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SOME COMPANIES TRY TO MAKE THE WORK DAY LESS STRESSFUL

How do frazzled small business owners stomp out stress in the work place?

Some play Mozart music in their offices. Others sweat away their stress by hopping aboard stair-climbers and treadmills.

There's even an out-of-state company that keeps discarded china in boxes and encourages stressed-out employees to hurl cups and saucers at a factory wall -- all in the spirit of fun. Better that than venting their frustrations on co-workers or customers.

A recent statewide survey of small business owners around the state found that two-thirds of all respondents engaged in some type of relaxation therapy to unwind during the work day. The bad news: 37 percent said they have no strategies for combating job-related stress.

Not surprising, if you ask Ohio-based humor consultant Phil Sorentino. The founder of Humor Consultants Inc. has taught corporate Godzillas like IBM and General Electric about the bottom-line benefits of lightening up, but he knows the hassles of running a small business. His Columbus company employs seven people.

"Let's face it. When you're in a small business, there's never enough time to do everything," he said. "That's why so many small businesses pay less attention to dealing with stress than larger corporations."

Experts claim that stress-induced illnesses cost billions of dollars a year in medical treatment and lost productivity. Heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and even rheumatoid arthritis are among the maladies that can be brought on by stress.

A five-year study at Duke University found that people with a history of heart problems reduced their chances of having a heart attack by 74 percent if they took steps to manage stress.

Business owners can be prime candidates for depletion depression -- a mind set brought on by some one who tries to do it all. It was first chronicled years ago as a growing number of women moved into the work place and tried to keep doing all chores they had been doing at home.

The survey, conducted for KeyCorp by Wirthlin Worldwide, found that 63 percent of small business owners tried to relax during the work day. The most common activities:

Short walks (17 percent).

Some other form of structured exercise (7 percent).

Meditation (6 percent).

Listening to music (5 percent).

Talking on the phone (5 percent).

Other tools for easing stress during the work day include lunch-hour massages and bringing a pet to work. One respondent even said he relaxed each day by checking his personal stock holdings on the computer (perhaps not the best tactic just now.)

Last fall, the owners of Superior Lubricants Co., a North Tonawanda wholesaler of lubricants and other products for automotive dealers and other industries, invested in an exercise room for its 60 local employees. President Mike Anczok is convinced the addition of weightlifting equipment, treadmills and stair-climbers have improved the work environment.

"When people are in peak form, they function better. It means more comraderie among co-workers and better customer service. They end up coping better when stressful situations arise," Anczok said.

In the winter, Superior Lubricants even stages aerobics classes for its workers.

Jeff Woepperer, the commercial account representative at G&G Fitness Equipment in Clarence, said a growing number of local companies are investing in exercise equipment.

"All the research has shown that any type of exercise reduces stress levels," he said. "With many employees working longer hours, some employers are recognizing the value of on-site exercise rooms."

When businessman Douglas H. Saltzman took Canisius College's CEO course, he learned a lot about his psychological makeup. The executive vice president of BCO Industries of Western New York Inc. said a test determined that he was a dominant, take-charge executive, not unlike many CEOs.

Over time, Saltzman has embraced one potent tool for reducing stress.

"I've learned to delegate many of the less-important tasks that used to take up so much of my time. Chores like collecting money, which can be very stressful."

Saltzman also makes it habit of leaving the building at least once a day -- if only to grab a quick lunch or make a bank deposit. He said it helps to clear his mind.

Ann Marie Kraft Ziske, vice president of Kraftwerks Inc., a local company that makes work stations and shelving, said soothing sounds take the edge off her day.

"I have my boom box in my office with a Mozart CD inside. It has a calming effect that tends to stay with me the whole day," she said.

Humor consultant Sorentino has encountered some offbeat strategies. A prime example: that company with the china-throwing associates. Workers buy all kinds of chipped china at garage sales, then keep it in a back room where they relieve tension by hurling the glassware at a cement wall they call their "Great Wall of China."

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