Off topic: Sources of stress for translators
Thread poster: Maria Luisa Duarte
some points regarding stress and our profession.
Have a nice week.
The impact of new technologies on
translators' working conditions
by Fernando Peral, Spanish Translator, ILO, Geneva
Sources of stress for translators include work organization and job content factors, as well as working time and working environment factors. Just as these conditions and job characteristics overlap and interact, their effects on translators usually also result from a cumulative and combined set of job pressures and conditions.
To separate sources of stress into various factors or categories is somewhat artificial
and oversimplifies the dynamic interaction of different sources. Nonetheless, it is useful to identify more specifically the sources of stress in order to take them into consideration when examining policies and strategies to improve translator jobs, and thus to be in a position to concentrate on changes most likely to minimize or counteract their adverse effects.
Work organization and job content factors
In the case of translators, sources of stress linked to work organization and job content factors can be grouped into three main categories:
a) Quantitative overload: this can be defined as “too much to do in too little time”.
Work measurement schemes have been widely used to speed up work in all office
activities, and translation has not escaped this trend. The number of standard pages or the number of words are sometimes amended by way of complicated calculations to assess workload equivalents of technical texts, legal texts, urgent texts, unedited texts, poor originals, etc.
The source language, target language and extent of revision necessary must also be factored in. Everyone recognizes that a fair and objective measurement of productivity would mean taking so many factors into consideration that the time and energies spent on trying to establish it would require such a high level of both human and financial resources that any foreseeable benefit would be probably entirely outweighed.
Nevertheless, most agencies are applying one form of measurement or another, in
a more or less “informal” way (although figures always emerge when cuts in
resources are being discussed or applied). Through this approach, supervisors can
be led to exert pressure on translators to increase their output, and indeed some
supervisors are under tremendous pressure themselves. In some cases, the pressure is aggravated by conflicting demands from various chiefs or “clients”, who may all consider their work to be a priority.
System response time and temporary machine breakdown can also be a cause of stress. The prolongation of response times sometimes occurs as a result of the
high load on the computer system while, ironically, the introduction of computers
has drastically increased expectations in terms of rapid information input and
retrieval. For translators using computers, a machine breakdown means an uneven workload because their work piles up while the system is out of action and, unfortunately, computers breakdowns are not rare occurrences.
Significant indicators of quantitative overload are recourse to overtime and
inadequate or pre-empted rest pauses.
b) Lack of control over one’s job. All organizations have systems that control the
distribution of work and are supposed to regulate its quantity and quality. The
introduction of computerization also often leads to more rigidity in the work process, with more activities being programmed through the establishment of procedures, rules and regulations that cannot always be enforced. Translators using computers also experience ambiguity concerning their future job security increasing resort to outsourcing, temporary staff and external collaborators) and their job classification (translators are now required to respond to new demands such as self-typing or post-editing, and are more directly involved in terminology searches and the referencing of documents, which has a significant impact on
their productivity as translators).
c) Lack of social support on the job. There is a tendency to have greater recourse
to home work and telework in big translation services, as well as to substitute human contact among translators by virtual contacts through e-mail and
telephone, all of which results in a working environment of increasing isolation
for many translators. False assumptions by some managers who are not directly
involved in the translation or the document production processes, and by the public in general, on the real possibilities of automatic translation have resulted in
the absurd idea that soon human translators will no longer be needed.
The relationships between interpersonal factors, illness and life expectancy have
been studied both extensively and intensively. While these studies illustrate the role of a lack of social support as a source of stress, recent evidence also suggests that social support mitigates the effects of job-related stressful events on physical and mental health. Several kinds of work-related stress are less marked for
people with supportive relationships than for those who lack such support.
In spite of its buffering effect, social support should not be considered as a
substitute for efforts to reduce the incidence of stress at the workplace.
Three working-time issues are particularly relevant to stress: overtime, rest pauses
and shift work.
Frequent recourse to overtime is encouraged by the heavy volume of work, failure of
“clients” to meet their respective deadlines, staff cut-backs, absenteeism and in order to meet seasonal demands or deadlines. Overtime extends the performance of an already stressful job and reduces the time and opportunity for rest and recovery after work, extending the worker’s
exposure to stress and requiring a further effort of adaptation which is partly “carried over”
to affect the time spent on personal activities.
Although rest pauses are of utmost importance for all computer workers, they are even more imperative for translators since they allow them to counteract or minimize the negative effects of fatigue and stress.
When night work, is required, studies have shown that it may be associated with
health problems and difficulties in family and social life.
Role of individual differences in the stress syndrome As described above, there are many potentially stressful circumstances for translators;
However, not all translators will experience a given job situation as stressful, neither will a given translator experience all job situations as equally stressful; the same individual may react differently to two situations presumed equally stressful, and the psychological response to stress may vary from one worker to another.
Given the extent and complexity of human variability, individual differences constitute one of the most complicated and difficult issues in stress research. Most of the prevailing models of the stress syndrome are based on an interactive approach that holds that it is a
combination of the particular situation and a given individual, with his or her personal
characteristics and circumstances, that may result in a stress-inducing imbalance. Stress is more likely to occur when there is a poor fit between the individual and his/her environment.
It would be excessive to enter into the detail of these considerations, but it is worth mentioning that the main factors affecting the individual response to stress-inducing imbalance include (not necessarily in the following order):
c) sex, marital status and socio-economic situation;
d) skills and qualifications, and
e) work attitudes.
The most important factor for a translator working on a computer are the lighting
conditions in the room. Optimum lighting conditions at computer workstations depend on a number of elements, including the characteristics of the screen, the keyboard, the viewing
angle (i.e. positioning vis-à-vis windows and light fixtures) and the nature of the visual task.
Translators try to adjust their lighting conditions in such a way as to allow good reading of source documents while avoiding or minimizing reflection from the screen. This is likely to induce visual strain as the translator switches between viewing the source document and the screen. In addition, some studies indicate that the glare from fluorescent strip lighting in areas where computer screens are in use has contributed to worker discomfort. Upward halogen lighting is recommended as it entirely prevents glare.
Much work remains to be done in order to clarify relationships between sources of
stress, individual differences and effects on health and well-being. Still, accumulated
evidence overwhelmingly shows that individuals who experience any of a wide range of stressful conditions are at increased risk of developing physical or mental disorders.
Moreover, work settings are likely sources of stress for most people, since they provide the main context in which society makes demands on them to perform and to relate to a broad range of people in specific ways.
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Sources of stress for translators
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