By Jeff Wilson, APR (@wilson0507)
Over the past several weeks, there have been several reports indicating that Americans are working more and are more stressed than ever.
A report released this past week by Expedia.com stated that the average American worker earned 18 vacation days in 2010, but only used 14 of them. Conversely, workers in France got 37 vacation days and used 35, while the average worker in Great Britain received 28 vacation days and took 25.
Altogether, Americans gave up 448 million earned but unused vacation days in 2010, equaling $67.5 billion worth of unused time.
Couple that with another recent report by CareerCast that proclaimed public relations officer as the second most stressed profession in the U.S., and that leads me to believe there are a lot of stressed-out PR professionals out there.
“This highly competitive field and tight deadlines keep stress at high-levels for [PR] specialists,” according to CareerCast.
Note the irony that this blog was completed at midnight, because there wasn’t time to finish it earlier!
By no means does PR have the monopoly on stress in the workplace. In these recessionary times – where corporate culture is demanding that we do more with less – the need for greater work-life balance could be a national epidemic.
Joe Robinson, work-life trainer, speaker and author, calls work stress “a national health tragedy that is all but invisible, hidden behind the game face of workers who have been trained to take it in silence, part of the mettle-testing battleground of the bravado workplace.”
But it’s about more than just mental health. Johnson contends that stress at work is having profound physical effects on employees. Robinson writes that more than three-quarters of the 956 million visits to physicians each year are estimated to be the result of stress-related problems.
Wasn’t technology supposed to make our work-life easier? Instead, technology may be contributing to our 24/7, workaholic culture. With smartphones, iPads, laptops and a plethora of social media channels at our finger tips, we are now more connected to work than ever before.
Build downtime into your schedule. Track everything you do for one week, including work-related and personal activities. Decide what’s necessary and what satisfies you the most. Cut or delegate activities you can’t handle. Make it a point to schedule time with your family and friends and activities that help you recharge. If a date night with your spouse or a softball game with friends is on your calendar, you’ll have something to look forward to and an extra incentive to manage your time well so you don’t have to cancel.
Take advantage of your work options. Ask your employer about flex hours, a compressed work week, job sharing, telecommuting or other scheduling flexibility. The more control you have over your hours, the less stressed you’re likely to be. The PR agency where I work, CRT/tanaka, was founded on a set of Nine Shared Values – one of them being, “Keep a balance between family and work.” That has allowed our company to offer many of the flexible work options the experts recommend, including part-time employement, flexible work schedules and telecommuting options. All of this has helped increased employee productivity and allowed us to keep valuable employees on staff.
Learn to say no. Whether it’s a co-worker asking you to spearhead an extra project or your child’s teacher asking you to manage the class field trip, remember that it’ totally accepted to respectfully say no. When you quit doing the things you do only out of guilt or a false sense of obligation, you’ll make more room in your life for the activities that are meaningful to you and bring you joy.
Get moving. It’s hard to make time for exercise when you have a jam-packed schedule, but experts say that it may ultimately help you get more done by boosting your energy level and ability to concentrate.
Leave work at work. This is easier said than done. With the technology to connect to anyone at any time from virtually anywhere, there may be no boundary between work and home — unless you create it. Make a conscious decision to separate work time from personal time. When you’re with your family, for instance, turn off your smart phone, put away your laptop and leave the social media behind. Those work emails aren’t going anywhere.
Remember that a little relaxation goes a long way. Don’t get overwhelmed by assuming that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. Set realistic goals, like trying to leave the office earlier one night per week. Even during a hectic day, you can take 10 or 15 minutes to do something that will recharge your batteries, such as going for a walk or listening to music.
Remember that creating greater work-life balance is a marathon, not a sprint. It won’t happen overnight. It will take a concerted effort, but in the end, greater balance creates happier and more fulfilled employees.