We’re Taking Back the Balance in our Life

Published: October 7, 2019

Author: Gina Hays, Director of Communications & Development


National Work Life Week is October 7-11, 2019. According to AwarenessDays.com, this week is an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance.

When I first worked for an employer who offered ‘remote’ desktop, it was a relatively new technological advance. I was excited to maximize my productivity by routinely checking and responding to email outside of business hours, working on a few things to ‘catch up’ or ‘get a jump on things’ in the evening, or putting in a few extra hours on the weekend to ensure full project execution. That excitement unfortunately, turned into a bad habit.

This ease of access to business-related work has permeated our culture. For many of us, the practice of working outside of normal work hours has become a new norm, when we should be using it during times where we must be away from the office, but still on the clock. In the worst of situations, we’re setting up unrealistic expectations for what can be done by a highly engaged employee during a normal workweek. Employers then expect more and ultimately our productivity, and health, suffers.

The American Psychological Association cites a host of reasons to minimize work stress. Job-related stress can lead to weight problems, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even accelerated onset of heart disease.

A Gallup report released in 2014 found that Americans with full-time jobs routinely work an average of 47 hours weekly – almost six days! According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, about 76% of private industry companies offered paid vacation, beginning at 10 days for one year of service and increasing with tenure. But sadly, Americans receive, and take, fewer vacation days than other countries. The U.S. Travel Association, which conducts annual research into the state of America’s vacations, reports that more than half of Americans leave vacation days on the table. The top challenges to taking time off included the fear of being replaceable, feeling their workload was too heavy, and feeling there was no one who could cover for their job while they were away. The good news is after three years of tracking data, they’re starting to see an uptick in people using their vacations and employers encouraging the time off.

Some countries are now recognizing the monster in the machine and have begun implementing policies around forbidden use of technology outside of work hours – for example, sending emails or text messages – or even strictly enforced time-off or vacation policies. Cross-training is also an effective tool in helping employees take time away.

A Harvard Business Review blog cites a small study that shows promising results for employers requiring employees to take time off. In this study, they required employees to take a week off every seven weeks. They found employee creativity went up 33%, happiness levels rose 25%, and productivity increased 13%.

So in the spirit of National Work Life Week, try these tips for yourself from Mental Health America:

At Work

• Set manageable goals each day. Being able to meet priorities helps us feel a sense of accomplishment and control. The latest research shows that the more control we have over our work, the less stressed we get. So be realistic about workloads and deadlines. Make a “to do” list and take care of important tasks first and eliminate unessential ones. Ask for help when necessary.

• Be efficient with your time at work. When we procrastinate, the task often grows in our minds until it seems insurmountable. So, when you face a big project at work or home, start by dividing it into smaller tasks. Complete the first one before moving on to the next. Give yourself small rewards upon each completion, whether it’s a five-minute break or a walk to the coffee shop. If you feel overwhelmed by routines that seem unnecessary, tell your boss. The less time you spend doing busy work or procrastinating, the more time you can spend productively, or with friends or family.

• Ask for flexibility. Flex time and telecommuting are quickly becoming established as necessities in today’s business world, and many companies are drafting work/life policies. If you ask, they might allow you to work flexible hours or from home a day a week. Research shows that employees who work flexible schedules are more productive and loyal to their employers.

• Take five. Taking a break at work isn’t only acceptable, it’s often encouraged by many employers. Small breaks at work—or on any project—will help clear your head and improve your ability to deal with stress and make good decisions when you jump back into the grind.

• Tune in. Listen to your favorite music at work to foster concentration, reduce stress and anxiety, and stimulate creativity. Studies dating back more than 30 years show the benefits of music in everyday life, including lowered blood pressure. Be sure to wear headphones on the job, and then pump up the volume—and your productivity.

• Communicate effectively. Be honest with colleagues or your boss when you feel you’re in a bind. Chances are, you’re not alone. But don’t just complain—suggest practical alternatives. Looking at a situation from someone else’s viewpoint can also reduce your stress. In a tense situation, either rethink your strategy or stand your ground, calmly and rationally. Make allowances for other opinions, and compromise. Retreat before you lose control and allow time for all involved to cool off. You’ll be better equipped to handle the problem constructively later.

• Give yourself a break. No one’s perfect! Allow yourself to be human and just do the best you can.

At Home

• Unplug. The same technology that makes it so easy for workers to do their jobs flexibly can also burn us out if we use them 24/7. By all means, make yourself available—especially if you’ve earned the right to “flex” your hours—but recognize the need for personal time, too.

• Divide and conquer. Make sure responsibilities at home are evenly distributed and clearly outlined—you’ll avoid confusion and problems later.

• Don't over commit. Do you feel stressed when you just glance at your calendar? If you’re overscheduled with activities, learn to say,” no.” Shed the superman/superwoman urge!

• Get support. Chatting with friends and family can be important to your success at home—or at work—and can even improve your health. People with stronger support systems have more aggressive immune responses to illnesses than those who lack such support.

• Take advantage of your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many organizations offer resources through an EAP, which can save you precious time by providing guidance on issues like where to find a daycare center and caretaking for an elderly parent, as well as referrals to mental health and other services.

• Stay active. Aside from its well-known physical benefits, regular exercise reduces stress, depression and anxiety, and enables people to better cope with adversity, according to researchers. It’ll also boost your immune system and keep you out of the doctor’s office. Make time in your schedule for the gym or to take a walk during lunch—and have some fun!

• Treat your body right. Being in good shape physically increases your tolerance to stress and reduces sick days. Eat right, exercise and get adequate rest. Don’t rely on drugs, alcohol or cigarettes to cope with stress; they’ll only lead to more problems.

• Get help if you need it. Don’t let stress stand in the way of your health and happiness. If you are persistently overwhelmed, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—taking care of yourself is a sign of strength.

• Unplug. The same technology that makes it so easy for workers to do their jobs flexibly can also burn us out if we use them 24/7. By all means, make yourself available—especially if you’ve earned the right to “flex” your hours—but recognize the need for personal time, too.

• Divide and conquer. Make sure responsibilities at home are evenly distributed and clearly outlined—you’ll avoid confusion and problems later.

• Don't over commit. Do you feel stressed when you just glance at your calendar? If you’re overscheduled with activities, learn to say,” no.” Shed the superman/superwoman urge!

• Get support. Chatting with friends and family can be important to your success at home—or at work—and can even improve your health. People with stronger support systems have more aggressive immune responses to illnesses than those who lack such support.

• Take advantage of your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Many organizations offer resources through an EAP, which can save you precious time by providing guidance on issues like where to find a daycare center and caretaking for an elderly parent, as well as referrals to mental health and other services.

• Stay active. Aside from its well-known physical benefits, regular exercise reduces stress, depression and anxiety, and enables people to better cope with adversity, according to researchers. It’ll also boost your immune system and keep you out of the doctor’s office. Make time in your schedule for the gym or to take a walk during lunch—and have some fun!

• Treat your body right. Being in good shape physically increases your tolerance to stress and reduces sick days. Eat right, exercise and get adequate rest. Don’t rely on drugs, alcohol or cigarettes to cope with stress; they’ll only lead to more problems.

• Get help if you need it. Don’t let stress stand in the way of your health and happiness. If you are persistently overwhelmed, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—taking care of yourself is a sign of strength.