Working from home in a pandemic is not shirking it

Juggling work and personal lives was a challenge before the coronavirus pandemic, but now as many are still continuing to work from home, employes are beginning to become worn down from having to manage their home life and work-life all at once. Read this blog post to learn more.


Working from home, once jokingly dismissed as “shirking” from home, is back as a pandemic lifeline for economies amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Europe. Governments in Britain and France, having goaded workers back to the office after lockdown, are now urging them home again. The sound of frustrated bosses gritting their teeth can be heard across the City of London, as big firms from Goldman Sachs Group to Citigroup pause the back-to-work push while keeping the office open.

There’s a sense of whiplash among white-collar workers, who just weeks ago were told that it was time to put the economy first and get back to their cubicles and open-plan desks. There should also be palpable relief. Being able to pull in a salary while safe at home is a privilege hospital staff, care workers and supermarket cashiers can’t have.

Still, we know from the first wave of lockdowns that those stock images of remote workers logging on from bed with a smile and tousled hair, or of barefoot parents deftly bouncing toddlers on their knee while firing off an email, are a fantasy. While surveys suggest working from home is popular among employees crushed by the grind of the daily commute, the grumbling of CEOs that productivity and company culture are vulnerable isn’t entirely wrong.

The mass push to work from home earlier this year was unprecedented. It represented an estimated 42% of the U.S. labor force (or more than two-thirds of economic activity when weighted by contribution to GDP), but it had drawbacks. The apparent productivity gains of being at home instead of on the subway began to look more like the result of a steadily lengthening work day, according to multiple network operators, rather than supercharged efficiency.

Juggling Zoom calls and childcare made matters far worse, one reason governments in Europe put so much emphasis on reopening schools this fall. “We are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days,” Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom said in March as he warned of a looming “productivity disaster.” He’s usually much more positive: His past research has linked working from home to a 13% rise in performance and a 50% drop in employee departure rates.

While corporate bean counters dream of one day dumping costly commercial real estate for digital offices in the cloud, the reality of the cost of living in big cities means home offices aren’t up to scratch.

More than half of Americans working from home do so from shared rooms or bedrooms; more than one-third have poor internet connections or none at all. A June survey of Japanese workers found that even among early adopters of remote work, only a third found it more productive than working in the office, citing poor equipment. Deutsche Bank AG’s monthly survey of financial-market professionals found their assessment of whether they were on balance more productive or less productive at home declined from 20% in June to 11% in September. (It had plunged to -13% in April as everyone was forced home full-time all at once.)

That’s the short-term assessment. We don’t yet have evidence of mass remote work’s impact of longer term on company productivity, but the current outlook is mixed at best. It’s hard to see how the field of research and development — already being thinned out by recession-related cuts — is going to win out in this environment.

Given there’s little freedom right now to create a hybrid model combining office and home — the preferred option for the majority of workers surveyed at French carmaker PSA Group, for example — bosses should do more to make the work-from-home experiment palatable and safe for all involved. Subsidizing utility bills, workspace equipment like ergonomic chairs, and even expenses such as rent (as one Swiss firm was ordered to do in May) would increase satisfaction. Managerial habits should also change, with more trust given to employees, if companies are serious about attachment to “culture.”

The right to disconnect, which had begun to spread worldwide before the pandemic, is critical. The output gains of remote work come from contented and engaged workers, not the cheaper transaction cost of being able to hire, fire and manage via the Internet.

None of this is to idealize the world of physical offices, so easily skewered by the likes of Scott Adams’s Dilbert. And complaining about neck pain, or bosses constantly “checking in” online, might ring hollow to medical staff and delivery drivers who are on the frontlines. But given remote work is now such a critical lifeline for the economy, it would be a shame to let the current experiment fail as others have before. Choosing between your job and your health is a grim trade-off, and one that really shouldn’t exist in a pandemic like this one.

SOURCE: Laurent, L. (25 September 2020) "Working from home in a pandemic is not shirking it" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/articles/working-from-home-in-a-pandemic-is-not-shirking-it


How to Leave Work at Work

Bringing work home after a workday is a common factor that disrupts family time, and even causes more mental stress.  In order to maintain a work-life balance, it's important to know that there is a way to leave your work life, at work. Read this blog post to learn simple tips on how to keep a healthy balance between work and home-life.


Some jobs have very clear lines between when you’re “on” and when you’re “off,” while in others the lines are blurred — or potentially nonexistent. That makes not being distracted by work, especially mentally, a major challenge.

This can lead to sitting at dinner while your daughter tells a story about her day, but instead of hearing her you’re wondering whether an email from your boss came through. It can mean exchanging the time you could have spent on sleep, exercise, or talking with your spouse glued to your laptop. And it can look like keeping your work life in order, while your finances or home are a mess because you don’t take time to pay bills, plan for retirement, or tidy up.

As I shared in my article on boundaries, what is possible can vary depending on your particular job, work culture, and coworkers. But in most cases, you can reduce how distracted you feel by work during times when you’re not working.

As a time management coach, I’ve found these four steps can help. I encourage you to challenge yourself to gradually implement these changes and see how much you can leave your work at work — both physically and mentally — in 2020.

Step 1: Define “After Hours”

If you have a traditional 9-to-5 job, your hours are set for you. But if you work in an environment with flexible hours, you’ll need to think through when you want to be on and off the clock. If your employer has a certain number of hours that you’re expected to work each week, start by seeing how to fit those hours around your fixed personal commitments, like taking your kids to school or extracurricular activities, making a certain train, or attending an exercise class you really enjoy. When do you need to start and stop to put in the proper work time?

On the other hand, if your company doesn’t have a specific amount of time that you need to work — say, you freelance or have a results-only work environment — but your job still takes over almost all of your waking hours, take the reverse approach. Think through how many hours you want for activities like sleep, exercise, family, friends, cleaning, finances, etc. Then see how much time you need to reserve on a daily and weekly basis to fit in those personal priorities. That then defines the parameters of when you want to be “off hours.”

Step 2: Have Mental Clarity

Next, make sure you have mental clarity on what needs to get done and when you will complete it. This includes having a place where you write down the many tasks that you need to do, whether that’s in a notebook, a task management app, a project management system, or in your calendar. The important point is that you’re not lying in bed at night trying to remember everything on your mental to-do list.

Then once you have this list, plan out your work. That could mean setting aside time in your schedule to work on a report in advance, putting time in your calendar to prep for your next day’s meetings, or just plotting out specific hours that you will reserve for getting your own work done versus attending meetings or responding to other people’s requests. This planning reduces anxiety that something will fall through the cracks or that you’ll miss a deadline.

The final part of increasing your mental clarity is to have an end-of-workday wrap-up. During this time, look over your daily to-do list and calendar to make sure that everything that absolutely must get done — specifically, those tasks that had a hard deadline — were completed. You also can do a quick scan of your email to ensure any urgent messages are attended to before you leave the office. For some people, it works well to do this as the last thing they do that day, say 15 to 30 minutes before heading out. For others, it’s better to put a reminder in their calendars for an hour or two before they need to leave. This gives them a more generous time period to wrap items up.

Step 3: Communicate with Your Colleagues

In some job situations, you can set a definite after-hours boundary like, after 6 pm, I’m offline. But in other situations, the lines are much blurrier.

For those in situations where you can have a clear dividing line between work and home, I would encourage you to directly communicate that with your colleagues. For example, you might say, “I typically leave work at 6 pm, so if you contact me after that time, you can expect to hear back from me sometime after 9 am the next business day.” Or in some cases your actions can simply set that tone. If they never hear from you between 6 pm and 9 am, that will set the expectation that you’re not available.

But for others, who have jobs that require more constant connectivity, you may want to set some guidelines to control how people reach you, thereby reducing unwanted interruptions. For example, you could say, “It’s fine to text me during the day with questions, but after 6 pm, please send me an email instead of a text unless the situation is truly urgent.” Similarly, if you have a very flexible schedule where you take extended breaks during the day for things like going to the gym or picking your kids up after school, encourage people to reach out to you in specific, preferred ways that you establish. For instance, “There are some times during the day when I may be away from my computer. If you need a fast response, call or text me.” In these scenarios, you’ll know that only the most important work will take you away from your personal or family obligations via an urgent call or text, and you can turn your attention to non-urgent work once you have the bandwidth.

Step 4: Get Work Done at Work

It may seem crazy to say this, but I want to encourage you to give yourself permission to do work at work. For many, they perceive “real work” as something they reserve for post-5 or 6 pm, after everyone else has left the office or for after they’ve tucked their kids in bed for the night. People have this mindset because this time can seem like the few precious hours where no one is dropping by your office or asking you for anything immediately. But if you want to stop feeling distracted by work after hours, you need to actually do your work during the day.

Completing the actions under the mental clarity step will take you a long way forward in that process. Really guard your time. Put in time for project work. Place time in your calendar to answer email. And if follow-through requires going to a place other than your office to work, do it. Make and keep meetings with yourself to knock off tasks. It’s exceptionally difficult — if not impossible — to not be distracted about work when you’re stressed out because you haven’t gotten your work done.

And if you must (or want to) do some work outside of your standard day, make sure that you timebox it. For example, I will work from 8-9 pm tonight then stop. Or, I’ll put in three hours on Saturday from 1-4 pm, but then I won’t think about work before or after. It’s much better to designate a time and stick with it than it is to think about work all night or all weekend and do nothing.

As individuals, we need a mental break to do our best work, and taking time for ourselves — without the distraction of work — can help us become our best selves. I can’t guarantee that thoughts about work will never cross your mind, but with these four steps, you can reduce how much you’re distracted by work after hours.

 

SOURCE: Saunders, E. (03 February 2020) "How to Leave Work at Work" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/02/how-to-leave-work-at-work


Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?

Different seasons can bring in long hours, extensive work, and multiple deadlines that require a lot of attention. Are you pushing yourself too hard? It is important to know the difference between a temporary work crunch and an everyday "norm". Read this blog post for a few key signs of pushing too hard at work.


We all have intense periods at work where multiple deadlines converge, an important deal is closing, or a busy season lasts for a few months. During these times, we may work more intensely or longer hours, but we know that the situation is temporary, and we are able to keep work in perspective. Conversely, approximately 10% of Americans are considered workaholics, defined as having a “stable tendency to compulsively and excessively work.” Whether you are in the midst of a temporary work crunch, or if working all the time is your version of “normal,” there are some key signs that you are pushing yourself too hard. These include:

You aren’t taking time off.  Consistently putting off vacations (including working over major holidays), regularly working all weekend, or dismissing the idea of an occasional day off is a sign that you are burning the candle from both ends. While only 23% of Americans take their full vacation time allotted, studies of elite athletes show that rest periods are precisely what helps them to perform at full throttle when needed, and the same is true for the rest of us. While extended vacations are helpful, smaller breaks, such as taking the weekend to recharge, carving out personal time in the evening, or having an occasional day off can also be an important part of having sufficient downtime to restore your energy and counter the drain of being “always on.”

You deprioritize personal relationships. When we focus exclusively on work for extended periods, it often comes at the expense of our personal relationships. During 2018, 76% of US workers said that workplace stress affected their personal relationships, with workaholics being twice as likely to get divorced. Not taking time to connect with friends and family can also be detrimental to our health. Research shows that strong social relationships are positively correlated to lifespan and that a lack of social relationships has the same effect as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. If you are not taking time outside of work to connect socially with others and have become increasingly isolated, such that social invitations have dried up because others assume you are not available, chances are you are too focused on work.

You’re unable to be fully present outside of work. Another sign you are pushing yourself too hard is that when you do leave the office and take time to be with the people you care about, you are not able to mentally turn work off and be present with them. In 2017, 66% of Americans reported working while on vacation. Jeff, a former client of mine who is a senior partner at his law firm, has never gone on vacation without his laptop. In addition, after making a point to spend time on the weekends to connect with his daughter, he confessed to constantly thinking about work and admitted that he couldn’t help but compulsively check email on his phone every few minutes. While it’s normal to think about work periodically, it becomes a problem when we’re not able to manage our urge to give into work-related distractions, slowly eroding our most important relationships. In his book, Indistractable, author Nir Eyal points out that these distractions make the people we care about “residual beneficiaries” of our attention, meaning they get what is left over, which typically not very much.

You’re neglecting personal care. This is not the occasional skipping a shower when working from home in your sweatpants. Failing to get sufficient sleep, missing meals or existing on a diet of coffee and energy bars, or abandoning exercise or personal hygiene for extended periods are all indications that you are in an unhealthy pattern of behavior. In particular, when we sacrifice sleep for work, we are effectively working against ourselves, as sleep deprivation is shown to impair higher-level cognitive functions including judgment, critical thinking, decision making, and organization. Likewise, skipping exercise puts us at a further disadvantage. Exercise has been shown to lower stress, improve mood and energy levels, and enhance cognitive function, such as memory, concentration, learning, mental stamina, and creativity. As a former investment banker who worked 80- to 100-hour weeks during more intense periods, taking breaks to exercise, eat, and even nap in one of the sleeping rooms provided onsite was critical to maintaining my health, stamina, and productivity.

You see your value as a person completely defined by work. Failure to see a broader perspective, both in terms of how you see your value as a person as well as how you see the importance of work relative to the rest of your life, can be a sign that you are pushing yourself too hard. This myopia is usually driven by deeply held limiting beliefs that create a contracted worldview. Elisa, the head of engineering at a tech company, pushed herself and her team incredibly hard. Her behavior was driven by a belief that “My value is what I produce.” To broaden her perspective, she asked others she respected about what they valued about her, as well as how they valued themselves. She was able to see not only that people valued her for other things like being a good friend, parent, or thought partner, but also that they defined their own value more broadly than their work. Sometimes, it takes a big life event, like the birth of a child or the death of a colleague or loved one, to shake someone out of this restricted perspective. Another way to broaden your perspective in the absence of these events is to have interests outside of work, which can be a good reminder that work isn’t everything.

While we all need to shift into high gear from time to time, keeping work in perspective with the rest of our lives, and taking care of ourselves and our relationships are key to achieving long-term success, both personally and professionally.

SOURCE: Zucker, R. (03 January 2020) "Are You Pushing Yourself Too Hard at Work?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/01/are-you-pushing-yourself-too-hard-at-work


6 tips to balance your work, family time

Climbing the career ladder as a bachelor or bachelorette is challenging enough, but having a partner or loved ones at home can add a significant level of complexity and even some guilt. There are a few ways to help manage the constant balance.

Drop Multitasking

It may be tempting to get on a work call while you are playing with your kid or out with your spouse, but the act makes you less present for your family and your client. Instead, whenever possible, choose which one you want to focus on at that moment.

Only Make Commitments You Can Keep

Stay honest in what you are capable of, as family needs sometimes will trump work needs, and vice versa. Frank conversations are easier than broken promises, particularly if you respect that both your family and your work are of equal importance and that which takes precedence depends not just on your values, but on the circumstances of the moment.

Build in Work into Vacations

It is counterintuitive, but consider setting aside an hour or so during family days or vacations to get work done. The thoughtful act puts you on the offensive (choosing your time) rather than the defensive (worrying about getting away), raises your chances of actually being productive and allows you to get the work out of the way so you can be completely focused on your loved ones later.

Know Your Family Absolutes

Most loved ones or families have absolute priorities, like always eating dinner together or always attending a partner’s event. Discussing and establishing the non-negotiables allows you to know the boundaries and creates a level of flexibility around the less important activities.

Separate Temporary From Permanent

A month of late nights and early mornings is different than a five-year career-only focus. Honestly look at the pattern of your work at the moment, assess where things are headed and avoid panicking over what could be a short-term imbalance.

Explain Your Work to Loved Ones

It can be easier to keep work at work, but try sharing some details of your current career track with your family. Even the youngest members or the least experienced loved ones may give empathy and perhaps will show more flexibility in their own needs after they better understand why you are struggling with balancing everything in your life.

 

You can read the original article here.

Source:
Brown D. (25 September 2017). "6 tips to balance your work, family time" [Web blog post]. Retrieved from address http://workwell.unum.com/2017/09/6-tips-balance-work-family-time/


Work-life balance study offers model for success

Originally posted May 16, 2014 by Dan Cook on www.benefitspro.com.

Work-life balance is out of balance in the United States, and it extracts a toll both on the job and at home. An oft-referenced 2010 survey starkly revealed how out of whack work-life balance is. Since, there’s been no evidence that it’s improved, despite the amount of discussion the subject generates.

But a recent controlled study that examined the effect of giving employees more say in their work schedule indicates that such an approach to addressing the issue could provide quantitative and qualitative benefits to employers.

The study involved 700 employees of a Fortune 500 IT corporation. Designed and conducted by two University of Minnesota researchers, the study offered half the participants considerable control over their work schedules. The other half put shoulder to the wheel in the “normal” fashion, the researchers said — meaning they let the boss set their schedule and simply followed through.

The upshot, according to the study: “Workplaces can change to increase flexibility, provide more support from supervisors, and reduce work-family conflict.”

The study revealed “significant improvements” in how the schedule-controllers reported feeling about life on the job and at home during the six-month study period.

“Not only did they have a decrease in work-family conflict, but they also experienced an improvement in perceived time adequacy (a feeling that they had enough time to be with their families) and in their sense of schedule control,” the study said.

Those who benefited the most from the additional schedule control were working parents and employees who said their bosses didn’t support work-life balance prior to the study. On average, the schedule controllers worked about an hour less a week than their counterparts, and they continued to be as productive as they had been prior to the study.

“There was no evidence that this intervention increased work hours or perceived job demands,” the researchers said.

In a news release, the researchers, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly, claimed that their work offered corporations a path toward enhancing employees’ lives without risking lost productivity. Too, they said, it would be important to establish a formal work-life balance program as opposed to the types of informal, case-by-case work-life balance experiments many companies have dabbled in.

“Work-family conflict can wreak havoc with employees’ family lives and also affect their health,” said Rosalind King, of the Population Dynamics Branch at the National Institutes of Health. “The researchers have shown that by restructuring work practice to focus on results achieved and providing supervisors with an instructional program to improve their sensitivity to employees’ after-work demands, they can reduce that stress and improve employees’ family time.”


3 goals for work-life balance

Originally posted April 29, 2014 by Brian Tracy on http://www.lifehealthpro.com

Just as a wheel must be perfectly balanced to rotate smoothly, your life must be in balance for you to feel happy and effective. To achieve a good work-life balance, you must tend to these three types of goals:

1.    Goal setting for your business and career (What do you really want?) The first category of goal includes business, career and financial goals. These are the tangible, measurable things that you want to achieve as the result of your efforts at work. These are the ‘‘whats’’ that you want to accomplish in life.

When you go about setting goals for your business and career, you must ensure that they’re tangible. You must be absolutely clear about how much you want to earn, and in what time period you want to earn it. You must be clear about how much you want to save, invest and accumulate, and when you want to acquire these assets. Remember, you can’t hit a target that you can’t see.

2.    Your purpose in achieving your goals. (Why do you want to achieve your goals?) The second goal category consists of personal, family and health goals. In reality, these are the most important goals of all in determining your happiness and well-being. These are called the ‘‘why’’ goals because they are the reasons you want to achieve your business, career and financial goals. They are your true aim and purpose in life.

Many people become so involved with their careers and financial goals that they lose sight of the reasons why they wanted financial success in the first place. They get their priorities mixed up. As a result, their lives get out of balance. They start to feel stressed and become angry or frustrated. No matter how hard they work to achieve their business and financial goals, they don’t seem to enjoy any more peace, happiness or satisfaction.

What they need is to bring their goals back into the right order and realize that work and financial goals are a means to an end—which is enjoying family and relationships. They are not the ends in themselves.

3.    Personal development goals. (How do you achieve your goals?) The third type of goal centers on professional growth and personal development. These are the ‘‘how’’ goals. Goal setting, learning and practicing new skills and behaviors are how you achieve the ‘‘what’’ in order to enjoy the ‘‘why.’’

By working to improve yourself, you can become the kind of person who is capable of achieving your business, career and financial goals. Your personal, family and health goals will come faster and more easily.

By working on these three types of goals simultaneously, you can maintain a healthy work-life balance while continuing to move onward and upward.


Job satisfaction beats salary

Workers willing to exchange money for being happy on the job

Originally posted by Andrea Davis on http://ebn.benefitnews.com

Even in the face of a turbulent economy and competitive job market, 68% of working Americans would be willing to take a pay cut to work in a job that better allowed them to apply their personal interests to the workplace. Moreover, almost one-quarter of workers (23%) would take a pay cut of 25% or more. The results come from a survey of 1,000 working Americans conducted by Philips North America. (see the infographic on page 41 for more survey results.)

Old paradigm gone

"Seven percent were willing to take a 50% pay cut. That's a life changing number but it's something people were willing to give up to have a career opportunity that was really consistent with their passions and goals," says Russell Schramm, Philips' head of talent acquisition for the Americas. "The whole paradigm of getting your degree, getting a job, making money regardless of what you're doing, is gone."

Forty-eight percent of workers who are able to leverage personal interests in the workplace say they are very satisfied, according to the survey.

"In talent acquisition, we talk a lot about what makes a person accept a position or leave a position and we're seeing, more and more, that meaningful work and work that is relevant to them and their personal passions is becoming more prominent," says Schramm, adding that one of his biggest challenges is being able to identify those personal passions and interests in the candidates who come in for interviews.

"Empowering my team to look at not just what's on the résumé, but [to] look at beyond what's on the résumé [is important]," he says. "What is the motivating driver? What is this person interested in? How are they going to apply that to Philips?"

Talent acquisition is rapidly shifting, he says, "from a transactional, requisition-based process to a much more qualitative process where we're looking for people with a deeper set of skills above and beyond the hard skills that are just required to do the job."

Career path regrets

Forty-one percent of those who don't apply personal interests through their work regret their career path, whereas only 23% of workers who are able to do so regret theirs. More than half (51%) of those surveyed have never changed career paths to integrate their work and personal life in a more meaningful way.

"The survey was our way of understanding what motivates people in the labor market," says Schramm, of the reasons for conducting the survey. "We wanted to understand some of those things that really drive talented individuals in the labor market so we could develop and deliver a workplace reality that would be attractive to those folks."