Madan Tripathy
Mr. A. B. Kashyap, alumni of a renowned Technical Institute with a brilliant academic record, joined ten years back in management cadre in a reputed organization through campus selection. Strong in his core competency, he possesses a good analytical bent of mind and also the capacity to work in a team. People working under him were .highly motivated and he had the reputation of being of a go-getter. Everything was working well for Mr. Kashyap during the first few years of his service being identified as a high pot and having the reputation of being result oriented with remarkable leadership qualities. He got his promotions in the organizational ladder quite early, which was eyesore for some of his contemporaries. He had been sponsored for technical training abroad for a couple of times. He received awards for bringing innovations in his areas of activities, which was widely acclaimed. He even received the coveted Chairman’s Award for young managers not once, but twice, which is very uncommon.
Everything was going smoothly for Mr. Kashyap until he was selected for execution of a project on tenure. He worked hard and contributed for timely completion of the project without any cost and time overrun; and in the process becoming very close to the Project Leader. Something unexpected happened after his project tenure. It seems the Project Leader, who was a top ranking officer had a professional rivalry with the Departmental Head under whom Mr. Kashyap was working earlier before joining the project team. He was not accepted back in the same department after his tenure period was over. He was posted to another department. He found the Department quite contrary to his attitude. There was no result orientation in the Department, though there was a lot of importance given to process. He found everyone from top to bottom were busy in pushing papers & e-mails. Procrastination was the order of the day. He failed to pull on well with other colleagues in the department, who considered him a rank outsider. He did not have much to do to keep him engaged and motivated. Everything appeared to be topsy-turvy for him. He hardly had any jobs for him for more than three hours in a day. His appeal to the top management officials to post him suitably did not yield any result. This demoralized him and he developed withdrawal symptoms. His friends and colleagues found him blowing over trifles, irritated, detached with loss of vitality. His new colleagues conveniently used to pass on the blame to him making him scapegoat in almost all review meetings of the organization. Though changing the job has occurred to him in between, he had some family compulsions for change of location. This demoralized him to a great extent and he developed habit of alcoholism. Alcohol, which was earlier "in parties only" for him, became a daily affair. Even people have seen him keeping bottles in his office table drawer, used for consumption during lunch time, of course privately. This situation continued for some years when fortunately, his problem was rightly identified by his Head, HR, who rehabilitated him in giving him some responsibilities in another challenging assignment. Initially, he was grumbling about his suitability for the assignment as by this time, his self-confidence was at its lowest ebb. Of course, after insistence by the top management, he perforce continued in the new assignment, of course with much reduced vigor than was expected of him. I only wish the situation improves for Mr. Kashyap in due course of time. But, he needs to take the driver seat himself to make it happen?
Is this case of Mr. Kashyap striking a chord with you? Are you involved in a job that does not motivate you? Do you find the job not worth your talent, repetitive, unrewarding, dull and just plain boring? Do you feel restless, dissatisfied, unhappy, stuck in a rut? Do you find your colleagues always complain about your behavior? Do you feel that your boss is overly critical about you and your performance? Do you find yourself grumbling to your colleagues, friends and family even on trifles?
If so, you belong to an exclusive club of management professional suffering from RUST OUT STRESS SYNDROME (ROSS).
In present competitive business environment, the management terminologies “Stress” and Burn Out” are very well known and in fact house-old words. Truly speaking, more or less stress in managerial job is inevitable as management, by its very nature, is potentially a stressful activity caused by conflicting demands, both physical and psychological, placed upon the manager. The managers, who in effect control all the resources in an organization viz:- men, machine, material, methods and money, are constantly under stress to perform better and more so in the present competitive environment.
Two Types of Stress
But, stress by itself is not bad. There are two types of Stress – Eustress & Distress. EU means good. Eustress is pleasant and supportive stress. It is manageable levels of stress for reasonable duration, which mobilizes your resources and get you going on tackling the tasks and problems in your life. We can't always avoid stress. In reality, many a times, we don't want to avoid stress. It is not the occurrence of stress that is harmful rather a manager functions better under stress to a great extent. Unless there is some amount of stress, there is no drive. It is stress that helps you maintain your focus and provide you the competitive edge. In fact, stress is the fuel that makes the manager move. Stress is like electric power which can make a bulb light and provide brilliant illumination. Di means bad. Distress can happen due to overburden. It is the improperly coped stress. When the level of stress becomes much higher than the controllable limit of the individual, stress controls the individual instead of the individual controlling the stress.
Burn Out Stress Syndrome (BOSS)
With the same example, if the voltage is higher than what the bulb can endure, it can burn out the bulb. Burn out is the negative consequence of stress and the result of excess stress experienced and not properly coped with resulting in symptoms of exertion, irritation, personal frustration, ineffectiveness, inaction and some health problems such as hypertension, ulcer, diabetes etc. Burn Out Stress Syndrome is a stress of a very high level coupled with dysfunctional coping modes. Victims of Burn Out Stress Syndrome exhibit (i) physical symptoms like frequent headache, insomnia, indigestion, palpitation, irritable bowls, muscle ache, high sugar, high blood pressure etc., (ii) emotional symptoms like irritation, rage, despair, sadness and (iii) behavioral effects like arguments and fights over relatively trivial matters, unreasonableness, uncommunicativeness, irritableness, lack of interest / over interest in sex, alcoholism, addiction to drug etc.
Rust Out Stress Syndrome (ROSS)
Surprisingly, Rust Out Stress Syndrome victims exhibit the same or similar physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms like BOSS victims. There is not much difference. But, the difference between the two is the origin. Though Mr. Kashyap has exhibited almost all the symptoms of Burn Out Syndrome which arises out of over-work and high stress, but his case is not a case of Burn Out Stress Syndrome. The case of Mr.Kashyap and many more such people in any organization is a case where being under-worked leads to similar symptoms as Burn out Stress syndrome. The fact is most people really want to work and are interested to contribute more for their Organization(s). If these people are not allowed to work at their full potential, they feel depressed, dissatisfied, and unproductive and become cynic. This is what the Rust Out Stress Syndrome is, quite contrary to the Burn Out Stress Syndrome. Whereas, stress-overload leads to Burn Out Stress Syndrome, stress-under-load leads to Rust Out Stress Syndrome. The point being emphasized is that it is not simply the amount of work or the amount of stress or the burden of responsibility that cause the
body and spirit of individual to break, sometimes it is rather absence of these. So, it is desirable to distinguish between the two even if symptoms are same, because treatment needs to be different depending on the inherent cause.
M. E. Douglas and D. N. Douglas in their article "Manage your time, manage work, manage yourself," (1980) published in the journal of Amacom (a division of American Management Association) have mentioned, "Stress is defined as any action or situation that places special physical or psychological demand upon a person, Too much stress or too little stress can be harmful.” Researchers have discovered that there are basically two types of people: Race Horse and Turtle. Race Horses thrive on high stress levels. They are happy with vigorous, fast-paced life style. Turtles are happier in peaceful, quite environment. Either type, if placed in opposite environment will function poorly. Though I do not entirety agree with them that there are basically two types of people because I feel there are much more in between Race Horses and Turtles; but they are right when they say –“People when placed in opposite environment will function poorly." It is very important to realize that while moderate stress may bring about improvement in performance, severe stress left unmanaged by the individual leads to Burn Stress Syndrome and too little stress leads to Rust Out Stress Syndrome. Too little stress is not less dangerous than too much stress. All of us are aware how lethal low voltage can be for electronic equipments.
APEX, the Association of Professional Executives in the Public Services in Canada by its study on Executive Stress found out that the increase in physical and emotional distress in the rank of public services executives are not attributed to overwork but to lack of control. The distinguishing feature of the conclusion of the study is that in respect of Executives, who feel in control of the decisions they make and the how and why of their decisions, their performance is healthy and even thrives irrespective of the weight of the workload. Executives who are not in control of their decisions and their performance feel distress. Another main reason of Rust Out in organizations is that people find their job under-challenged. This is more prevalent in the middle management ranks in the organizations. With the fast change in technology, growing competition and entry of multi-nationals coupled with ineffective succession planning in organizations, the middle management cadre is bulging without proper responsibility and authority and as a result most of the middle managers find their job under-challenged and slowly but steadily moving towards Rust Out Stress Syndrome.
However, ROSS does not confine itself to Middle Management cadre alone. It manifests itself in all levels of Management, be it Junior or Higher level. Inadequate delegation and passing the buck to higher and higher is still a well- known phenomenon in some organizations and along with that the decision-making. Even it is not very uncommon to hear comments from some top management professionals that "I have informed the management about it. Let us see what decision the management takes!" It leaves people wondering who that management they talk about is. The fault lays in the system- the lack of job-clarity, lack of accountability and lack of the system for fixing the responsibility. The other name of “EVERYBODY IS RESPONSIBLE" is "NOBODY IS RESPONSIBLE".
Work-under-load and challenge-under-load which are the major two reasons for Rust Out Stress Syndrome can be quantitative or qualitative. Having too little things to do or too much time to do the job
is a quantitative under-load, whereas qualitative under-load occurs where individuals feel that they are under-challenged, performance standards are too low and they possess much higher potential.
ROSS is contagious
Rust Out Stress Syndrome victims are likely to be caught in a vicious circle of self-degradation. When they do not have sufficient work or sufficient challenge in their job, they become dissatisfied with their job developing a notion that they are cheated by the Organization and that work is wastage of time which leads to the feeling that they are failures in their career culminating in pessimism and feeling of worthlessness. Finally, other people in the Organization get to know about it that the victim is feeling low and even some people kick him or walk over him when he is at his down level. When the victim is in his weakest moment, others mock at him and take advantage of him and in the process the victim resents about himself still more. Rust Out Stress Syndrome (ROSS) is contagious, though I am not very sure whether Burn Out Stress Syndrome is. ROSS is contagious in the same way as pessimism is. It affects the colleagues, juniors and seniors who come in contact with the ROSS victim.
The symptoms of ROSS are as varied as the persons suffering from ROSS. Some become angry, growling at anyone crossing their path, some become quite introverted and isolated, some resort to blaming everybody around them, some resort to alcohol or other such intoxicating substances, some become psychologically
absent only shuffling papers on their table and some run from appointments to appointments without actually doing
anything worthwhile and some even experience physical symptoms including high blood pressure, headache, asthma, diabetes, piles, muscle contraction etc. or even may turn hypochondriac.
What to do for cure?
Okay. Let us say, you or your acquaintance suffer from Rust out Stress Syndrome either in mild from or in severe form. What should
you do about it? It must be clearly understood that in a management disease of this nature, you have to be your own
doctor. If you run to a medical practitioner, he will prescribe you medicines for the symptoms not for the inherent cause. If you
go to a Psychotherapist or a Counselor, he cannot do much unless you co-operate. As much, basically it boils down to you to take
care of yourself. How should you then go about it?
Let us say, you have a car which has developed rust in some parts. You have one of the five options given below:
(I) Ignore it and it will go away: Really, it will go away. But, it will take the rest of your car with it.
(II) Dress the rust: You look for the appropriate color and paint the affected area. Though finding a paint/ color that matches the rest of your car is silly, the rust does not go away and may make internal inroads to other parts without your knowledge.
(III) Mend the Rust: This means closing up the holes in perforated areas by welding pieces of metals wherever necessary and then paint it. Still you do not really care how it finally looks like because no mending can be absolutely perfect.
(IV) Remove the rusted part and put a new part: Even if it is costlier, it may look better and add to the long-term health of the car.
(V) Change the car: This could be the best alternative, but involves a lot of money.
While you could have sufficient money to change your car, the same logic cannot apply when you deal with Rust Out Stress Syndrome, where your whole body and mind is involved. Alternative (i) and alternative (v) being ruled out and alternative (ii) being not desirable, you are left with two alternatives, alternatives (iii) & (iv).
Without carrying the simile of Rust Out Stress Syndrome with rusting of car much too far, the following options are available to you to bring you back on the road.
i. Ask for more meaningful job: You need to convince your superiors that you have more potential and you deserve getting more meaningful and challenging job. Unfortunately, some superiors never like to delegate. If so, you are really stuck-up and may have to try some other options.
ii. Restructure your job and create more meaningful job for you: While staying in the present assignment, you should find challenging jobs for you to keep you happy and busy within the overall objectives and goals of the Organization. Even in your present assignment, if you give really a try, you may get some worthwhile jobs. You should volunteer for new assignments, corporate CFTs in your own Organization in addition to your present job, which will give you both the quantity of the job and also the necessary challenge.
iii. Learn something new and start doing something new: Life and work become dull and monotonous when you stop learning. Think! You might have a passion for writing. You may derive pleasure in spending your extra time in reading Management Journals and writing articles for different management journals, may be some creative professional work which will give you the much needed satisfaction. You can join and participate in activities in professional organizations, which are plenty. Rekindle your interest in your profession, become active, write for journals, present papers, and take responsibility for training colleagues. Avenues are unlimited. Only you have to try and try sincerely. If a branded idiot could transform himself to the great poet Kalidas, then sky can well be the limit for you.
iv. Attack the problem head-on: But you may as well say all the above options sound sense, but they are unrealistic and your problem is much more severe than that. I am afraid if that is the case, then you may have to really try to change your department or may change your employer or at the worst change fields. Changing departments or changing employers or changing fields is one of the most effective cures for severe job rust out. However, there are also reasons why people hesitate to choose one of these options - may be because of family considerations, because of financial reasons, because of resistance for a radical change or may be because of fear of the unknown. But, such a change is welcome if you are really stuck up with a bad case of job rust out. Nevertheless, this option should be exercised only after a lot of careful thought and soul searching, only when all other options do not materialize. Does it not sound sense to take up a job you like whatever may be the drawbacks than to
continue like a dead person in a job where you do not have any interest?
As the old Scottish proverb says "Be happy while you are living, for you are a long time dead."

Author's Bio: 

Author is a highly experienced HR professional, a writer and a motivational speaker. More than 20 articles written by him have been published in journals of repute. He has been conferred with the prestigious "100 Most Talented Global HR Leaders Award" by CHRO, Asia in World HRD Congress in 2014 and HR Leadership Award in Asia Pacific HRM Congress in 2013.You can visit his BLOG at