The “New Normal”: Creating Workplaces that Embody and Support Work-Life Balance

The “New Normal”: Creating Workplaces that Embody and Support Work-Life Balance

Many people are talking about the “new normal” and what our lives will look like after COVID-19. Rather than returning to old beliefs, systems and ways of working, I view this time as an opportunity to internalize new beliefs, create new systems and ways of working, building on the lessons learned so far and based on the vision of a world that works for everyone.

One area that I feel strongly about is Work-Life Balance. Having almost burnt out several times in my life I know what it is like to feel SOoo tired and to push through fatigue to finish that one last “thing”, instead of listening to my body and taking a break. I’ve also witnessed younger and younger women clients losing their passion and burning out. Perhaps you relate.

Did you know that burnout is reaching epidemic proportions worldwide?

In May of 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) revised its classification of burnout from a medical condition to an occupational phenomenon. Their definition:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.” [1]

The importance of this change in the WHO classification is that it acknowledges that organizations and their leaders have a role to play in reducing workplace stress; rather than burnout being perceived as a personal medical issue, a sign of weakness and something to be hidden and ashamed of.

To learn more about how to know if you’re burning out and what to do about it see: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/

Work-Life Balance

When you think about work-life balance what thoughts or feelings come up for you? You may have negative feelings about the term and believe it isn’t possible OR you may dream of living a life where you no longer are feeling there is so much to do and so little time but instead are feeling healthy, happy and fulfilled.

For me, work-life balance is both personal and elusive. Personal, because what work-life balance looks and feels like for me is different from what work-life balance looks and feels like for you.  Elusive because many people speak about work-life balance and yet few are able to achieve or maintain it.

How can you as a leader integrate work-life balance into your own life and model it for others in the workplace? Here are some “tried and true” strategies:

Personally:

  • Count up the number of hours you typically work in a week. Is it more than 50? (Obviously sometimes)
  • Make a commitment to reduce the number of hours you typically work weekly (choose a realistic number to begin with)
  • Experiment with a work week when you reduce your hours. Then notice how you feel. You may wish to journal about it
  • Make a clear differentiation between work and home time. For example, before leaving work say to yourself, I am now leaving work behind, or pick a point on your drive or walk home where you make a conscious choice to release work and step into “your” time
  • Begin incorporating mindfulness practices into your personal life; e.g.
    • on awakening while lying in bed do a body scan from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet noticing any tension, discomfort, heaviness. Breathe into those areas of tension, discomfort or heaviness and set the intention to release and let go of them.
    • Start doing mindfulness walking meditations 3 times/week for 30 minutes each time.[2] Some of my clients do this at lunch hour. Others after work. Notice how you feel before, during and after. Is there a cumulative effect?
  • Schedule blocks of time in your calendar for you (e.g. work out at the gym, yoga class, lunch with a friend, concert with your partner)
  • Unplug at least 90 minutes before retiring and encourage your colleagues to do the same.

Organizationally:

  • At work, encourage people to take breaks
  • Set clear expectations with your direct reports and colleagues related to NOT checking emails and answering texts on evenings and weekends. Share with them the importance of them taking time for themselves and their families
  • Have short meetings (up to 60 minutes max) with clearly defined agendas, and expectations so people know why they’re there, how to prepare and the expected results
  • Encourage people to take lunch breaks
  • Support people to take regular vacations and to NOT check their emails while on vacation (set up a buddy system so staff and managers can feel that the key aspects of their positions are being covered while they are away)
  • Have yoga classes and/or a gym on site and participate in the classes/use the facilities yourself.

What strategies have you found helpful to create more balance in your life on a personal level and if you have a team, on an organizational level? I welcome your comments and suggestions below. Feel free to share this post with others.

*updated from May 2, 2016 blog post


[1] https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/

[2]  A tool from Easter psychology that I have found extremely useful for getting “out of my head” and into my body is Mindfulness Walking Meditation. Mindfulness practices focus on the senses and feeling sensations and emotions in our bodies. When we do a mindfulness walking meditation, we feel the ground beneath our feet, we feel the breeze against our face, we feel the cool air going from our nostrils down into our lungs. We smell the scent of salt or the aroma of lavender in the air and observe the scenery in front of us. We try to stay out of our minds and experience our senses. Rather than spend a walk in nature constantly thinking and processing all the things we have to do, instead we stay present and experience nature and all of its beautiful sights, smells, sounds and sensations.

How to Change from Driving and Striving to Thriving

How to Change from Driving and Striving to Thriving

Did you end 2019 feeling exhausted and burnt out? Did you set the intention that this year would be different, that you would take more time for you and to spend with friends and family? Are you finding that already you are slipping back into old patterns of taking work home in the evenings and working on weekends?

I understand. I’ve been there. Early in my childhood I internalized the belief that in order to be loved and valued I needed to perform and achieve. And so I kept doing that. Setting one goal, reaching it; then raising the bar and striving for the next one. Taking very little, if any time, between my accomplishments to celebrate; until I became exhausted and burned out.

What happens when we are driving and striving?

  • Our agendas are packed
  • We have little or no time for ourselves
  • When we are speaking with someone, often half of our brain is focused on them and the other half is focused on the next thing on our to-do list
  • We feel like there is so much to do and so little time
  • We focus on our goals and become so fixated on achieving them that we may miss out on other opportunities that come our way
  • We often feel tired on awakening
  • We may start to feel resentful, as we seem to be giving to everyone else, yet no one seems to be there to support us when we need it.

Do you relate? Living this way, constantly driving and striving, leads to adrenal fatigue, burnout, various types of cancer, and auto-immune disorders such as fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis (for more details on burnout and what to do about it – https://pamela-thompson.com/how-to-know-if-youre-burning-out-what-to-do-about-it/). When we work night and day, our bodies don’t have time to return to homeostasis where we relax and rejuvenate ourselves. As stress hormones constantly surge through us, our organs eventually burn out.

What does thriving look and feel like?

  • We feel happy, healthy and grounded with a balance between “giving” and “receiving” and “doing” and “being”
  • We feel open to possibilities
  • We awaken feeling energized and excited about the day ahead
  • We spend time with people we care about
  • We feel connected to something greater than ourselves
  • We spend regular time in nature
  • We exercise regularly
  • We are grateful for the life we have
  • We are clear on our core values and live life in alignment with them.

Feel free to add your own descriptions to the lists above.

How do we move from driving and striving to thriving?

  • We learn to Listen to and trust in our body’s wisdom – The first step in getting out of our heads and into our bodies is a mindfulness technique called body scanning. On awakening, you begin scanning your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes and noticing where there is any tension or discomfort. Then you breathe into these areas and set the intention to release any discomfort. Another mindfulness practice is mindfulness walking meditations. I encourage my clients to begin doing this 15 to 20 minutes a day, 3 times a week. It can be done at noon or during a break. Instead of taking a walk and thinking about the next thing on your plate or reflecting on a stressful conversation you had with a partner or team member, you focus on your senses. You feel the wind on your cheeks, you smell the salt sea air, you hear the birds singing, you see the beautiful vistas surrounding you. When thoughts come into your mind you view them as clouds floating by and let them pass, returning to focusing on one of your senses. When you do this, notice what you notice during the exercise, after and the cumulative effects.
  • When you are feeling stressed, Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth; making a sound as you breathe out. When you do this 3 or 4 times you release oxytocin, a hormone that relaxes you.
  • Each week block off in your calendar all of the things you commit to doing for yourself (that you enjoy). For me one of these is yoga 3 times a week at noon. It may be going to the gym 3 of 4 times a week after work. It may be meeting a friend or partner for lunch once a week.
  • Set firm boundaries. Learn to say no. This is important at work, and with family and friends.
  • Notice your energy levels and schedule your activities to capitalize on these. For example, if possible, do your creative work when you are naturally more creative. Schedule meetings after 10 am.
  • Spend regular time in nature; walking, hiking, cycling, kayaking … . Nature is therapeutic. Based on several decades of research, the Japanese have evidence to show that forest bathing/walking among trees reduces your heart rate, reduces your blood pressure and increases the number of natural killer cells your body produces. For more on the benefits of being in nature check out: https://pamela-thompson.com/how-you-can-benefit-from-nature-why-its-important/
  • Unplug from technology for at least 24 hours one day a week (e.g. on weekends) if possible
  • Celebrate your achievements, big and small.

It’s important to reach out for support to friends, family or a coach, as moving from driving and striving to thriving, IS a journey and it requires support from others.

For more practical tools and techniques to support you to be healthy, happy and grounded, I invite you to check out my book Learning to Dance with Life: A Guide for High Achieving Women – www.amazon.com/dp/B0145ZGDO2 that is backed up by evidence from neuroscience, eastern psychology and the health promoting and healing benefits of the arts. There is also a series of coaching questions woven throughout the book to support you to move from driving and striving to thriving.

I welcome strategies that you’ve found helpful in the comments below.

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