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Thread: Planning and stress

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Planning and stress

    Time to refill the ol' Xanax prescription. Mike Gurnee commented not long ago he didn’t believe there were lower stress levels with planning jobs in communities with smaller populations versus larger. I’m inclined to agree with him. There are many factors that contribute to job-related stress for planners and the size of the community probably does not directly correlate to stress levels.

    ‘Stress’ is of course a subjective thing and as such is difficult to measure. Some individuals thrive in work environments that would make others positively wilt. Some planners might balk at the prospect of voluminous paperwork, while others break into a cold sweat at the thought of a television interview. Which type are you?

    Let’s risk making a few generalizations – what job-related factors endemic to the profession do you think contribute most to stress levels? Do you think, for example, that frequent night meetings taking you away from your family are the bane of your work, or are you in a position that is answerable directly to an elected body and feel political pressures and the resultant job insecurity most keenly? Perhaps being a ‘front counter planner’ having direct contact with the general public is most stressful to you?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I've always worked for a private consulting firm. When I graduated from planning school I was adamant that I wasn't going to work for a municipality, mainly because I saw most of the exciting, creative work was being done by consultants while the municpal planners appeared to just reviewed things and managed the public and politicians. As a result of working as a consultant I think I've been able to manage my stress levels because I can control my work load and the types of jobs I work on more effectively. Of course the trade-off is your never quite sure if you'll have enough work to keep yourself busy next year.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Responsibility without authority and having to serve multiple masters. To me, these are the prime drivers of stress for a public sector planner. I'm responsible for ensuring a specific outcome that works in the municipality's best interest - whether that be a thorough review of an EIS or of a project before our boards, or writing and obtaining grants, or any of a number of other activities. That said, my actual ability to achieve these desires outcome is severely limited due to the fact that my role is basically an advisory one and that I'm required to seek the buy-in of board and committee members (and the public!) for these projects, even when the aforementioned groups don't even agree on what outcome they want to see half the time.

    To put it bluntly, it's like being in the middle of a political and technocratic maelstrom of ass-covering incrementalism much of the time - like adult day care without nap time.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    I've always worked for a private consulting firm. When I graduated from planning school I was adamant that I wasn't going to work for a municipality, mainly because I saw most of the exciting, creative work was being done by consultants while the municpal planners appeared to just reviewed things and managed the public and politicians. As a result of working as a consultant I think I've been able to manage my stress levels because I can control my work load and the types of jobs I work on more effectively. Of course the trade-off is your never quite sure if you'll have enough work to keep yourself busy next year.
    To me this is the key: either your stress comes from the problems in the public sector, or the problems in the private sector. Time was, your public sector job was a given and you could deal with the mind-numbing stuff in the public sector. Not any more. Now the 'new normal' economy is an additional stressor.
    -------
    Give a man a gun, and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank, and he can rob the world.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    Responsibility without authority

    I think that's a pretty good way to summarize where a lot of the stress comes from. Also, the knowledge that if people aren't complaining about how I'm doing my job, it might mean that I'm actually not doing my job well

    I'm one of those front counter planners. It has become far less intimidating as I have become more familiar with the city code and administrative procedures, but at the very beginning it can be a bit of a shock to the system, especially when you get that first vicious client at the counter.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    Generally the day-to-day stuff doesn't stress me too much. Our director has our back and our CAO is supportive, as well.

    My stress level is cranking up a bit because our director is retiring in another month, so there is that worry about who will be the next PD and will we like him or her, what changes will be made, etc. Also general worry about a flat housing and development period and whether in tough economic times if there are layoffs in the future.

    I love the place I work. I like my coworkers, staff and the public. The commissioners are good people, though we have our differences from time to time.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    As a consultant right now the biggest stress I have is finding work. Five years ago I might be managing 8-10 clients with a project value of $400-500,000. Now I am tend to be working with one or maybe two clients at a time, and there have been months with none. Beyond that, I tend to find stress in projects where the client wants to micro-manage the process and outcomes. Often, this means "Here is what I want it to say." Fortunately that does not happen often.
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  8. #8
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    Responsibility without authority and having to serve multiple masters
    @machetejames - you couldn't have said it better. I've worked in the planning field for about a year and a half, and never suffered from anxiety previously. Since my time working in the public sector, yet for an elected official, I have had two "heart events", i.e. arrythmias and angina that doctors have described as anomolies resulting from stress. Haggling the ebb and flow of NIMBY issues with staff response, and political representation takes a toll that was previously unknown to me. For me, it is mostly it is self-taught expecations that I drive to meet, but the time consumption required for this field makes me loosen my necktie. Nevertheless I'm doing a better job of flushing it out after work, without a happy hour, to keep stress from physically manifesting-which I've found out is a real phenomenon.

    This is an interesting topic, I'm interested to see how consistincies, or lack thereof, in regards professional experience, physical location, etc.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    How I handle the stress:

    Planning is just work. It's not my life. I'm here to make things better, but I choose to measure that in very, very small increments.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  10. #10
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    How I handle the stress:

    Planning is just work. It's not my life. I'm here to make things better, but I choose to measure that in very, very small increments.
    Well put. I find I have a similar approach, and that as I've been in the profession longer (closing in on 15 years), I don't let the pressures of the job manifest itself as stress. I definitely felt more stress earlier in my career...weird, actually, since now as a department head I have far more responsibility and management duties to handle then I did when I was fresh from college.
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Honestly, ever since i stopped working for the private sector and jumped to the public sector, i have no stress. There were days were i brought my work and stressful deadlines home. Those days are going. Yes I have busy days, and the public sector can be stressful when you deal with developers or the public, but the "busy" times pales in comparison to my high stakes, high money, time is money go go go housing boom consultant gig. I am not here to change the world or attiudes overnight. Yea, my agency my have a bad rap around these parts, but that was the past. I am new blood, new ways of doing things, and quite frankly i will win you all one smile and show of my dimples at a time
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    I am new blood, new ways of doing things, and quite frankly i will win you all one smile and show of my dimples at a time
    Hah, what are these 'new ways' you speak of? Such words are blasphemy. Clearly they have not broken your spirit yet, but give it time.

    FrankieVA - don't let your job ruin your health. No paper shuffling planning gig is worth anyone's martyrdom. I ended up with an ulcer two years ago as a result of this job, but nowadays, I'm usually able to successfully stave off the stress via meditation and working out like a madman.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Don't forget about sex and alcohol.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by MacheteJames View post
    Hah, what are these 'new ways' you speak of? Such words are blasphemy.
    How about actually working with the developer, site visits, and a general "understanding" that in the grand scheme of things, they are there to make a profit too and i worked for their side of the counter, so i know what pressure they are in too. Know where to hang your hat on and what things your willing to let go, as well quick responses and a general understanding that each call/applicant is a client, and treat them as a customer by providing as much knowledge and service as possible? It's called doing your job efficiently and affectingly as possible.
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  15. #15
    Cyburbian Richmond Jake's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by NHPlanner View post
    Well put. I find I have a similar approach, and that as I've been in the profession longer (closing in on 15 years), I don't let the pressures of the job manifest itself as stress. I definitely felt more stress earlier in my career...weird, actually, since now as a department head I have far more responsibility and management duties to handle then I did when I was fresh from college.
    I have a remarkably similar experience. When you're ambitious and early in your career, you're willing to accept any assignment until your files are stacked over your head. As you advance, you are assigned fewer cases but they're more complicated.

    I'm surprised that nobody to this point has mentioned public presentations as a stress generator. Early in my career, this caused me stress. But as I gave more and more presentations, it became second nature and almost conversational in nature (know what I mean?).
    Annoyingly insensitive

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    I have had only 2 times in the past five years that were unbelievably stressful. The first time was a 3 month stretch from August-October 2007 when I was buried in an expert witness project (court exhibits and depositions) working roughly 70 hours a week without a break. The second time was 2 1/2 month stretch from mid-August through October 2010 when I was putting together a state planning conference (including 3 sessions and writing a 5 hour AICP exam workshop) on top of my regular workload. The state planning ended in early October and I immediately went into writing an entire environmental assessment from scratch (so it was basically 70-80 hours doing one or the other for the 2 1/2 months).

    In the first example, I earned a $300.00 buck bonus in 2007, and in the second example I was laid off barely 2 months after I wrapped up the planning conference/workload. So it should come up as no big surprise that I got out of your planning profession after that. What a complete waste of a career LMAO.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

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  17. #17
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    For me the biggest sources of stress is that everything is an emergency. In trying to appease the customers, my bosses allow applicants to submit things after deadlines which causes the rest of us to have to drop whatever we are working on and focus on Mr. Big-Wig Developer because we can't leave him waiting for anything. A similar source of stress is the continuous pressure we get from Council members and the Administration to bend the rules or change our interpretations because they don't want to deal with complaints that the planning department is "being difficult to work with."

    Right now a temporary source of stress is that we are on the cusp of the Council approving a new ULDC, which means lots of meetings and continuous revisions, even though the ULDC has been worked on for over 3 years. As a part of the code changes we have been changing our plan submittal process, which means learning a whole other process.

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