In our busy lives, so many of us feel physically and psychologically drained. This is a result of both our personal or professional lives, and let’s be honest, the one directly impacts the other. Often we are so overwhelmed by having to give so much of ourselves that we have no time to just be. And then, if you are the self-critic, you never feel adequate or satisfied by what you give or do. The result is burn-out, anxiety, stress and depression. I will share a bit about what I believe causes this in the workplace, some of my experiences, and my advice. I hope you find it helpful.
In the workplace, we are ‘always on’ because we have access to email 24/7, whether this is an expectation from our employer’s or is self-inflicted. We might have to work long irregular hours more often than not. You might have a manager who is bad at managing and leading people. Then of course, there is working in an environment that is always pressured, filled with conflict, and you feel like you are constantly going from putting out one fire to the next. Does any of this sound familiar?
I was in a job where I felt I needed to be ‘always on’. I had my work email on my phone, and I would get home from the office and continue working from home in the evening. This would also often spill over into weekends. Whilst this was not expected, it was the culture in the company I worked for. This was because it was more than just a job for most of us, it was ultimately working for a cause to improve the lives of others. We were all driven and motivated by passion, in my view as it should be. There were times when it was absolutely necessary to put in extra time, and I fully support this when necessary. But ultimately, I was entirely responsible for choosing to not have sufficient boundaries that enabled me to ‘switch-off’ long enough, to get some perspective, and to refocus with fresher, more energised thinking. Yes, this is what we limit within ourselves when we don’t ‘switch-off’. Our results might be good enough, and even great in the minds of others, but is it really the best we could do or could give if we are feeling drained, burnt-out and stressed?
My advice: Take back control of how you feel, and work towards what you want to feel. Take email off your phone if you cannot be disciplined enough to have downtime. Do this for yourself and for other important people in your life in order to maintain and grow your personal relationships. Have an ‘all things work drop zone’ in your home where devices, files, and other distracting materials from work are left. Have a time freeze on working at home mostly, where certain nights, and most weekends are off-limits to work.
As for the times when we have to work long and irregular hours to meet a deadline, I want to stress that I believe this is required, but it should be the exception. If you constantly work in this space, consider that something might be wrong with your planning and time management. If it is a company where it is the norm, then you either need to accept that it’s what you’ve signed up for, or you need to be strong enough to say what you are prepared to give, or to find an alternative. If it is indeed what you signed up for, and there is no room for negotiating boundaries, it is not healthy. But you know this because you’re feeling the impact of it with all your worry, pressure, stress and anxiety.
Consider the impact on your relationship if you are in one, or the impact on your children if you have any. I was in such a company, and it was what I signed up for. As a mother, I was an example of it having an impact on my children. I was not even fully aware of just how affected they were. Until I received emails from schools about concerns around my children’s behaviour, teacher’s writing to check whether they were okay, and being accusingly questioned about whether a teacher should be aware of anything. This happened with two teachers in the same week, and a week later from another in respect of each of my children. What was even more concerning about this happening, is that my children are all at different schools. Naturally this prompted a talk with my children. I asked my children about what makes them unhappy, what they worry about, and what could make it better. There responses hit me hard, and left me utterly heartbroken. In summary they spoke about our family not being together enough, they said when I get home everything is rushed so I can start working again, they complained about me always being on my laptop, looking stressed and not spending time with them. I knew I had to make a change. The only change possible for me was to be strong enough to find an alternative. My children needed a new normal because what they were experiencing was not normal. So I decided I needed an exit plan. One which took me 9 months, but thankfully with changes offered to me by my company during this time, so that I could immediately be more present for my children.
My advice: We choose to have special people in our lives. We need to ensure we are aware of what those special people need from us to make our special relationships work. Different relationships such as with our partner, or with our children require many different things, and comes with many different needs. Just being ‘there’ is not enough, it needs to be demonstrated in action. After all, actions do speak louder than words. We have heard this many times. Ask yourself, what do I value most in life? What can I not live without? If it’s any of these special people, and you have a similar experience to mine, something needs to change in your professional life.
What about working in a constantly pressured environment, and juggling many priorities which leave us feeling overwhelmed? Again, to work in this space all the time is not good for our health. This is the primary contributor to burn-out. Is this you?
My advice: Plan and prioritise. I plan most things based on the worst case scenario, and most desired outcome. I prioritise based on non-negotiables, i.e., deadlines, impact on stakeholders, and impact on the company. I also try to limit priorities to the top three urgent and important items each day, that are non-negotiables on that day. No matter what happens, I will work towards getting them done, or at the very least started. This is essential to not feeling constantly overwhelmed with a long list of priorities or my entire to do list, especially when volume and workload is always high or days are filled back to back with meetings. It also allowed for me to not be thrown by last-minute, suddenly urgent important issues that come up throughout the day. You would also be amazed at the small things you can get off your priorities or to do lists in between if the time allows. Maximise your work time to the fullest.
Lastly, are you working for an aggressive, ‘bossy’ manager? They are often insulting, never make you feel appreciated, take credit for your or other’s accomplishments, and are unapproachable. Going to work every day takes so much out of you that you feel mentally and emotionally drained before even getting to the office. I have thankfully been very lucky to never have reported directly to such an individual. However, I have had to deal with many employees who have had awful managers, and have witnessed bad leadership behaviour countless times. I remember one time having to deal with a situation whereby a Manager threatened an entire team of employees, in order to get them to perform, which naturally had the opposite effect. He would threaten employees and say he knew Labour Law and would sort them out. When he was unhappy with an employee he would say very condescendingly ‘do you see something wrong with that picture’, and if the employee couldn’t respond he would start yelling.
My advice: Accountability goes both ways. When a manager behaves unprofessionally in the workplace by making you feel in any way that you are not worthy of honour and respect, take a stand against it. But do so in a professional manner always. Don’t accept it. Value, and love yourself enough to respectfully demand how you deserve to be treated – with dignity.
These are some examples of how we become or what contributes to feeling physically and psychologically drained in the workplace, and that negatively impacts our personal lives. Say no now. And make some changes to take back your physical and psychological wellbeing.
Until next time…
Yours in Adapting & Being