Work-related stressors and the maladies they cause, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and decreased mental health, are more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza, according to an article in The Atlantic.
Additionally, workplace stress can interfere with productivity, impair relationships, and even cause safety issues. We’ve all seen over-busy people walking along – even crossing streets – with their eyes focused on their cellphone and not what’s in front of them.
So how do you recognize when you’re under too much stress – when you are “overextended”? It starts by being self-aware. When you start to feel overwhelmed, pay attention to how you respond to your work and the people around you. When we’re overextended, our positive qualities may actually become “too much of a good thing” causing negative impact. For example, someone who is detail-focused and analytical may exhibit “analysis paralysis” when overextended. Someone who is typically creative and social may become impulsive and overly emotional under extreme stress. And the “people person” who brings harmony to every meeting may suddenly become stubborn and resistant. When Mr. Peabody becomes Attila the Hun it’s time to get a handle on stress.
Oh, right, you say. There’s work to be done and we’re down two people…I don’t want to lose my job…I just need to get through this month and then I’ll (fill in the blank): get back to my family, get back to my workouts, get back to my life.
OK, people. Listen up. Part, not all, but PART of the reason we’re in this environment is that we allowed it to happen. Just like Lucy and Ethel in that famous bit in the chocolate factory, the more we demonstrated a willingness to work more, work faster, sacrifice life balance for the sake of a pay raise or out of fear for our job, the faster the conveyor belt went. The 40-hour work week turned into 50, then 60. Vacations? Who has time? Off hours? What are those? Welcome to our 24 x 7 world of work.
So what to do? I say, let’s take back our lives. Let’s stop the insanity and lean out for a change. Here’s how.
1. Set boundaries. Establish a time after which you don’t take work phone calls or respond to work emails, texts, smoke signals, whatever. Manage expectations about your “work hours.”
2. Be willing to say “no.” When asked to do something with a clearly unreasonable deadline or without appropriate resources, explain the impact it will have on your current work. Offer alternative dates, suggest alternative resources.
3. Stop and pause. Do a personal check-in. Adjust priorities, if needed. Take a break.
4. Breathe. Deeply and often. Consider meditation. Take a walk in the park or along the beach.
5. Laugh. Find something to laugh about every day. It’s good medicine.
"If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn't ask me, I'd still have to say it."
-George Burns (who lived to be 100)
Till next time,
When you think about what it takes to keep fit and healthy, probably the first two things that come to mind are a good diet and plenty of exercise. In my last blog, I wrote about the new definition of health as “the ability to adapt and self manage in the face of social, physical, and emotional challenges.” Certainly requires more than just diet and exercise.
How adaptable are you? Change is constant in today’s work environment. Leadership change. Shifting priorities. Forced job changes. I spoke with someone the other day who’s had three different managers in the short 8 months she’s been at her current company. And let’s not even think about how many times people we know have been laid off over the past decade. Being healthy means that you recognize the situation, vent/grieve/tune out (temporarily) as you need to, then dust yourself off and move on. So often with these changes come new opportunities. The key is having a support system. Being connected to colleagues and having strong relationships with friends and family outside of work. Engaging in your community and leveraging social networks to identify new opportunities and learn different approaches. And, of course, knowing where you can find additional resources, if necessary.
How well do you self-manage? Are you aware of your behavior traits and how they affect – positively or negatively – your work and the people around you? Self-awareness is the first step in self-management, which is often equated with emotional intelligence – another important factor for “health.” Personal health can be improved by proactively taking steps to ensure you are doing things in your life that are meaningful and by seeking out meaningful work. Continuous learning. Self-motivation. Goals. These all contribute to your ability to self-manage.
Finally, what makes you happy? Our happiness has a lot to do with how healthy we are. Take some time this week over a pumpkin latte or some candy corn or whatever your favorite fall indulgence is and think about what makes you happy. Then plan to do it. Where’s your favorite place to go? Plan to go there. Who makes you laugh? Spend some time with them. What makes you feel good? Just DO IT!
Consider what research has shown about laughter and happiness:
- A hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes afterward.
- Laughter increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, which improves your resistance to disease.
- 20 minutes of exercise, 3 times a week for 6 months will improve your general feeling of happiness by 10-20%.
- Happier people do better in their jobs. A recent study found that happy people make more money and obtain better job performance reviews than do unhappy people.
When you are happier and healthier, the rest will take care of itself.
Till next time,
Personal health is a hot topic these days, with myriad applications and devices to record our steps, our calories, our prescription drug dosages and so forth. We make a point of avoiding smoky environments, tend toward “insecticide-free” fruit, and feel guilty if we don’t get in our 10,000 steps in a day. With personal “good health” we look better, feel better and are able to do more and enjoy life more.
But what about the health of the organization – the company – we’re a part of? Since so much of our time is spent at work, how does our work environment – healthy or unhealthy – impact our personal health, and how does the collective health of an organization’s workforce affect its health?
The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” More recent definitions describe health in terms of adaptability – “the ability to adapt and self-manage in the face of social, physical, and emotional challenges,” (Machteld Huber) or simply, “the ability to adapt and to self-manage.” (British Medical Journal).
In the past few years there have been a bazillion articles, surveys, studies, blogs, etc., written about employee engagement – but that’s only a small piece of the bigger puzzle – organizational health. Think about this. Someone could be very engaged in their work and by extension, in the company. So engaged in fact, that they spend many late nights at work, to the detriment of their family life and their personal health. Stress and exhaustion finally take their toll, family life is kaput, and soon this “engaged” employee is out on medical leave, resulting in a huge gap on the team. Talk about a broken engagement.
It’s time we looked at the bigger picture. It’s time we thought seriously about the work environments we’re creating and how those environments are impacting employees at work, at home and in their communities. They’re all connected.
Leaders, how healthy is your team? Have you created an environment in which each employee feels valued, connected, challenged and recognized? Do you recognize when someone is overextended and then provide the support, resources or coaching they need to dial it back? In your hiring decisions, do you consider both the person-job fit and the person-organization fit?
An organization is only as strong, or as healthy, as its people. If you want an organization that can adapt and self-manage in the face of the many challenges today, you’ve got to start paying attention to the health of your team. Yes, engagement is part of it. But just part.
If you’d like to learn more about how to assess the health of your organization and what that means, please contact me. kcolligan@PeopleThink.biz or 415.440.7944.
Till next time,