The War on the Workplace

Gibson: Constantly checking on updates to the war can cause stress and an unproductive workplace.

I would have prepared a column for this issue, but I spent the whole week checking out online news sources for updates to the Iraq war. What a distraction! Then I noticed the issue that I was most involved with—procrastinating by checking out the progress of the war all the time—was itself getting plenty of attention.

Across my desk came a release from the National Mental Health Association, which has weighed in with advice on keeping people on an even keel. "Were trying to get people to create an environment where employees are kept informed but not inundated with news sources, especially visual ones," said Mary Graham, senior policy adviser of NMHA, in Alexandria, Va. Graham said that while print news stories are not a big problem, visual images can be quite disconcerting. The psychological theory behind that is not clearly defined, but evidence from earlier disasters, including Sept. 11, 2001, showed that workers who repeatedly viewed disturbing images suffered far greater mental stress than those who pried themselves from the TV.

"Visual images have a very negative effect on peoples mental health," said Graham. So companies that prohibit streaming video via filtering software are on to something, she added.

Even with intelligent workplace news management, she said, "people have to understand that people may be working more slowly and missing some deadlines."

As my own deadline neared and passed, the obvious began to dawn on me: No matter how much news you access, doing so doesnt help our cause a bit. And you have, in your small way, decreased American productivity and denied yourself the satisfaction of doing your job well, and that can have an impact on both you and others.

And thats the last Last Word. Thats right, this column is going away with this issue. Thanks to the many who have chimed in with e-mail. Look for a new column lineup next week. Regards,