Know when to stop still

Stress is ev­ery­where — but so are an­swers to ad­dress it, writes Lyn­nette Hoff­man

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Career One -

ASay­ing that, Jef­feries says there are a lot of mis­con­cep­tions about what it means to live a bal­anced life.

‘‘ It’s not about sit­ting on a moun­tain top do­ing yoga and chant­ing ‘ om’,’’ she says. ‘‘ You can go as hard and fast as you want, you just need to lis­ten to your body.’’

What that means, she says, is things such as tak­ing some time to rest when you feel drained, rather than load­ing up on stim­u­lants such as caf­feine and sugar to push through your ex­haus­tion. You don’t have to give up your cof­fee al­to­gether — that would be un­re­al­is­tic — but you can do small things, such as add in a bit more wa­ter in­stead. Other keys to keep­ing burnout at bay? Learn to say ‘‘ no’’. Don’t work so late that you cut into time with fam­ily and friends — or food. Eat right, move more, laugh, take time to en­joy things and plan, Jef­feries says.

But as most peo­ple who have worked in the cor­po­rate world can tell you, work­place stress of­ten goes deeper than lifestyle and time man­age­ment. Cor­po­rate cul­ture, poor man­age­ment or lead­er­ship, con­flicts with col­leagues, not hav­ing au­ton­omy or con­trol over your work, lack of op­por­tu­nity for ca­reer pro­gres­sion, lit­tle recog­ni­tion, ex­ces­sive work­load, am­bi­gu­ity over what’s re­quired and job dis­sat­is­fac­tion in gen­eral are some of the is­sues that can play a role.

For­mer cor­po­rate lawyer Paul Heath en­joyed a decade of chal­leng­ing, re­ward­ing le­gal work be­fore a ca­reer move to a pres­ti­gious bou­tique firm left him with a bad taste in his mouth. While it had seemed a step up, Heath en­tered a world plagued by di­vi­sive man­age­ment. Per­son­al­ity con­flict be­tween part­ners pit­ted them against one an­other. ‘‘ There was a con­stant ma­nia to con­vince the part­ners you were com­mit­ted to job,’’ Heath says. In­ef­fi­cien­cies were ram­pant — for ex­am­ple, no mat­ter how early he sent an email, it would never be acted upon un­til the last minute, so work was al­ways a fran­tic rush.

Heath stuck out the dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion for about six months be­fore he re­signed and de­cided to live off his sav­ings for a time.

He took long walks in the morn­ing, dropped into cof­fee shops and read the news­pa­per — the whole pa­per. He lunched with friends who were on ma­ter­nity leave. He did vol­un­teer work for a com­mu­nity theatre or­gan­i­sa­tion, where he was on the board. He went to the gym, and lin­gered.

‘‘ I just did ev­ery­thing I would nor­mally do, but I did ev­ery­thing a lot slower,’’ Heath says of his eight-month sab­bat­i­cal. The time off gave him a new per­spec­tive. ‘‘ Once you’ve taken the first step off the ca­reer con­veyer belt you re­alise it’s not go­ing to kill you,’’ he says.

So when he ul­ti­mately did go back to work, it wasn’t to an­other law firm.

He found a job on his own terms, con­sult­ing as chief op­er­a­tions man­ager in the IT in­dus­try. It’s a job he says he’s much more en­gaged in.

‘‘ I don’t think I’ve ever will­ingly, con­sis­tently left home at 7 and stayed un­til 6. But work you’re en­gaged in doesn’t seem nearly as hard as some­thing you’re un­in­ter­ested in,’’ Heath says. And as for stress? ‘‘ It’s a bet­ter stress — you’re more en­gaged, so when you wake up at 4 in the morn­ing think­ing about work, it’s not an un­pleas­ant can’t-sleep-be­cause-you’re-stressed feel­ing — it’s more like when you’re a kid and you can’t sleep be­cause you think Christ­mas is com­ing.’’ USTRALIANS are work­ing longer hours, tak­ing fewer va­ca­tions, and not sur­pris­ingly, work­place stress is on the rise. The United Na­tions has dubbed it the 20th-cen­tury dis­ease, the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion has branded it a world­wide epi­demic, and it’s been linked to ev­ery­thing from obe­sity to heart dis­ease.

No doubt work­place stress and the ‘‘ cor­po­rate burn-out’’ born out of it are se­ri­ous prob­lems. But what to do about them?

Some peo­ple get so fed up with the cor­po­rate world and the stress that of­ten goes with it that they opt to step out of it and start their own busi­nesses, or down­shift their ca­reers. But that’s not for ev­ery­one, and in­creas­ingly em­ploy­ers are tak­ing the ini­tia­tive to pro­vide sup­port and op­tions — from as­sis­tance pro­grams to health pro­mo­tion pro­grams to help keep staff happy and healthy, and more to the point, to sim­ply keep staff.

Only a year ago Syd­ney-based pro­duc­tion co­or­di­na­tor Bev Hale was en­gulfed in a bat­tle bal­anc­ing work and car­ing for her young fam­ily.

‘‘ I felt like I was chas­ing my tail,’’ Hale says. ‘‘ I’d go to work and I’d come home and I’d go to sleep — I didn’t feel like I was get­ting any­where. I never had enough time to do what I wanted to do.’’ She was also per­pet­u­ally sick. Life had be­come a stream of colds and flus.

The turn­ing point came when Hale en­rolled in a ‘‘ well­be­ing at work’’ pro­gram run by her com­pany to fos­ter bet­ter work/life bal­ance.

She started to make small changes. She changed her diet, she started to drink more wa­ter and eat less re­fined foods, giv­ing her more en­ergy through the day. She made a con­scious ef­fort to be more pos­i­tive. And she got or­gan­ised — she con­tin­ued work­ing the same amount of hours as al­ways (she’d al­ready struck a good bal­ance in that re­gard), but she be­gan sched­ul­ing things. Ev­ery­thing, re­ally. And sig­nif­i­cantly, she be­gan sched­ul­ing time for her­self.

‘‘ I’ve al­ways been a keen bike rider, but for a num­ber of years I didn’t ride at all. It wasn’t un­til I started to think about work/life bal­ance more that I re­alised it was some­thing I re­ally missed.’’ Soon bike rides were blocked out in her diary. Though the changes them­selves haven’t been earth-shat­ter­ing, Hale says the dif­fer­ence in her life has been huge. ‘‘ I seem to be achiev­ing so much more with less ef­fort,’’ she says.

It’s a phi­los­o­phy ad­vo­cated by Jen­nifer Jef­feries, a natur­opath, pub­lic speaker, con­sul­tant and au­thor of 7 Steps to San­ity , a book de­voted to the sub­ject of achiev­ing bet­ter work life bal­ance. One of the pri­mary ef­fects of stress, Jef­feries says, is to over-ex­ert your adrenal glands, even­tu­ally caus­ing them to un­der­func­tion, leav­ing you vul­ner­a­ble to ill­ness and ex­haus­tion.

‘‘ There’s no pill or po­tion that you can take to re­plen­ish your adrenals,’’ she says. ‘‘ What will do it is reg­u­lar and con­sis­tent good food, good rest and good play.’’

Pic­ture: Alan Pryke

In con­trol: Bev Hale with hus­band Rob and chil­dren Ni­cholas, 7, and Clare, 5. Lit­tle changes brought a work/life bal­ance

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