Does Your Job Make You Sick? Stress-related illnesses your HMO doesn't want you to know about.
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – There are a lot of obnoxious people around. I'm sure you've noticed it. When you try to walk past them fast on the sidewalk, they go slow, to the point where you have to elbow them roughly into the gutter just to get ahead of them to the next DON'T WALK sign. At gatherings, they fail to introduce you with alacrity, leading you to suspect that they might be having trouble remembering your name. When you ask them, before a critical presentation, whether your hair looks all right, they tell you, "No, it does not." What is wrong with such people? Today, startling news comes from the world of pseudo-science indicating that the instigators of such social atrocities are not, in fact, jerks. It turns out they suffer from a variety of diseases that afflict those of our class, ilk, and job description, and therefore are more to be pitied than censured. Cures for these conditions are doubtful, since research is in its pre-infancy. This is bad news for me, because I have most of them.

Party aphasia: This one is truly horrible. You are at a gathering of friends, or perhaps on the street with somebody whose name you should know. Your wife, say. Your boss. You come face to face with another human being who is well known to you. Your mother, perhaps. A split second before you are about to introduce the two, you find that you cannot for the life of you come up with either of their names. You look into the databank and...zzzp. This happened to me only last week. I was with my wife at a cocktail reception and we ran into a former associate of mine who is now more important than myself. I stood there like a fire hydrant. Was he Jack or Ralph? Perhaps he was Ned! What if I said the wrong name? Was that worse than saying no name? By the time I came up with the requisite information, he was across the room with another person more important than I. They were looking at me. "Thanks for introducing me," said my wife. She was not happy.

Post-dialing amnesia: This happened to me only yesterday. You dial the phone and it begins to ring. While it's ringing, you get involved in some requisition form or something. Before you know it, somebody answers...and you can't remember who you were calling. "Hello!" you say into the phone. "Yes?" says the party on the other end of the line. If it's a friend, you can say, "Who are you?" and explain that you are not a nitwit, you are a victim of this new syndrome you read about in FORTUNE. If, however, it is Mr. Roover, who has no sense of humor, you simply have to hang up, muttering excuses. And if the recipient has caller ID, you're likely to be further humiliated when he or she calls back to humiliate you. At this time there is no cure short of retirement, when phone calls are made primarily to your druggist.

Bad positioning: This happened to me just last week. I was at a big meeting on the 175th floor. It was crowded, with so many gigantic egos in the room it was tough to find a pocket of oxygen to breathe. I found myself near the door, engaged in conversation with Bob Lazenby, who's the kind of guy who plants himself in a good spot and then commands it like a field marshal. I unfortunately found myself directly in front of the double doors that granted egress from the festivities. I didn't want to terminate the conversation because it was likely to be the most important one I had that day. Bob is big. But every time I tried to move to a more advantageous location in the room, Bob refused to follow, and showed signs of engaging Mortimer, who would love to ace me out of just such a conversation. Consequently, I was in everybody's way and felt like a doofus.

E-logorrhea: I have this one bad, and I'm sure you do too. All day, every day, on the e-mail, yakkety yak, blah blah blah, wogga wogga wogga. Last night I missed my train when I got into a "thank you" and "don't mention it" orgy with Blaubert. Neither of us wanted to relinquish the final messaging rights and come back the next morning with a residual message that needed to be answered. So every time I'd put on my coat, my message indicator would pop up and I'd have to sit down and get off that last reply to Blaubert. What a loser!

Ugg: Now spreading among midlevel executives who have been on the circuit for more than a decade, this condition is best described as an excess of refined taste. It strikes at corporate gatherings where sociability is expected and a lusty good time is mandatory. Individuals have reported a sudden inability to eat even one more greasy, fatty, overly salted lump of something on a cracker. I'm happy to say I don't have this yet.

Scrutability: In this career-killing malady, the victim loses the ability to generate insincerity, revealing his true thoughts and feelings for all to see and comment upon. People say, "How're you doing?" and he tells them. They ask, "Do you like my new hairdo/marketing plan/husband?" And before an appropriately managed sub-truth can be filtered from the many possible answers, out blurts the unprocessed raw material. I hate this quality in other people, since I consider truth management to be what separates us from the lower apes. So I'm proud to say it's happened to me only once or twice, and then only with junior subordinates where no consequences were involved, and that's it.

F.O.: The initials are a polite designation standing for the unspeakable--Failure Odor. It's a simple but incurable condition that afflicts fully 10% of the executive population at any one time. It begins blandly enough, with a mild musty scent that hangs around the individual like bad aftershave. "What is that?" people ask. And then, after a while, the answer comes. "It's Dropkin." "Oh," people say. And they leave it alone. In stage two, the smell grows ranker, and unmistakable. People no longer ask; they just steer clear, because F.O. is quite communicable. I was seen talking to Dropkin last week, and a bit of his F.O. almost rubbed off on me! I won't be making that mistake again!

Disinclination: Boy, there's a lot of this going around. Patients report a general lack of willingness to do anything specific, and most everything in general. The good news is that for the most part there are no serious side effects over the short haul, and senior managers have reported cases that went on for years and resulted in nothing more than several promotions. In fact, I've got it right now. And you know what? I'm done!

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.