Tech Writing Job Stress

Subject: Tech Writing Job Stress
From: Rick Lippincott <rjl -at- BOSTECH -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 7 Dec 1995 16:50:16 EST

I've been reading both sides of the "tech writer's stress" issue. Some feel
it's a high stress job, others feel it's low stress. I'm in the latter group.
I'll explain why.

The high-stress folks mention slipped deadlines, changing specs, dealing with
the boss, and so forth. Yep. Us, and many many other working people face
these problems. We're no better or no worse than the rest of them.

Win Day noted that some tech writing can affect lives and that can lead to
increased stress. "Hmmmmm..." I thought. "Sounds like what we need is a
comparison of the stress levels. Best person to speak about that might be
someone who -did- have a high-stress non-tech writing job, and then moved to
a tech writing position where lives were affected. I can't wait to read such
a posting." About ten minutes ago, I realized that's a rare combination. I
just may be the only person here who has done both. (If not, I'm the first one
foolish enough to speak of it....)

From 1981 to 1984 I was a social worker, in particular a child abuse
investigator in upstate New York. The job required daily client contact in
often less-than-friendly circumstances. My partner and I frequently had
to operate in high-violence areas, or were called onto the scene at that
most dangerous of times: domestic crisis. And there's nothing to put a chill
on a visit to a new client like saying "I'm the child abuse caseworker, I'm
here to remove the children and place them in foster care." I've been
threatened, chased by dogs, spit on, cursed at, you name it. Two workers in
the county just west of us were attacked with 2X4s, they suffered broken
bones. One of my co-workers was nearly knifed by a client.

And I'm not even going to go into what I had to look at every day. Believe
me, it's far too depressing to relate. I did my best. Sometimes that just
wasn't enough. It's still tough to talk about some of the cases, even
more than a dozen years later.

My drinking increased during those years, my temper go shorter, I suffered
various physical ailments of all type. I started to have job-related nightmares
that continued nearly a full year after I left. I guess it will come as no
surprise that I was later diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress disorder.

(At the end of three years, as I was leaving, I looked around the office and
realized I was the most senior caseworker. Everyone who had been there on the
day I arrived, was now gone. Three years later, I went back to the office for
a visit. The man who had come to work just after me was now the supervisor,
the woman who had replaced me was the senior worker. Everyone else in the
office was a stranger. That's a -lot- of turnover for most jobs, but normal
for this one.)

I moved from this directly into a job writing tech manuals for aircraft. Lives
hung in the balance based on my job performance. And yet, almost immediatly
my physical aches and pains went away, the nighmares began to fade. I realized
one day that I hadn't had a drink in months, and didn't even miss it. ("Gee,
that six-pack's been in the fridge for a long time......") Sure, there were
tight deadlines and at one point not only the tech manuals but the delivery
of a multi-million dollar airplane actually hinged on me finishing the job
on time. But no one -ever- called me in the middle of the night to say "You
better get the sheriff and come in here, we need a procedure written right
away." Yes, the job was important, and I took it quite seriously. But it
didn't have the same level of stress and danger as the social work.

Please believe me. There is NO comparison. Tech writing simply isn't a high
stress job. If it was, I'd switch to another career, as I've had quite enough
adventure in my job for a lifetime.

Rick Lippincott
Boston Technology
Wakefield, MA
rjl -at- bostech -dot- com

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