by Deborah Hartung founder of Pivot PeopleTech (South Africa)
I recently read an article about the increased levels of stress and anxiety being experienced by Millennials, especially, due to the fact that we are always ’on’ and always connected to absolutely everything that is happening in the world and at work.
Not only does this ’always on’ mentality and culture contribute to significantly higher stress levels, poor sleep, and other health challenges, but it also tends to take us away from the very real ’here and now’ and the people, places and experiences to be enjoyed in a specific moment.
Globally, things have gotten so bad, that there is a conscious move away from the term” work-life balance” towards the new,’ preferred’ term” work-life integration”.
I, for one, am not a fan of this development and neither should you be, because it is a thinly veiled attempt at trying to normalize ’always on’ and to shame people who wish to draw a line between work and life and switch off and unplug in the evenings and on weekends.
That being said, however, we should consider the fact that different approaches work for different people, so it’s best we figure out these boundaries for ourselves and then act accordingly. Here are some practical things you can do right now in your life that will reduce some of the stress and anxiety of being ’always on’, without requiring that you adopt the values and lifestyle of the Baby Boomer generation.
Figure out your own values around work-life balance or integration
This is really the starting point and requires that you critically examine your current lifestyle and your desired lifestyle and that you figure out what you would want your desired lifestyle around work-life balance or integration, to look like and why.
Understand that your values and requirements may change as you get older or your personal situation changes and that it is perfectly acceptable for this to happen. Your needs will vary depending on whether you have children or you’re living alone or just starting a business.
But your needs and requirements are exactly that – yours.
As a manager or leader, you cannot expect of your team to automatically fall in with your definitions and be answering emails from you at 10 pm or taking calls from you at 8:30 pm unless its an emergency.
Set and share the boundaries
Encourage your colleagues and team to complete the same exercise as you have, around uncovering lifestyle requirements and values relating to work and life.
Learn about everyone’s preferences and then sit down together to craft a set of principles according to which you can all work to maximize efficiency and not expose anyone on the team to expectations and requirements that will not work for them.
Perhaps agree on mandatory ‘radio silence’ in the evenings from 7 pm or agree to schedule emails and only send during business hours. Alternatively, agree that even if an email is sent between 7 pm and 8 am, there is no requirement or expectation for the recipients to either respond or take action.
If you have colleagues who are parents and who need some flexibility to attend events for their children, agree on deadlines for work and then trust and understand that these are adults who will act accordingly and deliver on their agreed tasks. I can assure you that many a parent fires up their laptop after their kids are asleep, or wakes up super early when you’re going for a run or hitting that sunrise yoga class, to finish work before their kids are awake.
Whether you want to start using time-blocking techniques or perhaps invest in an app that turns off all your social media notifications during certain times of the day, it is important to know when you are at your most productive and focused and to then actually remove all distractions during this time.
Some people block their time into 50 minutes of ‘focus’ and then 10-minute breaks to stretch their legs, get some water, respond to a few emails or check social. Others actually turn off social media (and even email notifications) for up to 4 hours at a time, to ensure that they focus on their work and are not distracted by clickbait headlines and social media.
Find what works for you and then communicate – if necessary- that, for example, you only reply to emails or DMs at certain times.
Be fully present
The same rule goes for scheduling time with friends and family. Make sure that everyone actually places their phones in the middle of the table or puts their phones away altogether, for at least 20 minutes. I know that this one is particularly tough, but I promise you that it’s totally worth it and you will greatly improve your interpersonal relationships by actually being fully present in the moment and enjoying each other’s company, instead of all just sitting in the same space and staring at your phones.
Make some time to clear your head of all the thoughts and stresses and distractions and just be fully present in the moment.
Learn to say ’no’ without apologizing
You cannot be everything to everyone and you absolutely cannot say ’yes’ to everything. Your time and energy are precious resources and it is ok to say ’no’ to the people and things that drain your energy. Every single thing – no matter how seemingly small or insignificant – that you say ’yes’ to, is going to take away your time to be doing the things you love or the things that you want to do to achieve your goals. So, learn that it’s ok to say ’no’ and to not have to apologize for this or make any kind of excuses.
When it comes to reducing some of the noise we have as part and parcel of our ultra-connected, digital world, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The key to creating more balance in your life and to reducing the inevitable stress and anxiety that comes from being ’always on’, is empathy and kindness towards yourself and others.
Deborah Hartung is a consultant, coach, author and speaker, and the founder of Pivot PeopleTech. She loves helping entrepreneurs find their unique voice and leadership style in order to empower them to create amazing places where people truly want to work. She has spent the majority of her career in HR and labour relations management and consulting, gaining experience in all fields related to the human experience in the workplace. While her main focus remains on consulting, coaching and training in the HR and labour relations space, Deborah is passionate about people and technology and the opportunities for the advancement of humanity in the digital age. Professionally, Deborah is known as an HR turnaround specialist with a proven track record in improving workplace culture, employee engagement and organisational effectiveness. www.pivotebpeopletech.co.za
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