October 1, 2010
By Melissa Henriquez M.A., and Rebecca B. Andersen, APR
The American work force is more stressed than ever before. Between a shaky economy, high unemployment rates and the omnipresent fear of layoffs, employment is not something to take for granted. And while many of us might have been dubbed “workaholics” before the recession, now everyone feels pressure to do more on the job.
We’re working longer hours at the office and doing our best to prove that we are valuable assets to our employers after hours. As communications professionals, we’ve welcomed advances in wireless technologies that have simplified our lives — helping us to be more accessible to our clients and colleagues — but it comes at a price. The lines between our personal and professional lives are becoming increasingly blurred, making the coveted notion of work-life balance more elusive.
We’ve created a workaholic culture, which has sometimes stemmed organically from genuine passion and pride in our work, sometimes from sheer necessity or sometimes from the desire to climb the corporate ladder. But now there’s a new element shaping our workaholic society: fear.
In addition to wanting to do a good job for personal and professional satisfaction, we don’t want to become a statistic.
While this element of fear might increase performance and productivity for some employees who needed a wake-up call, it also works against others. The work-life balance scales are tipping even more toward work, creating a host of challenges for American families who are already struggling to find quality time together.
These mounting tacit pressures raise additional issues for women in particular. We’ve been told by our predecessors that we can be anything we want to be. But we simply can’t be everything to everyone. Unfortunately, sacrificing our personal lives for our professional lives often feels like it’s the only way to thrive in a society that —especially now — values our work ethic above everything else.
Even when the economy recovers, the precedent is set. We’ve raised the bar to meet the demands of the times; our clients and supervisors know what they can expect from us.
It’s interesting to compare the modern American work experience to the Asian work experience, where such a society has long been culturally accepted — if not expected. For example, according to theOrganisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, the average South Korean routinely works 2,390 hours each year, which is 34 percent more hours than the average American works.
We can’t change the turbulent economic climate or the anxiety-driven workaholic culture in which we live. In fact, this shift toward “workaholicism” is likely here to stay.
But we can try to put greater emphasis on productivity and caliber of work. We can also strive for a shared understanding that employees with a healthier work-life balance perform better on the job.
The following tips can help restore some balance to your life:
• Write the next morning’s to-do list before leaving the office in the evening. This will help you prioritize your day and keep you on track. Productivity matters now more than ever.
• Seek shelter. If you’re on a tight deadline, hide out in your office or an enclave somewhere in the building so that you can work without interruptions.
• Change your scenery. Instead of meeting a client in the office, meet for lunch or at a coffee shop for a change of pace. Plus, a new setting can unchain you from your desk awhile.
• Ignore the vending machines and take a mid-afternooon walk. Sometimes just a 10-minute break can help clear your mind, break writer’s block or inspire a new idea.
• Have fun. If you’re going to spend 10-12 hours somewhere, then you need to enjoy the people you’re working with as well as the work you’re doing. Some socializing can be a good thing.
• Set boundaries. Let your clients and colleagues know when you’re on vacation or unavailable. An “out of office” message is a simple tool to help adjust expectations during that time.
• Ditch the guilt. If you work at a fairly flexible place and are all caught up at 4 on a Friday and have been at the office late all week, then go home. You’ll be a happier (and saner) employee if you feel like you have control over your personal life.
• Don’t be a slave to your iPhone or BlackBerry when you leave the office. Put it somewhere you can’t easily access it and dedicate a set time to check messages if necessary. Use your down time for you and your family.
Melissa Henriquez, M.A., is the PR manager at Biggs|Gilmore, a digital advertising agency named a 2010 Ad Age Agency of the Year. She holds a master’s degree in public communication from American University in Washington, D.C.
Rebecca B. Andersen, APR, is a partner in Pacific Bridge Marketing, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is also an adjunct faculty member at West Virginia University where she teaches master’s level courses in public relations and integrated marketing communications.