August 2017 Motivate

Balancing Work and Life – Making Real Change

Written By: Debbie Mason, APR, CPRC, Fellow PRSA

Americans pride ourselves on our hardworking culture and often believe that we are rewarded based on the intensity and results of our work. Because of this, many people report they don’t use all of their earned vacation time, saying they are just “too busy” to enjoy some time off.

In 2000, a typical U.S. worker took nearly 21 vacation days, but by 2013, that total dropped to 16 days, according to a study by Project: Time Off. There was a slight uptick in 2016 to16.8 days, which hopefully signals the start of a reversal in the trend. However, Americans’ loss of 662 million vacation days in 2016 alone also meant a loss to our economy, due to lack of spending, of an estimated $236 billion.

Added to our choice to give up our vacation time is the trend that we are working much longer hours each week, both as hourly and salaried employees. According to a 2014 Work and Education survey conducted by Gallup, half of all full-time workers indicate that they typically work more than 40 hours and nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours a week. Salaried employees work five hours more per week, on average, than full-time hourly workers — 49 hours versus 44 hours, respectively.

On top of the heavy workload, many in the workforce juggle multigenerational family support, balancing the needs of our children with the needs of our aging parents. Add to that the stress we can feel when we try to include healthy eating and working out — and it’s no wonder that one in four Americans say they are “super stressed” trying to manage it all.

The irony is that our bodies respond to that stress by making us even less productive. “Brain fog” can set in just from relying on that familiar rush of adrenaline a little too often. An occasional stressor like a deadline situation can be a good thing, but for many of us, high sustained stress levels result in weakened concentration and increased irritability and edginess. Beyond weakening our immune systems and increasing our susceptibility to colds and flus, chronic stress can actually double our risk of heart attacks. Yikes, who wants that? If we’ve all read and understood that with conscious thought we can change, then why aren’t more of us making those changes to reduce our stress? Behavioral change is hard, and we should recognize that and not assume there is a quick fix to anything.

However, there are some strategies for creating real change that start with an honest conversation with yourself to understand your personal barriers to change.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., offers some suggestions for evaluating the obstacles we create for ourselves.

Taylor defines baggage as low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear, need for control, anger and the need to please. What motivates us to habitually work late or take on additional projects? Maybe we should start by evaluating our real motives tied to our baggage from childhood. Yep, it really does all start there.

Creating new behaviors starts with evaluating our habits. If we always eat junk food when driving to work appointments, for example, how do we start putting healthy food in the car instead and breaking that junk food addiction? If we always work late on Monday evenings or Saturday mornings, how do we start filling those times with something fun or interesting instead? Recognizing where we now have bad habits allows us to think about replacing those with better habits.

We are quick to judge ourselves for our failures but less likely to use positive emotions to celebrate our successes. Catching ourselves with our negative emotions as they occur allows us to reframe them. Practicing reframing of thoughts and emotions is very powerful to overcome our obstacles. What emotional rewards or punishments are we giving ourselves when we don’t achieve work-life balance?

Oftentimes, stress and lack of balance occur because we are in the wrong job or working at an organization with a culture that is not aligned with who we are. Acknowledging that is important, as is taking action to find a better workplace match for our talents and our personalities. Surrounding ourselves with positive people at work and home environments can go a long way to reducing stress. If you can’t change the environment, learn to adapt your response to those environments to take on less stress.

Gratitude changes attitude:
In addition to recognizing the barriers that are preventing change, an easy step we can all take that causes huge reductions in stress is simply practicing gratitude. A few minutes each day to review what we are sincerely grateful for have a huge effect on our outlook, lowering stress as we consciously embrace this perspective. A conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits both at work and at home.

To achieve our goal of work-life balance, let’s start with evaluating the areas we want to change and the barriers we have to creating change. Pick one and get started, and then layer in that gratitude practice to make 2017 the year we all start on healthier paths.

10 Steps to Achieve Balance

1) Set priorities in your life – Priorities are the big things: self, family, faith, health and community. Establish how much time you want to give to each and how that time is to be spent.

2) Set short-term and long-term goals – Goals should apply to life, health, finances and career. Once you establish goals, it is much easier to say no to things that don’t advance a goal.

3) Unplug daily – Unplugging from television, computers, phones and other fake stimuli is so important for clearing the mind. Make sure you have daily unplug time.

4) Connect with nature – Nothing soothes the soul and slows a racing mind like a walk in nature. Make time every day for brief contact with nature, and take a long nature visit at least every few weeks.

5) Get a hobby – Reconnect with things that used to bring you joy when you were younger and less burdened, or explore and learn new areas.

6) Mindfully connect – The best thing you can do for yourself and others is to drop the multitasking and mindfully connect in every situation. It takes some practice, but the benefits are a clearer mind and increased efficiency. Reach out to friends, spend time with family and make a commitment to connect mindfully.

7) Treat your body right – We all know about exercise and its benefits. Find something you can do a few times a week and just do it, as the saying goes.

8) Rest, restore and recharge – Find your own versions of meditation and rest. They are different but equally important to really recharge. Don’t skip meals, and don’t think you are helping yourself by skipping vacations.

9) Stimulate your mind – Learn something new. Read books — or listen to books while commuting. Pick out something totally new and learn about it. A learning mind is an expanding mind. Use those brain cells!

10) Get help – Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are a valuable resource to connect you with professional help when you need it. Take care of your mental health and your physical health by reaching out to ask for help.


DEBBIE MASON, is a business strategist and organizational consultant who works with The Work of Leaders®, DiSC®, Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™, and other assessments used in coaching leaders and organizations to greater performance.

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