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This Working Life

My youngest brother has always worked hard.

He’s been a business owner for over twenty years running a small garage, servicing, and repairing cars, in partnership with his wife who looks after the admin side of things.

It’s a typical small business set up, and it has been very successful.

Kudos to all that hard work, blood, sweat and tears. Because it hasn’t always been easy. Finding and retaining good staff has been an ongoing challenge and the economic situation has put pressure on his business as customers put off getting their cars fixed.

And on a personal note, he is the one living closest to our mother who is nearby in a small residential care home, now in her nineties and increasingly frail.

The result?

He’s very tired.

The competing demands between work and family life have left precious little time for what he loves; time to drive his motorbike with his other bike-owning friends, time to go sailing with his wife on their small boat, time to relax at home or with friends, time to sleep.

His chronic insomnia adding to the burden of an imbalance of work-life harmony.

He’s not complaining, though his wife would like him to cut back a bit.

But where do you start?

Being your own boss doesn’t always provide the autonomy you might expect because you are the one picking up the pieces, filling in the gaps when a staff member goes off sick or takes holidays.

Having the perception of control over how you do your work, and how much time you spend at work matters for mental health and wellbeing. It’s the unexpected nasty little surprises that can really throw a spanner in the works. 

When your ageing mother becomes acutely unwell or one of your children is dealing with a crisis, can you drop everything to help without upsetting your customers who have their own expectations to be met?

Flexibility is part of the solution.

Whether you’re self-employed or working as an employee, creating flexibility in your schedule helps to ease any associated stress. Doing that in a predictable fashion means simply thinking through how to initiate Plan B or C as necessary.

The other component to good mental wellbeing is ensuring boundaries between work and non-work activities are honoured.

These include:

 

Technology

Switching the answering machine on at the end of the working day. You don’t take calls out of hours, but you do provide an emergency number (if appropriate).

Putting up the ‘Closed’ sign on the entrance door. Funny how that provides a clue that no, you can’t book your car in for a service now. Please come back tomorrow.

Emails. While it’s not uncommon to tackle the admin side of things, dealing with invoices etc after hours, do you ensure these don’t consume all your evenings? Do you have a note attached to your email signature reminding folk you will be attending to and replying to emails in office hours.

 

Booking holidays and leave

This is the predictable side of work. Scheduling in leave well in advance allows everyone time to work around those dates and make alternative arrangements if needed.

If urgent time off is required, can that be accommodated quickly, easily and with minimum fuss? When this is made possible, the person needing the leave is often very grateful for that flexibility because it often means that the issue can be dealt with and resolved more quickly This strengthens relatedness and trust.

Do you have permission to take time off without the expectation of being contacted, or that you will be checking your emails?

 

Rituals, routines, and rules

Starting and finishing work at the same time every day. The finish is usually the hardest but setting the intention is a good start!

Consistency in the time of starting is also about showing respect to your fellow workers and your clients. How do you feel when left standing outside the door that states the business’ operating hours and it’s already 15 minutes beyond the time of your booked appointment?

Courtesy matters because a lack of courtesy is guaranteed to put your stress levels up and shorten tempers!

 

Work less

The global pandemic highlighted that many of us have been working too hard, putting in too many hours and putting work before everything else and that this

  1. Isn’t sustainable and is contributing to the rising level of burnout and mental health challenges.
  2. Isn’t what we want. Sure, it’s good to do work that feels fulfilling as well as paying the bills, but if it’s causing you to feel you don’t have a life, the stress of your competing demands starts to tear us apart.
  3. Is a mismatch between what we’re capable of and what’s being asked of us. This is what has contributed to the Great Resignation. We’ve had enough.

My brother has taken some decisions to redress the balance.

He has set the intention to spend more time with family and having fun, and to this end has determined that the business will move to a 4-day working week from the beginning of 2023.

He’s also considering what’s next. After twenty years as a business owner, he’s ready for a new challenge, though unsure what that will be. Giving yourself permission to consider all options and explore different opportunities means you have something to work towards. This creates excitement and that enthusiasm will keep you going in the interim, to stay less stressed, and more optimistic for your future.

What are you doing to ensure you’re living your life the way you want for yourself and your family?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.

If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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