For the past two years, I’ve been quietly pondering to recover and heal in ways that I didn’t know I needed. I’ve been a hibernating pupa, sheltered by choice, just waiting for my thoughts to come together and for me to emerge fired up and ready to go. This is my Eat, Pray, Love story. It is series that is part of a conversation that I want to have with the world to shift the way we think about wellness and self-care.
Start at the beginning of The Cocoon:
Introduction: The Metamorphosis: Finding Purpose
Part 1: The Candle Flickers: Work Burnout
Part 2: The Start of the A-Ha Moment: What is Emotional Labor?
Part 3: Glimpses of a Career Rife With Emotional Labor
When we are stressed out at work, we are encouraged to take care of ourselves more to de-stress. We should eat better, exercise, meditate, and find better work life balance. The first few are easy to comprehend and all have been proven to be beneficial to de-stress. The challenge is sticking with a program, especially as we juggle multiple tasks on a regular day.
What does work life balance mean? Is it even possible?
It sounds simple. Having a division between work and home life, but it’s become near impossible with connectivity. For women who are trying to do it all, it becomes even more of a struggle with our current work culture.
It is prevalent in the United States, to think of employees as replaceable cogs. My own career had me feeling that I should be grateful to have a job, to work for companies that are the top of it’s field, making a positive change in other’s lives, while battling the behind the scenes drama, tension, and lack of respect. The need to be close with clients and taking care of myself was insanely challenging and made it hard to step away from stress away from work.
Companies are giving more work to employees instead of hiring new people or laying off people to cut costs leaving those that remain more to do. This explains the rise in productivity in the US. Part of this increase is infused in company culture due to expectations that we work “harder” to make it to the next rung on the ladder. Think of a new lawyer who wants to make a partner based off billable hours. Americans are working on average 47 hours a week as a salaried employee despite being paid for 40 hours to meet the work demand and desire for more face time at the office as a sign of dedication.
The United States has less vacation time than most industrial countries. Yet, we forgo our vacation to prove our worthiness to the company or because we don’t have paid vacation time. I had a manager, who didn’t think my highly trained and capable team was up to snuff when they took over for me when I went away. That put pressure on me to not go away, even though I really needed the vacation to de-stress.
This culture of constant work with greater connectivity does not serve us well in separating work from life. Being able to receive emails and texts on our phones wherever we are contributes to high stress levels. Every message could be something we need to deal with immediately, so we check our phones constantly. This leaves us never really feeling present to what we are actually doing or who we are with. Just look at how many phones are out at family gatherings or restaurants.
How many of us are in a career where we need to be accessible 100% of the time? Most of us aren’t. A few hours typically won’t kill a deal unless you are on the East Coast and everyone else is in London. There needs to be some flexibility to change our hours. If we have to be up in the wee hours of the morning, that should be reflected elsewhere in the schedule.
I once had a conversation with an entertainment lawyer. He said that he never answered an email or text immediately. This was so they wouldn’t get used to him always responding quickly, allowed him to focus on what he was doing, and gave autonomy to the person asking a question. Most of the time, the person knew the answer or could problem solve it themselves. But he is a rare manager as most get upset when you don’t reply immediately.
With 80% of workers saying that they feel stress at work and 26% feeling as if they burning out, our health is in jeopardy. Job stress increases absenteeism, employee turnover, accidents, diminished productivity, and direct medical, legal, and insurance costs.
Companies are working on reducing stress by offering wellness programs, such as meditation and fitness classes, to combat the high stress rate. At the moment only about 9% of global employees have access to wellness programs, but there has been a 7.8% growth in the past few years. If the greatest stresses are workload, people issues, job insecurity, and a lack of work/life balance, a meditation class is just putting a band-aid on a gaping wound.
To really combat stress at work, we need to look at the institution and it’s practices. Having more swings, offering wellness retreats, or bringing in an empowerment speaker for a company event, is sugar coating an underlying broken system. It’s saying that we care about you, while also adding to the pressure, because we are encouraging your self-care so you can work even more for us.
Turning To Self-Care
In my career, I’ve worked at gyms, on a cruise ship, as a tour guide, and at retreats. All attract people trying to take care of themselves. Whether by improving their fitness to reduce their blood pressure, go on vacation to step away, explore nature, or have an intensive week of self-care.
I’d watch people make a shift from being exhausted and tired, to feeling rejuvenated and accomplished, to come back exhausted again. They would come back to recapture that feeling, because it was euphoric and they remembered who they actually were. For once in their lives, they were the ones being taken care of instead of the caregiver.
What I really noticed was how being free of stress, decisions, and having all of their needs taken care of, was what they truly needed. Being in the rested parasympathetic nervous system, instead of the stressed out sympathetic nervous system, is what enhanced their results. They would lose weight, their skin would clear up, and they would become alive in front of your eyes just like a neglected plant that you watered.
Then they would create this amazing swan dive to enter the world with enthusiasm, only to be dealing with the exact same issues and concerns they had before.
The Fusing of Thoughts
Our work culture needs to change to better support us in order to have any work life balance. But this will be a slower process. In the mean time, to bring us back to center, we need self-care. We need to step away from our negative influences, which is why vacation and retreats are so important. At home, we need to bring in other ways to take care of ourselves, doing something creative with a hobby, massages, meditation, and yoga can help.
After burning myself out, and knowing that I want to make sure that I never allow myself to get to that point, I’ve been making a conscious effort in that past two years to rediscover myself. Who am I outside of a company or work? I’ve turned down opportunities, because they didn’t serve what I wanted to become. My bank account may say that I made the wrong choice, but my heart, brain, and gut, tell me that I’m on the right path.
Work culture has been something I’ve thought about from the beginning, though it hasn’t been needed much to date. I know how horrible it feels to be under appreciated, over worked, and under paid, to be so stressed out and have almost no energy, to lose yourself while taking care of everyone around you, and no one should ever feel that way. I want each employee to know they are valued, to be able to speak up, feel adequately compensated, and have some balance. I know there are times when more will be demanded of them, but there will also be times when the pressure will be less. I want a company that I want to work at and that people don’t want to leave.
Because it is with my work culture, that AnamBliss can better serve others in their own quest for work life balance through self-care. To be a place that fosters the healing necessary and gives strength to those who need it to make the changes they need to discover their own soul’s bliss.
Continue the conversation in Time to Soar: Developing a Company & Retreats That Matter.
Kate Hamm combines her 15+ years of experience in the fitness industry and high-end resort program development into sought after wellness adventures at AnamBliss. Visit www.anambliss.com for future retreat dates and locations.