Monday, September 24, 2007

How can employers reduce worker stress?

Stressed out employees are less productive, tend to have higher turnover than happy employees, and make more mistakes on the job. What can employers do about it? Here's an idea from Australia I bet most workers would support, via Science Daily:
The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, found that 54 percent of the emergency room staff in summer and 65 percent in winter suffered moderate to extreme anxiety. However, this fell to 8 percent, regardless of the season, once staff received 15-minute aromatherapy massages while listening to music.

The study involved 86 nurses during two 12-week alternative therapy sessions provided over the course of one year. Sixteen massages were carried out over a two-day work period each week, with the names of staff working those days put into an envelope and selected at random.

"Introducing stress reduction strategies in the workplace could be a valuable tool for employers who are keen to tackle anxiety levels in high pressure roles and increase job satisfaction," study leader, Marie Cooke, of Griffith University in Brisbane, said in a statement.

"But what is clear from this study, is that providing aromatherapy massage had an immediate and dramatic effect on staff who traditionally suffer high anxiety levels because of the nature of their work.

At my last job I watched an insane level of stress make life unbearable for everyone there. Something like this would not only have benefited those who got the occasional treat, but would have helped repair an environment where employees felt alienated and unappreciated. That makes me wonder if there were any subsidiary effects for those who weren't chosen to receive a massage in the weekly drawings (only 16 of the 86 nurses would receive a massage in any given week)? I'd imagine that not only getting an occasional massage might help, just the idea of having an employer who gives a crap about your mental health might also bring stressed employees some comfort.

Friday, September 21, 2007

'Taps' may be the easiest difficult song in the world

I played a little trumpet back in the day ... not well, but maybe well enough to do this with some practice:

While a federal law requires a flag detail for every veteran's funeral service, buglers are optional. With too few military buglers available, some veterans' cemeteries, including Houston's, are turning to recorded or a digital version of taps played over a loud speaker.

Kirby's group helps provide buglers at funerals for U.S. veterans and active duty service members. Every fallen vet and service member, he said, deserves the honor of a live bugler, not a recorded song or a digital bugles.

"We feel every veteran should have a 21-gun salute and a live bugler," said Kirby, a disabled Navy veteran.

But of the group's more than 170 members, only about 40 are able to play taps. The rest are either taking lessons from volunteers or are awaiting the resources to buy instruments they can play.

Kirby learned taps in only four months, but he said it's still a difficult song to perform.

"At a funeral there are no redos," Kirby said. "It's the emotional side of it and getting through the actual song, the tradition of what taps means."

I'll bet that last bit is right about getting through the emotional side being the hardest part.

Taps in one sense is an easy song to play, in another sense a difficult one because of its musical purity. When you play Taps on a trumpet instead of a bugle, you simply don't push down any keys. One changes notes entirely by adjusting your embrochure, or how you purse your lips and how much air you blow through the instrument.

Bugles can only play a given set of notes in a single harmonic series by making your embrochure smaller for higher notes and slightly more open for lower ones. A trumpeter can use valves to switch to a different harmonic series.

In other words, when you hold down the valves on a trumpet to create a different note, you're not creating a single different note but shifting the instrument's tubing length to access an entirely different harmonic series, which itself can be adjusted higher or lower by changing one's embrochure and the velocity of air pushed through the horn.

So on the one hand, Taps is "easy," because it's simple. It explores the notes in a single harmonic series. You don't need to know how to use the valves on a trumpet, read music, or really understand anything about musical theory at all - the song basically uses the only notes the instrument (a bugle) can play.

On the other hand, its simplicity also makes Taps difficult because it's entirely about the purity of the notes, their tone, the performer's smoothness of transition - all of these are highlighted more because so much else has been stripped away, leaving pure harmonics and the musician's skill as the only featured elements.

I imagine Taps is most difficult, though, because of the pressure - the emotionalism of the moment and the fact that screwing it up in the middle of such a significant ceremony is really NOT an option. You'd really want to practice long and hard before showing up to perform, but I'll bet it's a rewarding thing to do.