You seem to be the woman who can’t say no. Your door feels like it has a sign on it that says “ask me to take on the next project”. While you want to be a supportive teammate, you’re done taking on the presentations that no one else wants to give or organizing the carpool to the next team retreat.
Instead of feeling sick, tired and on the verge of burnout, you want your work day to have purpose and feel productive again. But with less staff, more overtime, unclear goals and superfluous meetings your stress level is up while your exercise routine is slowly fading into the background. Your brain whirls at night over what you should have said to your boss when she asked you to join a new work group, leaving you sleepless and leaning hard on your second cup of coffee. You feel like you’re going to have to choose between your job or your health.
Most of us have to work to live the kind of lifestyle we want. There’s nothing wrong with working hard to earn money. Money is kind of awesome. Working hard isn’t a bad thing but it can feel toxic when it gets out of balance with life and negatively impacts your health.
You can’t quit your job. (Or can you? I’ll get back to that.) But you can find ways to improve your work/life harmony and keep your job from killing you slowly.
Deflect or Delegate
If you are feeling overwhelmed and often get hijacked by other people’s agendas, getting time back for your lunch break starts with saying NO.
One of my favorite episodes of Laura Vanderkam’s Before Breakfast podcast is called How to Push Back. She shares tips from the author of Ask a Manager, Alison Green. In this episode, Laura explains that the overload problem stems from the fact that most people at your workplace don’t really know what you do. Not what your job title is but what your day to day tasks look like. Using tips from Green’s book, Vanderkam provides some valuable scripts to help you either deflect a request or delegate it. The episode is short so I recommend listening to it and work on implementing some of the strategies and scripts pronto. (Click here to listen.)
With the time back, you can reclaim your lunch break and get out of the office at a decent time. Of course, you should eat something on your lunch break but I would also recommend fitting in a little movement or a meditation break. Moving your body or giving your brain a rest can help you feel energized without extra caffeine or a sugar rush. You’ll make it through the afternoon with more focus and calm.
Some of the stress of the workplace may also come from feeling disconnecting from your work. First, deal with the stress cycle. The stress cycle is separate from the stressors and completing the cycle is something you have control over. There are many ways to do this but the best way to complete the cycle is exercise. Yoga, running or lifting weights will all help your body complete the stress cycle.
Then it’s time to find purpose in the work you do and getting clear on your why. Even if your job isn’t the one you dreamed of when you were ten, you can still connect it to a bigger purpose. (Unless it’s not. Then hold on to the end.)
Think about what originally attracted you to this job? How can you change or job or grow your role so that you feel more connected to the work? What needs to change so you can be your most productive, creative and energetic self at work? Use these questions as prompts for a few days of free writing and see what emerges on the page. Getting connected to a deeper sense of purpose can re-frame things that may seem mundane without it.
Dare to Lead
With your compass set, now it’s time to start bringing others into the fold. Have you read Dare To Lead? Dr. Brene Brown brings the work she became famous for in her TED talks and her book Daring Greatly to the workplace.
But wait, you say, I’m not the manager. I can’t go around making everyone have tough conversations and rewriting our company values. I know from 15 years in Corporate American and running a business for over a decade that mangers are not always leaders and leaders do not have to be managers. Reading this book and then discussing it with a few like-minded people on your team or in your office can make a difference to your day to day attitude and work atmosphere.
Dr Brown says we all have to step up to change the culture in our workplaces. The biggest changes in any office environment start with how we each choose to show up. Here are her three big ideas/challenges:
- You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck.
- Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead.
- Courage is contagious.
You won’t transform your office overnight. But taking action will change you. Taking one small step breaks the rut and shifts your thinking to a growth mindset. A growth mindset lowers stress and anxiety levels, increases motivations and helps you develop better relationships. Planting the seeds of change will also set the stage for bigger change down the road.
The Thriving Organization Pyramid
When enough people say enough, a workplace culture can change. I had the pleasure of seeing Dr. Rosie Ward speak last fall. Her talk, called Culture Wars, was about re-framing workplace wellness and thinking beyond step challenges and health risk assessments.
Dr. Ward spent the first half of her talk walking us through the Thriving Organization Pyramid, a framework “to create a high-performing organization where employees are freed, fueled and inspired to bring their best selves to work – and home – each day”. You can view the pyramid HERE.
The base of the pyramid is Organizational Wellness is:
21st Century Organizational Design – Moving away from top-down hierarchies of control to more informal, interconnected, flexible networks of teams.
Humanistic Culture – The underlying attitudes, beliefs and values support employees as human beings desiring and deserving of autonomy, mastery and purpose rather than mindless machines that need to be controlled.
Quality Leadership – Cohesive team comprised of authentic, servant leaders who create the conditions for the organization to grow and employees to flourish; a leadership mindset is developed at all levels.
If you’re struggling with work/life harmony and you are a leader in your company, these foundational pillars are a great place to start creating a shift in your workplace and caring for everyone’s physical and mental health. According to Dr. Ward, these fundamentals must be in place before a company begins a meaningful conversation on employee wellness.
If you’re a manager, who can you take these principles to? Who do you need to have an uncomfortable conversation with that is willing to be in that discomfort with you? Asking your team to rethink its culture will be difficult but if you are committed to your career it’s worth the effort.
Make a career swerve
But what if you aren’t committed to your career? What if you’re burned out and checked out? It may be time to consider a new job or even a career swerve. We can all start climbing the corporate ladder without realizing its leading up the wrong building. Switching workplaces can give you a clean slate to set new boundaries and new routines when it comes to you work/life harmony as well as pull you out of a toxic workplace situation.
Choosing to start your own business comes with its own set of stressors but can be fulfilling in ways working for someone else never will. To be clear, you will work more hours than you probably would at a corporate gig. Social media can make entrepreneurship look like nothing but coffee dates and working from the beach, but don’t be fooled. Working for yourself is work. As a business coach, I continually counsel new personal trainers and health coaches on the realities of how much out of the gym work you must do to build a thriving practice. It becomes more important than ever to set some clear boundaries (for example, you do need a day off), have a supportive team (mentors are crucial) and make space for exercise, sleep and meals. But with intention you can design a career and a life that give both purpose and financial security.
Burnout is a real place that you don’t want to go. Finding work/life harmony is possible but it does take a little effort on your part. It starts with your own actions but those actions can be a power example and influence for others. If you take decide to take lunch time walks, invite others. If you say NO, others will see that you didn’t get fired for it. Taking care of yourself is the first step in providing care to others.