Needy Boss with Holiday “Separation Anxiety?”

by Lynn Taylor

Published on December 12, 2010

Just as you’ve reached the final item on your pre-holiday checklist on your rare lunch break, your boss pops in to discuss what he’s busy working on. As you nod distractedly, you realize he’s waiting eagerly for your answer on your projects. As you turn off your computer and signal that you have to leave, the boss just keeps a long conversation going longer. Why now?

Holidays are already stressful when you’re in a hurry to finish up loose ends so you can make it out the door. Your boss may be a “Terrible Office Tyrant” or “TOT,” suffering from the equivalent of separation anxiety in children. The signs include a last minute barrage of questions, unreasonable requests or other obstacles as you try to ease into your holiday plans. And you end up with “vacation guilt syndrome.”

Needy Behavior

Why, when you’re about to take time off, does your boss start acting like a clinging child, yelling, “Mommy, don’t go!?” Most toddlers develop separation anxiety at some point because they lack the assurance that things and people exist when they can’t see them. They fear you’ll never come back. (Don’t get any ideas!) It’s legitimate for a manager to want to ensure that all bases covered when you’re gone, but when it causes unnecessary guilt or stress, that’s when you’ve entered the “TOT Zone.”

This may be an opportunity to set needed boundaries, albeit with a great deal of empathy and diplomacy. It certainly is a challenge, given the high unemployment rate – and the intimidating bad boss behavior you’re facing in the moment. But a little patience will go a long way in maintaining, if not solidifying your relationship. It will also soothe your nerves as you’re sipping your tropical drink somewhere far away.

Reassure That You’re Not Abandoning

TOTs small and adult-sized, can be fearful of abandonment, particularly if, in the case of the latter, it could hurt their own jobs or projects. Some TOTs can’t handle it when their employees leave the building for lunch, much less for an extra day or two. They need someone around constantly or they get frustrated with the pending projects.

Needy behavior may seem benign at first but can quickly cascade into one of 19 other classic bad boss traits, ranging from stubbornness,bullying, demanding and whining to moodiness. The trick is to be available as necessary and to reassure – but without compromising your own limits.

Taming A Needy TOT

If your boss suffers from holiday TOT separation anxiety, then follow these tips so you can have a truly relaxing vacation.

• Make solid plans in writing for who covers what while you’re on vacation.

• Provide a “to-do list” for your boss, which will reassure and suggest that your TOT can also take off without thinking about you.

• Once you have a plan in place, ask questions of your boss to see which areas are of most concern, if necessary.

• Remain unapologetic when requesting or taking the allotted time off if you’ve given ample notice. Everyone needs a break.

• Reassure the boss that a little break now will translate into a happier, more productive start to the New Year.

• Set clear limits; you don’t want to be skiing after already getting the ‘big freeze’ from the boss.

Remember, neediness is common in human nature. But you shouldn’t let your boss’s apprehension consume your life or let your holidays be hijacked. By managing your manager (or “parenting up without patronizing”) you’ll also humanize your workplace. You’ll have a healthier, happier start to 2011, and this skill will be of benefit with any future vacations, anywhere you work. Bon voyage!

Psychologically Healthy Workplaces

We must increase well-being in the workplace.

by Christopher Peterson

Consider these recent survey results:
• 69% of US employees report that work is a significant source of stress.
• 41% say they typically feel tense or stressed out during the workday.
• 51% say they are less productive at work as a result of stress.
• 52% report that they have considered or made a decision about their career such as looking for a new job, declining a promotion, or leaving a job because of workplace stress.
• Healthcare expenditures for employees with high levels of stress are 46% higher than those with low levels of stress.
• Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and medical, legal, and insurance costs.
• For the average company, turnover costs more than 12% of pre-tax income and for those at the high end of stress, these costs can reach almost 40% of earnings.
• 52% percent of employees say that job demands interfere with family or home responsibilities.

These are all terrible statistics, and we of course want to reduce workplace stress and its determinants. However consider another recent survey – asking why people stay at a given job – and note that workers do not cite low stress. Rather, they point to positive features of work, precisely those of concern to positive psychology:
• Exciting and challenging work.
• Opportunities for career growth, learning, and development.
• High-quality co-workers.
• Fair pay.
• Supportive management.

Which leads me to mention an American Psychological Association program that identifies – locally and nationally – and honors workplaces with these sorts of features, dubbed psychologically healthy workplaces:
• Employee involvement.
• Work-life balance.
• Employee growth and development.
• Health and safety.
• Employee recognition.

Psychologically healthy workplaces are demonstrably good ones, from the perspective of management and workers. Compared to typical workplaces, they are less stressful, have lower turnover, and higher worker satisfaction (and everything that follows from that). These results are unsurprising but important.

Such workplaces often have innovative practices and features, from cafeterias to on-site daycare to paid sabbaticals to compressed work weeks. Appreciate that it is not the practices per se that matter but what they mean within the corporate cultures.

There is a story I remember from decades ago, when the Japanese automakers first began to eclipse the Big Three automakers of Detroit. Detroit automakers sent folks to Japan to learn what was going on there. It was discovered that Japanese autoworkers did group calisthenics before their shifts. So, went the logic, Detroit autoworkers should be asked to do the same thing.

That did not work well, obviously, because group calisthenics have a hugely different meaning in Japan than in the US.

Here is the positive psychology point – actually two of them. First, it is not enough to decrease stress in the workplace; we must also increase well-being. Second, practices to do so must make sense within a workplace. It’s not rocket science, dear readers, just a matter of talking to workers and heeding what they might suggest.

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Alcohol – Blackouts, Brownouts and how they affect your body

Published on November 21, 2010

With the holiday season upon us, many Americans engage in heavier-than-usual drinking, especially in those family gathering that can bring on the stress that reminds you why you left home in the first place. Still, I’m pretty sure that the majority of you want to actually remember what you did last night or on Thanksgiving?

Aside from short bursts of heavy drinking, drinking heavily over a long time period (I mean years) can affect the brain and cause lasting damage including, but not limited to, slips in memory. These memory slips can be due to lack of blood flow to brain areas that are important for memory consolidation and are more commonly known as blackouts. Contrary to what most people seem to believe, blackouts often occur in social drinkers and are don’t seem to be related to age or level of alcohol dependency.

Blackouts and the BAC (blood alcohol concentration) rate

Amnesia, or memory dysfunction, can begin to occur even with as few as one or two drinks containing alcohol. However, as the amount of alcohol intake increases so does the probability of memory impairment. Although sometimes heavy drinking alone will not cause blackouts, heavy drinking associated with drinking alcohol on an empty stomach or “chugging” alcoholic drinks often does cause blackouts.

The estimated BAC (blood alcohol content) range for blackouts begins at levels .14%- .20%. Individuals who reached high BAC levels slowly experienced far less common occurrences of blackouts. Additionally, while blackouts can lead to forgetting entire events that happened while intoxicated, some individuals experience an inability to recall only parts of an event or episode unless prompted to do so (these are often called brownouts).

Blackouts can occur to anyone who drinks too much too fast. In a survey of college students, males and females had experienced an equal number of blackouts, although the men had consumed a significantly larger amount of alcohol than the females.

Although brain damage could potentially occur from heavy alcohol consumption, there is no evidence that blackouts are caused by brain damage per se. However, if brain damage is caused from excessive alcohol use, some studies show improvements in brain function with as little as a year of abstinence. Regardless of the possibility of reversing any effects, alcohol use causes damage in different areas of the body (including the liver), and those damages have been shown to occur more quickly among females.

by Adi Jaffe


1. White, Aaron M., Signer, Matthew L., Kraus, Courtney L. and Swartzwelder, H. Scott(2004). Experiential Aspects of Alcohol-Induced Blackouts Among College Students, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse,30:1,205 — 224

2. Alcohol Alert (2004) . Alcoholic Brain Damage. Alcohol Research & Health, Vol. 27.

New Studies Examine the Many Facets of Depression

By KATHLEEN DOHENY Psych Central News
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on November 18, 201

Treatments for depression have improved greatly over the years, yet there are still many patients not helped by traditional offerings of medications and talk therapy.

”Roughly 20 to 40 percent of people with depression aren’t helped by existing therapies,” said Robert Greene, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.  On Monday, he moderated a news conference at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in San Diego to update research on new options under study.

Among the promising research is new data on:

  • How being stressed out may play a role in depression;
  • How the immune system may play a role in depression;
  • The role of a specific molecule, Cdk5, in nerve cell signaling and how the information might be used for an antidepressant effect;
  • The role of a small protein known as p11 and how it affects antidepressant-like  responses.

To the first of these, Herwig Baier, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, said, ”An inability to cope with stress may play a role in depression.” He found in a study that zebra fish who have a mutation in a receptor important for stress management displayed abnormal behavior similar to depression. Normally social fish, the zebra fish stopped swimming and hid in the corner of their tanks when isolated from others.

But when these fish were given fluoxetine (Prozac), the behavior disappeared, he found. Studying the fish makes sense, Baier says, as the ”stress axis” in this fish and humans is identical.

The zebra fish’s mutation is in the gene known as the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) gene, and one of its jobs is to ”dial down” the secretion of stress hormones from the brain. Either too much or too little GR activity has been linked with depression.

If the fish story holds true for people, Baier said, new strategies for depression could be developed that don’t block GR activity but activate it to just the right amount so mood is not depressed.

The immune system could also play a role in depression, said Simon Sydserff, PHD, a senior research scientist at BrainCells, Inc., a drug development company in San Diego involved in stem cell technology to develop CNS treatments.

Here’s how:  When you get sick, the immune system hormone IL6 or interleukin 6, carries ”sickness” signals to the brain. When Sydserff activated the immune system of mice to mimic sickness, they displayed behavior representing depression.

“Patients who are depressed who are medically healthy and also those who are medically ill, have high levels of immune system signaling cytokines such as IL6,” he said.

“Interferon alpha, a cancer treatment, increases IL-6 and has also been linked to major depression,” he said. If the research bears out, he said, ”blocking IL-6 may prevent or reverse depression,” offering another option.

He conducted the research, supported by AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, while on staff there.

In  another study, James Bibb, Ph.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, found that mice lacking a molecule known as Cdk5 like mice given an antidepressant: They were more active, one marker of effective antidepressant action. Without the molecule, the wave of a signaling molecule known as cyclic AMP doesn’t stop as it typically does, and this was linked with antidepressant-like responses. Learning how to block this molecule in the future could provide more options, he said.

Meanwhile, figuring out why an antidepressant can take a while to ”kick in” is the focus of another study. Jennifer Warner-Schmidt, Ph.D., a researcher at The Rockefeller University in New York, zeroed in on a regulator of antidepressant responses known as p11.  It’s a small protein expressed in depression-related brain regions.

She found in animal studies that over-expression of p11 results in an antidepressant effect and that another key regulator, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is required for the serotonin-induced increase in the p11.

”Understanding better the role of p11 in antidepressant response could lead to faster acting antidepressants with fewer side effects,” she said.

SOURCE: Society for Neuroscience.