
Accept no substitutes. Beware of imitations. Insist on the genuine articles.

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