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Office morale has hit new lows. South of the border, employers are encouraging workers to engage in "cubicle warfare" to combat stress.

Munitions include foam darts, rubber-band machine guns, slingshots and a crossbow "cubicle defender." Manufactured by KlearGear, the militaristic office toys are designed for target practice in open workspaces such as call centres and IT departments. Workers in tighter confines can blow off steam using desktop "stress rockets" that blast off at the pound of a fist.

It may sound juvenile, but swift sales of toy arsenals and other office gimmicks have landed KlearGear onto Inc. Magazine's 2011 list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America.

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Businesses may view the novelty items as a quick fix for increasingly stressful workplaces. A 2012 survey from the American Psychological Association found that more than 40 per cent of employees suffered from chronic work stress. Employees cited low salaries and heavy workloads as main reasons for feeling tense and "stressed out" most days.

KlearGear says its customer base includes traditionally conservative industries such as banking and insurance. It's hard to imagine bankers using each other as bull's-eyes. But with jobs increasingly scarce, workers are unlikely to sue employers for post-traumatic stress disorder after repeated attacks from co-workers in a rubber-band war zone.

Meanwhile, in peacenik Canada, office workers have found a friendlier way to relieve tension. Some might call it too friendly.

In a recent survey from Toshiba Canada, almost a third of Canadians admitted to flirting with colleagues to cope with workplace stress. Employees identified malfunctioning technology as a top source of office stress – and an excuse to make eyes at a co-worker.

Tablet users, mostly 18 to 24, were an especially randy lot. More than 25 per cent confessed to having an office hookup, compared with the 15 per cent of Canadians as a whole.

Tablet users were also the most hot-headed of the workers surveyed. They were more likely to complain about work stress (86 per cent) compared to laptop users (68 per cent) and desktop computer workers (57 per cent). And they were three times as likely to yell at colleagues because of stress.

Their short fuses don't seem to have hurt their chances at office romance. But co-workers who fail to see their charms could consider building an arsenal of foam weaponry.

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Stress Case is a monthly column that examines our response to fast-paced life in the 21st century.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More

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