Hey team! I’m taking two days off to focus on my mental health.’ Said no one in their out- of-office message. Ever. That is until Madalyn Parker did last month. And it went viral.
The overwhelmingly positive response from the Twittersphere (and her boss) suggests that we are heading in the right direction when it comes to balancing work and the messiness of home lyfe. Giddyup.
Employers’ respect for your ‘outside of office hours’ time is starting to improve. Why? Because facilitating rest periods and a healthy balance between work, family and personal life increases productivity, talent retention and ultimately the bottom line. It’s win/win all round.
But as a corporate lawyer, I didn’t have room to carve out much space for life outside the office. That was until I burnt out – both mentally and physically. 18-months later and I’m (paradoxically) much better for it.
I knew my 80-hour working weeks weren’t sustainable, but I kept at it because that’s what I thought was required of me. It wasn’t. It’s what I expected of myself. Although corporate culture enabled this behaviour, I made the choice to keep up the unhealthy habits.
Now I realise that if you want to stay productive, avoid burnout and be happy at work you gotta get a life outside of it. This means regularly making time to binge watch GoT, perfecting your downward dog, finishing a book club book (for once), saying ‘yes’ to that glass of vino on Friday night, calling your mum, walking your dog/cat… whatever it is, it’s good for you (and your employer) to unwind regularly from the daily grind.
Here are a few traps I used to fall into. Do you recognise any? You do? Try kicking these habits to the curb and get a life.
Inbox zero is overrated
You don’t need to respond to every email within ten minutes. Measure your success based on whether you are doing work which you enjoy, with awesome colleagues, making a positive impact in the business.
Answering emails at 1am isn’t cool. Don’t do it.
Chuck a sickie
It’s OK to take sick leave if you’re worn out, mentally and/or physically. The world isn’t going to implode because you’re not sitting at your desk. I promise.
Let your boss do their job
If your workload is out of control, ask your boss for more resources. This is a work flow issue. This is their job, not yours.
Train your stakeholders
If Carol from accounting sends you a task at 5pm on a Friday, in most cases it’s OK to leave it until Monday. She’ll soon learn that, unless there’s an emergency you won’t work late. No one should have to work past wine o’clock. Period.
‘Urgent’ is a relative term
Although people will constantly say that their work is ‘urgent’, more often than not it ain’t. I fell for this line waaay too many times. Ask why it’s urgent, then you decide if the reason is justified.
Apples and blackberries go in your undies drawer
In France, labor laws now give employees the right to disconnect from email as soon as they head home. So, say bonsoir to your work phone and put it in the (clean) undies drawer when you get home. This will remove the temptation to constantly check your email. Don’t retrieve it until you walk out the door the next morning. Oui oui.
Perfection is the fastest way to burnout
This quote pretty much applies to everyone:
“I do not have ducks. I do not have a row. I have squirrels and they are at a rave.”
As a recovering workaholic, I recommend embracing your own squirrels.
About Elissa James
Elissa James is a senior corporate lawyer and the founder of IrisLillian.com. Having worked in the law for over a decade across jurisdictions in Australia, South Africa, Gabon and Papua New Guinea she brings a refreshing, intelligent and light-hearted perspective on the travails of professional career women and entrepreneurs. In particular, her thought-provoking Interview Series with high profile businesswomen will have you pondering the merits of gender parity one minute and in stitches the next.