Action and Words: Building Community Around Workplace Strife

11/28/2010 03:05 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Stress is a huge factor in health issues related to the workplace. In an on-going search to find models for practical solutions to daily stress (at work, home, and when facing life-challenges) I came across a growing on-line, community-building, writing contest and book project. 'Jobs of the Damned' is the contribution of Heliotrope Books to the cause of reducing stress and empowering people who feel they've had no voice at work.

As stress is a major player in our costliest chronic health conditions: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity, finding outlets for tension is vitally important. A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association (Nov. 2009) found that 75% of adults report experiencing moderate to high levels of stress on a regular basis. And the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports one third of workers claim to experience high levels of stress in the workplace.

This project caught my eye because it directly addresses the 4 factors complicit in chronic stress as outlined by Dr. Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers:
1) Disempowerment
2) Feeling a lack of control
3) Lack of community
4) Having no outlet

Jobs of the Damned not only provides a forum for employees to air their grievances and complaints about bosses, but it provides a cross platform collaborative space through which individuals learn they are not alone in their often demoralizing, vexing experiences. Participants are encouraged to craft and then share their stories, and vote on the essays written by others. People who submit work have a chance to win cash prizes, both weekly and in the final round of editorial review, and have a chance to be published in a forthcoming book. And Heliotrope is not focusing on problems exclusively related to bosses. Future contests will include themes like co-workers and employees.

In a conversation with co-founder Naomi Rosenblatt, I learned that their mission is broader then the writing contest, open forum and on-line community. Between publishing projects, Rosenblatt and her team are focused on instituting an 'International Fairness in the Workplace Day'.

"This would be a day that would support employees who want to speak up about problems that they perceive on the job and be heard by HR, by their bosses, and by their supervisors. We believe that labor law and even labor unions can't address a lot of the problems that we are hearing about," says Rosenblatt.

Among the contest panelists are published authors and professionals in the field of Employment Law. According to panelist and Employment Law professor Deborah Weiss, employees are rarely reprimanded or fired because they are doing a bad job -- many times it is just the reverse. People get in trouble with their bosses often because the are doing very good jobs -- because they show initiative -- because the boss is possibly threatened by them.

The theme of this project is engagement, education and action. The concept was first introduced as a book proposal entitled Laugh, Cry or Sue, focused on the hard and soft lines between legal and illegal conduct at work. Now it seems the perfect forum has evolved -- one where anyone can tell his or her tale and participate in a project that may yield lasting results. Rosenblatt shared that the mission for Jobs of the Damned is -- as Shakespeare put it -- to "Give grief words" and to crystallize workers' complaints, share their stories, and collect data on what is happening out there in the workplace.

Read more ideas about reducing stress in work and life visit and visit to get involved.