As the weather begins to warm-up, we’re making our summer vacation plans. The past two years of restrictions and lock-downs put something of a crimp in our usual vacation travel.
Instead of sitting around moaning about our circumstances, we took advantage of the break. We engaged in a few more hobby activities than normal. We tackled a few jobs around the house and went out for more nieghbourhood walks than usual.
This year we have plans. We’re looking forward to visiting family and getting our camping in our trailer.
Right now, I’m sitting here, enjoying a coffee and taking it easy, I’m thinking about stress. We all have stress; there’s no way to avoid it. In fact, some degree of stress is a good thing. Just as the stress of weights during exercise can help build muscle, so life-stress can build emotional, psychological or mental “muscle”.
Stress becomes a problem when it controls us. If you want to remain balanced, you need to manage the stress in your life.
How do you do that? Here are six secrets of stress management:
- Know yourself: If you don’t have a clear sense of who you are and what you stand for, people and circumstances will try to shape you. Trying to be someone or something you are not is stressful.
- Set clear goals: Define what you want or need to do. If there’s a big, undefined task looming in your subconscious, you’re going to be stressed about not getting it accomplished. Setting clear goals allows you to see the end and set the steps toward reaching the goal. Just meeting each of the milestones leading to a completed task can go a long way to reducing stress.
- Set your priorities: You can’t do everything all at once. You can set your goals and know the steps to reach those goals, but if you don’t know where to begin, you’re going to build stress. Figure out the priorities and you’ll know where to begin.
- Set your focus: Once you know where to begin, focus on that task. If you try and focus on more than one thing at a time, all things will suffer.
- Delegate: You can’t do it all yourself. You can plan a major project, set all the steps, plan dates for the deliverables and then stress over all that needs doing. Get the team involved. Even Jesus enlisted 12 disciples.
- Relax: Take a break. Successful weight-trainers know constant stress on the muscles will soon become counter-productive and even damaging. They know their muscles need to have periods of relaxation to get the best benefit from training. Stress can compound. You need to take breaks to relax and refresh, thereby coming back stronger.
Stress is never eliminated, but it can be managed and controlled. A few simple steps and you can make stress work to your advantage.
There are myths or assumptions about what the family-friendly workplace really means. Some of the commonly held myths and the corresponding reality checks are as follows:
- Family-Friendly policies are soft HR issues, mainly for women. Policies that increase employee health and well-being, foster employee commitment and support families, positively impact everyone (employees; men and women, customers and clients, families and communities.) In some organizations, it is women who have pushed for family-friendly policies since they are usually the primary caregivers, responsible for child care, eldercare and health care as well as primarily responsible for household management (shopping, meals, laundry, cleaning etc.) and are either major contributors to family income or the primary family breadwinner. Men and women at all levels of companies, in all stages of their career development and all stages of their life cycle are seeking flexibility to achieve a better work-life balance.
- Management will lose control. Some managers may have concerns about giving up control over their workforce by implementing supportive policies and practices, however they actually gain more control over outputs and results by giving control of time management to employees. By providing more control to their employees, managers can help establish a better working relationship. These employees, now more satisfied with their work-life balance, are more inclined to show loyalty to their manager and company. As a result, these managers will likely see a lower turnover rate in their departments.
- Flexibility is unfair and inequitable. Some managers consider that there needs to be a “one size fits all” solution to flexibility. The reality is that everyone has different needs and so the solutions will be very personal. Different people need different forms of flexibility at different points in their lives (i.e., when they have a baby or when they want to continue their education). Other people are content to work a more traditional workweek and prefer the stability and predictability of a standard work schedule. Solutions to employee needs for flexibility should be custom fits.
- Hours at work = results (notion of “face time”) In a traditional workplace, managers could always see their employees and so considered them to be working and productive. With employees exploring alternate ways to work such as telecommuting, managers may no longer see them. Some may have concerns about what employees are doing during the day if working from home. The keys to success are good trust, regular communication and clear performance targets.
- Only for non-managerial positions. This was the case when flexible work options were first introduced in the 1990’s. However, as more women have moved into senior management positions and more men are juggling their careers with fatherhood, this has changed. Many companies offer their work-life balance policies to employees at all levels.
- Participation in family-friendly policies is a career-limiting move. Research studies have shown that for most people, working a flexible work arrangement does not limit their careers, although it may slow down the career path, or reduce some options. For example, if an employee reduces their work hours, they may not be willing or interested in taking a position or promotion that requires extended travel. Employees need to assess the pros, cons and career impact when deciding whether a flexible work arrangement is for them.If however, the career impact is the result of unsupported assumptions (e.g., those who use flexible work arrangements are less committed to the company or unable to take on increased responsibility), you may need to take measures to dispel these perceptions. It is also one of the reasons, it is recommended to conduct follow-up assessments of your programs and policies. You could, for example, assess over time, the impact on promotions of those who use work-life options such as flexible work arrangements versus those in traditional work situations.
- Hard to measure impact on bottom line. Many companies now have access to solid statistics about how family-friendly policies positively impact the bottom-line. Through employee attitude surveys, focus groups and pilot tests, senior management know that employees with lower work-family conflict have less stress and anxiety about “doing it all” and are better able to focus on their jobs and their customers.
- It won’t work for jobs with direct customer contact. With more companies moving towards 24/7 operations, telephone call-centres and service provided at customer’s homes and offices, the need for flexibility has grown. Customers are looking for good quality service, and prefer to deal with a happy employee who is satisfied with their work.
Take this Work/Life Balance quiz from the Canadian Mental Health Association. It will open in a new window. Once you have your results, come back here for some tips to help you manage the balance between work and life.
- Decide what is important. If you do not have a clear sense of your personal values, goals and priorities, you will not be able to determine which activities are important to furthering your life plan.
- Eliminate the unnecessary. Once you have a clear picture of your life plan, drop those things that do not move your goals forward. Learn to say no!
- Protect Your Goals and Priorities. Everyone will have an opinion as to how you should be living your life. Listening to opinions is fine, being dictated to is not. Live the life you want, not the one your parents or best friends or anyone else thinks you should be living.
- Don’t go it alone. Get the support of family and friends. Give your partner permission to remind you when things seem to be getting out of balance. Better yet, your partner should be involved in developing your life plan.
- Schedule brief breaks for yourself throughout the day. Your productivity and effectiveness will increase if you take short breaks every couple of hours. You will get more accomplished.
- At the end of each day, set your priorities for the following day. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have available.
- Only respond to email once or twice a day. Then, shut off your email program to avoid being distracted as messages come in.
- Make a distinction between work and the rest of your life. Protect your private time by turning off electronic communications. Don’t be available 24/7.
- Address concerns about deadlines and deliverables early. As soon as you see that a deadline is unrealistic, communicate your concern to your employer – don’t wait until the deadline passes.
- Take all of your allotted vacation time. Taking vacation allows you to come back to work refreshed and more productive.
- Learn to say no!
- Create a buffer between work and home. After work, take a brief walk, do a crossword puzzle, or listen to some music before beginning the evening’s routine.
- Decide what chores can be shared or let go. Determine which household chores are critical and which can be done by someone else. Let the rest go.
- Exercise. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes at a time, you’ll feel more energized and refreshed.
- Create and implement a household budget. Start by setting aside some money from each pay cheque for the future.
- Make healthy food choices. Healthy eating will gives you and your family more energy.
- Pursue a hobby. Either with friends or family or for some quality time on your own.
- Learn to say no!
In Your Community
- Make choices. Social, community and volunteer obligations pull us in many directions. Choose the ones that are most fulfilling and learn to say ‘no’ to the rest.
- Manage expectations. Be clear at the outset about how much time or support you can contribute to community organizations or your children’s school events.
- Learn to say no!