I recently did a staff training at Vanguard University on “Workplace Balance.” A student in my Applied Research Methods Course had asked me to participate, and without hesitation I said yes. With my graduate level training in Organizational Behavior and Clinical Psychology, I assumed that I could find tons of material to easily fill in the 45-minute time slot. As I continued to review the literature related to workplace balance, stress and resilience, I found that the results of the research presented what appeared to be some pretty basic suggestions for keeping yourself healthy in the face of workplace stress.
As I continued to face the day-to-day at home work stress of taking care of my two toddler children; think changing diapers, potty-training, and negotiating snack time. All the while dealing with the work stress of preparing lectures, grading papers and preparing for the staff training, I quickly realized that these simple suggestions were often difficult to implement. I wanted to do an A+ presentation at the staff training. I had high hopes that after I put my kids to bed, I would spend overtime rehearsing and rehearsing my lecture so that I could refine and refine it to near perfection. What I found was that what I needed more than anything after a day filled with demands was rest, recovery and detachment.
And yes, the research supported what I was experiencing…
Tip 1: Take breaks. It seems like a simple suggestion. But how many people actually put this into practice? Research indicates that breaks throughout the work day and breaks at the end of the day and on the weekends are crucial to surviving workplace stress (Landsbergis, Grzywacz, & LaMontagne, 2012) . When our minds and bodies are under stressful conditions, we need recovery time. Dealing with job demands drains an individual’s resources, which are replenished during recovery. Research shows that respites such as vacations or sabbaticals improve people’s well being because exhausted resources are replenished, new resources are gained, and resource loss is interrupted.
Tip 2: Make your breaks count. Not only do we need to take frequent breaks from work to improve our recovery time and replenish our resources, but also our recovery time should include the following elements, if they are to be the most successful at reducing the effects caused by workplace stress. Sonnentag and Fritz (2007) proposed four distinct off-job experiences that are essential in the recovery process and are positively related to well-being factors. These include: psychological detachment from work, relaxation, mastery, and control.
Tip 3: Detach. In addition, in the context of the work–home interface literature, Kreiner, Hollensbe and Sheep (2009) have argued that employees can enact specific segmentation tactics that help them to avoid that work-related issues intrude into their home lives and vice-versa. These researchers also found that work-family balance is most achieved when work is protected from family disruptions, and when family positively contributes to productivity at work. Some practical tips for achieving psychological detachment: not checking work email from home and designating specific times at work to “check-in” with family.
Tip 4: Meditate. Research on worrying—a concept linked with hindering detachment—has shown that the amount of time persons spend on worrying can be reduced by intervention strategies (Brosschot & Van der Doef, 2006). One way to reduce worry is to implement meditation and breathing strategies to help calm yourself down when feeling overwhelmed.
Tip 5: Master Something. Another important element of work breaks is mastery. Often times at work, we are expected to be in control of our reactions, our emotions, and our actions. Successful recovery involves doing an activity that keeps us from thinking about the demands of work. Thus giving us the opportunity to “let loose” and let go of that element of control. Some good activities for this include creative endeavors, sporting activities, and learning options.
Occupational stress has been linked to burnout, physical health problems and mental health problems. By implementing small changes you can help prevent poor health outcomes and increase your level of work satisfaction and productivity at work. While we can’t control what happens in our day-to-day experiences at work or at home, we can implement daily interventions that will ultimately improve our ability to attain workplace balance.
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