Overcome the Stress That Occurs When Life Meets Work

This advice will help working parents thrive at work and at home

How to Overcome Some of the Stress That Occurs When Life Meets Work
Getty Images/Peter Cade

After following a standard career path, when working parenthood meets work, things can become hazy and uncertain.  Are co-workers struggling to work with you?  Could the choices you’re making damage your reputation?  How can you make things work again without feeling stressed out all the time?

There is hope, working mom.  It’s fantastic to see that there are companies out there helping shape the workforce so that working parents and businesses can thrive.  In particular, there is this company, Life Meets Work, making the business world a better place for working parents. They want to help you, your manager and upper management properly manage the changes that happen when life meets work.  Life Meets Work’s empowering business mission is to help every working person live a better life.  Sign you up, right?

This company is comprised of a team of workplace strategy consultants that help companies create work/life programs to enhance employee well-being.  Programs like this result in employees being happier and more engaged at work.  It’s a win-win for both sides!  In addition, Life Meets Work has partnered up with a team of coaches who specialize in working parents and work/life coaching that can be offered to working moms just like you.

Their ideas are being shared in publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post which is great news for us.  Other companies are reading about the waves Life Meets Work is making in the business world and hopefully, others will follow suit implementing changes for paid leave, workplace coaching and work flexibility.

We’re on the cusp of a new way of working.  There are new issues that the baby boomers didn’t have.  There are new tools available through companies like Life Meets Work to help working parents.  We are in a spot where there’s no denying that we all take life to work with us.  To help us out with three specific work/life challenges, I met with Kenneth Matos Ph.D., VP of Research at Life Meets Work, and he shared some advice the company offers to their clients.

Overcoming the Indictment of the Past

I envisioned the meaning of the “Indictment of the Past” as feeling conflicted about your work identity.  Sometimes you feel guilty that you’re not performing like you used to before having a baby.  However, Dr. Matos had a much deeper meaning about when the baby boomers climbed up the corporate ladder.

"For example, when Millennials request changes based on the desire for “a better work-life balance” they can imply that old ways of working and living were bad. For Boomers who lived by those norms this can come across as an accusation, an indictment of their past life and career choices. Since Boomers can’t relive their lives in alignment with modern norms they end up in a hard psychological place when presented with such requests for change. Allowing the change can be interpreted as also accepting the idea that how they lived and worked was flawed. Millennials and others looking to create change need to do so in a way that doesn’t force leaders to accept the implication that they were bad parents, employees or people because they didn’t live up to modern expectations.”

It’s no wonder when working parents approach management about work flexibility they feel misunderstood.  Management may think, “Well, I was able to manage things, you will be able to as well.  You just need to figure it out.”  Dr. Matos had some suggestions on how to resolve this dilemma.

“We should acknowledge that today’s leaders did the best possible job with the social, professional and technological options available to them at the time and honor the choices that now give them the power to make things even better.  If the argument for change is clearly anchored in the idea of the best options available at the time, leaders have a way to accept the change without feeling guilty for past choices they can’t alter.”

If you approach management with a work flexibility proposal, you should base it on available technology your company has, on how you can best perform your work, and how working like this would enable you to close projects quicker, resolve customer complaints, or some other benefit the company would experience.  What Dr. Matos is saying is to not make this request based on how it would make you a better parent (although it would have a positive effect) but rather on being a better employee.

Reshape Your Checklist Mindset

Now that you’re a working parent you have a massive checklist of things to do.   It feels so good to check things off your list.  The challenge is when there are so many things on that list that it's unrealistic to finish all of them.

“The checklist mindset is the idea that personal success is defined as doing everything possible. A 99.9% completed list is not a win and missing one minor thing is as disheartening as missing something important.  To complete the list we focus only on what isn’t done and rush through successful experiences, taking little pleasure in the journey or the multitude of successes achieved throughout the day.” said Dr. Matos.

To help you reshape your checklist mindset look at it from a different perspective.  What things on your list, be it professional or personal, causes you the most amount of stress?  Seriously question if the items on your checklist are really worth your time, energy and effort.

Here are five steps Dr. Matos’s suggested to reshape your checklist mindset:

  1. Write down your checklist
  2. Review the value added from each item.
  3. Label the items as A: Items that are nice but have no significant consequences for you or others, B: Items that matter to others but not to you, C: Items that matter to you and others and, D:Items that just matter to you.
  4. Clean up the list according to its letter and
  5. Celebrate each item’s value once completed.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in a sense of accomplishment and call that happiness.  But true happiness is more than a completed checklist.  If you’ve been looking for a way to find more time and energy trim your checklist and see what happens.

Manage Emotions When Under Stress and Anxiety

It’s hard to think straight when you feel stress or anxious, right?  You can suffer from the poverty of imagination, the term created by the Alfred P. SLOAN Foundation’s Program Director, Kathleen Christensen which happens when we are under so much stress and anxiety we can’t think of another way to work differently.  Dr. Matos recommends when you feel emotions like these compartmentalize them to help you thrive at work. 

As an example, let’s say it’s the night before a big work presentation.  Instead of getting a good night’s sleep you spend the night taking care of your sick child.  The next morning you decide to drop them off at daycare.  But once you are at your desk you question if you made the right choice and it’s hard to concentrate.

In this anxious moment, compartmentalize your worrisome thoughts.  In your mind pack up your emotions into a box then push it aside so you can concentrate. Then after the presentation, unpack the box and decide whether or not you made the right choice.

But there’s a tricky part that Dr. Matos wants to warn you about,

“The danger is when we rely on compartmentalizing to avoid emotional processing because it is uncomfortable.  Engaging with the emotions afterward allows you to put them into context with how well you handled the situation. The next time you face a similar situation it will likely be less stressful because you have memories of handling it and the emotions well in the past.  If you don’t unpack the suppressed emotions those memories will be of how intense the situation was without any release, increasing your fears about experiencing that event again.” 

While Life Meets Work is out there defending and explaining the needs and wants of working parents, we all need to become braver and start conversations to help change the workforce. Now is the time to be audacious and thoughtful about how we work.  With companies out there like Life Meets Work, we are on the right track.

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