Adulting 101 will help you navigate the tricky terrain of adulthood. Jen Thorpe guides you through everything you need to know (including what you don’t yet know you need to know) from relationships, sex, work, health and money to how government and the media work. Survive and thrive in the real world with Adulting 101.
This extract has been republished with permission from the publishers.
Managing workplace boundaries and maintaining a work-life balance
Many workplaces encourage a culture of overwork and burn out. A good way to spot these places is by looking at their job ads, which tend to say things like ‘must be happy in fast paced environments’ or ‘must be open to doing work outside of the job description’. At these places, ‘I’m so busy’ is worn as a badge of honour, people send you emails in the middle of the night and on weekends, many people drink too much caffeine (and often alcohol), and there is a frantic air about the place. It’s easy to start trying to compete with others at both output and time spent on the job at the expense of your own health and wellbeing.
You may find yourself in a job environment where people are not performing, or are poor time managers or communicators, and might feel like you have to make up for the chaos by doing more and more and more, filling in the cracks of a crumbling situation.
I’ve worked in places like these, and I know that it is easy to get caught up in mob-anxiety and stress. I also know that a year after leaving a job like this, I compared my doctor’s visits and medical expenses, and there was a vast positive difference between the year in the job and the year after. Leaving a crazy workplace is good for your health.
I’ve spoken about burnout already, but I wanted to share some of the lessons I learned that have helped me move into new jobs without experiencing burnout.
First, a definite no: I no longer apply to jobs that have key words like ‘fast-paced’ in their adverts. Sure, I might miss out on a good job one day, but at the end of my life I’ll know that I haven’t put myself under unhealthy pressure to meet someone else’s bottom line or goals.
Second, I no longer sacrifice rest for my job. I have learnt that being well rested is better than showing up for millions of hours to look good or prove how hard I’m working to my self or others. If I am being asked to work late, I start the day late. If there is a rare occasion where I have to work overtime, I never ever take money for that time. I always take the time back in leave. This means that I am (as often as possible, hu man failings allowing) showing up at work as a fully rested human being, with a refreshed brain and body. This helps me to be more efficient and effective.
There are words in several languages for ‘death as a result of lack of rest’, and trying to keep working on a lack of sleep is an important contributing factor to job burnout.xix For many people in South Africa, and globally, getting up early to get to work on time is a necessary part of life. For women, it’s hard to go to bed early too, because in most South African families, working women are still expected to come home and care for and feed their families and do most of the domestic labour, leaving them with even less time for sleep. If our busy work schedules are not accompanied with going to bed early the night before, it can contribute to all those health conditions I mentioned in the Health chapter of this book.
Although working all the time to try and make that extra money might feel like a good idea (or might be something that has been modelled for you by your parents or peers), the science shows that going to work tired negatively affects your productivity, making you a less effective worker.
Third, I have a very strict email policy. Emails are a part of working life – it’s the main way most of us communicate these days. But, checking emails throughout the day can take you away from the actual work of your job, and it’s a good idea to limit notifications on your phone and the hours you spend checking email so that you can focus on getting things done.
I know way too many people who check their emails first thing in the morning, all day long, and as the last thing they do before they go to bed. If you’re expecting an email to con firm that you have come into some wealth and can now retire, then this seems like a reasonable thing to do. In any other life condition, it’s compulsive.
On my email, I have set up an automatic response that says the following:
This email policy has changed my life because it keeps me accountable to my commitment not to spend all day on email, and it sets other people’s expectations about getting a response from me right off the bat.
It works like a dream. So many people have emailed me after receiving this auto response saying something positive about it. I think this is because it gives them permission to reflect on their own email use, and to consider that they might not have to respond straight away to me either. It gives us all a chance to take a breath.
If there are times when I have a quiet afternoon and I want to spend some time knocking through emails or send ing some out, I use the scheduling tool on my Gmail to schedule emails for the next day during my 9 am to 12 noon timeframes. People who I think may need to contact me for a faster response have my cell phone number.
It might not be feasible for you to have a policy with conditions quite as strict as this if you’re working in a nine to-five, or if your job is to respond to emails all day, but you can have a personal policy that helps you regulate the time you spend answering emails. If you express this to your col leagues and teammates, they’ll know that if they need to get an urgent answer, they can call you or pop by the office. If they don’t, they’ll know that you’ll get back to them as soon as you can.
It can be tough to set boundaries when your workplace tolerates or encourages a culture where people are working on weekends or sending emails or messages to the workplace WhatsApp group at all hours. Remember, though, that this might be because their own work-life balance means that that is the time they have to do their work. It doesn’t mean you have to try and match it or be there for them 24/7. Alternatively, they are poor time managers, and it’s not up to you to be there for them because of that either.
Fourth, I have an email signature that encourages people to prioritise their mental health before prioritising whatever it is I need from them. I can’t claim to have invented it myself – in fact, I saw it on a colleague’s email during COVID-19 and thought that I’d make it a permanent part of my life. Above my name on every email, it says the following:
** Note: Please do not feel pressured to respond to this im mediately. Your physical, mental, and emotional health, and of those for whom you are caring, come first. **
This note is me acknowledging that work is not the only thing happening in other people’s lives. If the last few years have taught all of us anything, it’s that we have to be able to balance our personal and professional lives to stay healthy. I hope that this little note in my mail sends a comforting message to everyone who reads it.