I recently came across this article about a stress study done recently that produced an interesting finding: higher level employees are less stressed than lower level employees. This finding jives with what I found when I did a study on the role of stress in the lives of nonprofit employees. My data was self reported, unlike the article’s data which measured biological symptoms of stress, but nevertheless, the outcomes were similar – entry level employees were some of the most stressed out ones.
This sounds counter-intuitive at first. One might assume that with more responsibility comes more expectation, more to do and more stress. The study actually came to the conclusion that with a higher amount of control – something that higher level employees enjoy – the level of stress decreases. This is a great argument for the power of empowering lower level employees and instilling in others a sense of responsibility and ownership in their projects.
I have another idea. I’m not saying I’ve proven this in any sort of research project, but it’s just my postulation. We know that stress is most often self-imposed. I’d like to argue that higher level employees have more life experience and more awareness about how to manage stress. They have tools in their toolbelt and can identify when things are getting sticky.
Not to mention the concept that Millennials – the group that is entering the workforce right now at entry level positions – is made up of overachievers, perfectionists, and ambitious workers. We put very high expectations on ourselves, and that is manifesting in stress. And that needs to stop now!
I encourage you to be proactive about managing your stress, no matter where you fall on the food chain. I thought this article was interesting because it’s causing us all to think differently about what stress is and the role it has in the workforce and in our lives. It’s turned our traditional definition of stress on its head. And since stress is such an abstract thing that should really be paid attention to and analyzed, that’s just where it should be.
Like most things I write about on this blog, responsibility is a double edged sword. At face value, it’s a great trait – it proves you have the expertise, knowledge, and experience to manage projects. I’m definitely one of those people who strives to have more and more responsibility, even if I’m in a low level position. There’s something thrilling knowing you have total ownership of a project – that you did all the research, planning, and follow through for everything. You know every component inside out, and you can vouch for the project, no matter what.
Although it can be fun to have responsibility, it can also be exhausting. If anything’s wrong, your reputation is on the line. You have to take into account everyone’s opinions in your decisions, and answer to them when things don’t go their way. And you have to do the work! Responsibility can be very difficult.
It’s been tough for me to learn this, but I believe I have – responsibility is not something I need to go after all the time. Especially working in a nonprofit, the more responsibility you volunteer for, the more you’ll have. And it won’t necessarily reflect in your title or your pay. Before you know it, you’ll be working on very complex projects from start to end and won’t have anything to show for it. Of course, you are gaining experience, which is priceless. But honestly, I’m at the point where experience just won’t cut it. If I’m going to take responsibility for something, I need to be compensated for that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I’m happy to help in any way I can. But I’m learning the lesson that I can’t kill myself working when I don’t have a higher title or higher pay. It just isn’t worth it. All I can do is what I was hired to do, and do it the best I can. And go home at night knowing that I won’t have to answer all the critics the next day.
As always, I’ve been tossing around ideas about my future lately. I have my five most important values posted on my wall so that I’m reminded of them every day. One of them is making a difference. But what I haven’t really asked myself is…
What does it mean to make a difference?
I’ve always thought of making a difference in the traditional way. Take a visible leadership role and make change in your community. Participate in advocacy, educate your peers, and take an active role in changing the world. Pick up litter. Smile at a stranger. Recycle. You know, that sort of thing.
But last night I thought… what if I’m thinking too small? What if I’m being too close minded about what making a difference can mean? I’ve shared on here that I’m open to being a nonprofit consultant in the future (see my post Updating My About Me Page). But lately I think I might have shifted that thinking from being a possibility to being a strong possibility. Even stronger than becoming a CEO.
My time in the Master of Nonprofit Administration program at USF will be so useful in a consultant capacity. I’ll be able to use my skills and knowledge with a large breadth of organizations. The work will be varied and interesting. And, the responsibility will be different.
I have to admit, I have a hard time shouldering a large amount of responsibility. I get very wrapped up in doing everyone proud that I drive myself a little nuts (see my post I Am an Overachiever). Being a consultant would be a different type of responsibility. I can be a partner with a CEO to assist them with implementation, but not be the sole person creating change. I can be in the supporting role, much like I loved being an advisor to student organizations at UCSD (namely, Alternative Breaks). It’s a different type of responsibility, and one that very much attracts me.
As always, things change. But the important thing is that I’m continually thinking about what will make me happy and what works best for my future. And I think this just might be the ticket.