Many of us are relaxing at this time of year, but for some there is a nagging feeling that we need to make some changes in our work life. Perhaps you might be worried that you aren’t doing as well as you might. Or that there are problems with managing some people in your team. Or perhaps your relationship with your boss isn’t great.
Whatever it is, I am 100% sure you are not alone. People face work challenges all the time and it has been my absolute joy to help people through them. The key is that we already know what we need to do. We often just need someone to help us realise this, and then work out how to follow through.
And so I am suggesting you take a small step. Nothing too scary. Nothing that commits you to too much. So, what do I suggest?
Regardless of what the work problem you are worried about, I am pretty certain to have seen it before. I have been coaching all kinds of people for 20 years now in all sorts of jobs in organisations as different as global oil companies to small auto dealerships. From the Civil Service to banks. And I’d love to be able to help you through whatever your challenges are. Why not arrange for us to have a chat? I promise to listen and help you clarify in your own mind what the issues are and how you can start doing things differently this year. Oh, and this first 30 minute conversation is completely free with no obligations whatever. More details about my approach are here. You can contact me via this form.
Go on – this small step could be your “giant leap” forward!
OK, that isn’t quite the advice I’m going to give but I wanted to counter all those experts on work life balance who tell you to switch off completely over the holidays. And I know personally of several who do nothing of the sort themselves! So have I got anything different to offer?
Yes we all need to take time out to recharge our batteries, reconnect with family and with life outside of work. And I totally endorse this. But one of the things that happens to me is that this down time sometimes is interrupted by an idea about work that pops into mind. I find that very often these thoughts can be really useful ones because you are removed from the day to day pressures and somehow your unconscious takes the opportunity to put something into your conscious mind. In this case, it is best to quickly jot it down and then leave it until you go back to work.
Another thing I find on holiday is worrying that the emails will be building up. Did I miss something? Did something urgent come up? Of course the answers are (a) unlikely and (b) probably not. And if it was really urgent, you would know about it. But if you want to put your mind at ease, you are licensed to check your email. Once a day. And if you have children, this really should be after they have gone to bed/jump-in/bowling. Or (even better) before anyone else is up.
But to be honest, almost everyone over-estimates how much they need to do this sort of thing. You should have planned to go on holiday so you will have brought everything to a close or handed it over before you finish work. And just think, if for some unfortunate reason you were taken unwell suddenly, the organisation would not collapse without you. And if you have managed your boss properly, you will not be expected to work while you are on holiday. Similarly with your team.
There is a bank account analogy for work stress: on a daily basis we are making withdrawals from the account. And when we relax, we make deposits into the account. So as long as we make more deposits than withdrawals, we can stay on an even keel. And the best way of making a deposit is to relax in the way you enjoy the most with the people you love. Simple as that really. Of course, more complicated in practice, but keep it in mind. Have you made too many withdrawals lately?
So I guess I am saying that this is not a work-life balance issue as such. It is more about how you run your work life in general. How confident you are that you are known for doing a good job. How well you have assembled a good team around you. How much of a strong network of like-minded people you have created around your projects. How you have managed your relationship with your boss. And if on reflection you are falling short in these key areas, I have some advice in these blogs. Or you could use the contact form here to have a chat about coaching.
And if you are taking time off, have a merry Christmas!
It is absolutely vital you have enough time throughout the year to re-charge your batteries. Those in highly stressed jobs – I think for example of the health professional I work with – absolutely MUST take time between shifts to recuperate or the results to their health can be catastrophic. And even outside of those jobs, most of us find work to have its stresses for which the only real long term survival strategy is to have enough time away from it to recover. And this is why the received wisdom on wellbeing at work is to take breaks, have time to breathe during the day, don’t work in the evenings or weekends and when on holiday, completely switch off. And I think there is a lot to be commended in this advice. The research seems to show this sort of thing is a good idea and there are many academics doing really useful work in this area. So I surely can’t be serious to suggest you don’t actually take time away from work over Christmas?
Well, I kind of am. And here’s why:
Daley Thompson was undefeated in the Decathlon for nearly ten years. He was known for his somewhat anti-establishment personality, great sense of humour and intense competitiveness. He said that early in his career he noticed that none of his competitors trained on Christmas Day and some took several days off. Elite sport is about tiny margins so he decided he would take no days off whatever in the year which would give him a small marginal gain. And so if you continue to do some work over Christmas and you are in an organisation that closes for several days at Christmas, you can perhaps gain some advantage.
But there is also perhaps a better reason; practically nobody else in Western organisations is working over that period so no new stuff will come in. Of course if you work with people outside the West, things might be different. But in Europe, the USA, Australia, New Zealand amongst others there is a tradition of taking time off at the end of December. This can give you time to catch up, perhaps clear your inbox or maybe take time to read. Perhaps time to work through your to do list and do things you have been meaning to do. Or (as important) delete things you can now admit are not going to happen.
For many of us (and this is true for all holidays) there is a worry that you will have a massive stack of work to do when you return from holiday. So if you keep chipping away, you will be ready to ease back into work with less stress. The risk with keeping on top of emails is that something could come up that really annoys you that can spoil your time off. But the risk is quite low at Christmas because there should be few new emails arriving.
Many of the researchers who recommend taking time out don’t follow their own advice and work incredibly long hours. And why might that be? Well I think it’s because they don’t regard their research as being work. It is of course. But if you enjoy something, you think it’s important and that you are making a contribution to the world, you won’t necessarily want to switch off from it completely. And so if that is you, then my suggestion is to embrace it with a sense of balance.
However, if your work stresses you out, or doesn’t bring you satisfaction, or you don’t think is a useful contribution to the world, then by all means switch everything off as often and for as long as you can. And maybe, another blog will have suggestions about what you do in those circumstances.
As most of the western world winds down (up?) for Christmas, I guess the obvious holiday advice from a psychologist is to switch off completely and take a break. But actually that’s not quite what I am going to suggest because if I did, very few people would follow my advice. So rather than suggesting people do stuff they have no intention of doing, here is my advice for a great holiday.
Finish off. Make sure you get all the really vital stuff done before you leave for the break. There is nothing quite so satisfying as leaving work and knowing you have done all that really needs to be done and now you can go home and relax. As in a previous blog, you won’t be able to finish absolutely everything but make sure you are happy with what is left over. The nagging doubt in the back of your mind if something important wasn’t quite finished will reduce the quality of your down time and you won’t relax. So take a really hard look at what you are working on, decide what MUST be done before you go home, and make absolutely sure it is done. Even if it isn’t quite as perfect as you might want. Just get it done.
Say thank you. It is a good time to reflect on the year and what everyone has contributed. Take time to thank your team in person and be specific – what they have done really well and the challenges they have overcome. This is even more important for junior members of the team and your admin support.
Work – holiday. Most advice is that working on holiday is a very bad idea. And it can be. But in my experience so many people do actually keep up with at least some work whilst knowing that this is not what they should be doing, there must be a reason for it. And I think there is a mix of fear and attachment. Fear that you might not actually be indispensable. Attachment because you invest a great deal into your work and want to make sure it is all going well. I add another – fear that on the first day back, the inbox will be huge. So I suggest the following work for holiday:
You can check email from time to time, but never when you could be with your children or loved ones.
You can read papers, but be prepared to be interrupted (and welcome these!)
Do not expose yourself to anything that might get you angry – especially things you can’t do anything about until you return.
Be careful if sending email that it doesn’t give the impression that you believe your team should also be working on holiday.
Take a deep breath. Literally and metaphorically. You should do whatever it takes for you to re-boot yourself ready for the new year. If you can remove yourself from work completely, then do so. You will find a clear head is more creative, can see new solutions and spot where mistakes are being made.
But the basic advice remains: switching off is good. It’s not a holiday if you are working all the time. And holidays are good for productivity and health.