We have a problem with work and need to admit it. Your physical and mental health is at risk and the place where you are spending the majority of your day is contributing to the problem. While many people are able to find job satisfaction and a healthy balance, recent reports tell us a significant number of Americans are putting themselves at risk for serious work related health problems. According to Jeffery Pfeffer, Stanford Professor of Organizational Behavior and author of Dying for a Paycheck, writes “In one survey, 61 percent of employees said that workplace stress had made them sick and 7 percent said they had actually been hospitalized. Job stress costs US employers more than $300 billion annually and may cause 120,000 excess deaths each year.” This is a major health care concern and we need to start paying attention.
Work related stress is a common theme in my therapy practice and it doesn’t have an easy solution. Quitting without a next step is not an option for most people and working for yourself doesn’t make sense for everyone. It’s also unfair. Many of us have spent years building careers and may love the work, but work culture and environments all too often do not provide the support necessary to perform at the highest level. One of the major findings of the 2017 Women in Work report by McKinsey & Company in partnership with Lean In states:
“The intersection of race and gender shapes women’s experiences in meaningful ways. Women of color face more obstacles and a steeper path to leadership, from receiving less support from managers to getting promoted more slowly. This affects how they view the workplace and their opportunities for advancement. Overall, two patterns are clear: compared to white women, things are worse for women of color, and they are particularly difficult for Black women.”
You are not alone in this and changes to how we work will be a long process. So what can we do if we are not all going to walk out of our jobs tomorrow?
WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER:
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our routine we don’t take the time review whether or not it is still the most efficient way of functioning. Quarterly, take a look at your routine and see if there is anything that can and should be reevaluated. Plan to discuss it with your team or boss if necessary. Reevaluate the things you are prioritizing to make sure they are still the most important areas of focus and haven’t turned into busy work. Explore new apps that may help streamline tasks and make more efficient use of your time.
FIND YOUR VOICE:
This one is tough depending on your role or position at your job, but it’s important. Advocating for yourself about promotions, raises, time off, trainings and additional support are necessary if you are going to have a chance at getting what you need. Even if you are told no, document your efforts so during reviews if there is an issue you can refer back to when you asked for support. If you are in managerial position or higher and see someone who needs an advocate or someone to listen to them, consider if this is an area you can help. Black women are often in vulnerable positions and don’t feel comfortable speaking up or fear the consequences of being viewed as aggressive or unmanageable. Document and save emails related to these interactions in case you need to make a report.
Yes, we hear this word a lot and have been debating what this actually looks like, but you still need to do it. While you may not be able to control everything that happens to you, you are still responsible for dealing with the results. If a hard day at work has put you in a bad mood, it’s not your best friend or partners fault nor is it up to them to fix it. Self-Care is about being able to identify what you need and implementing it. Talking to someone, meditation, candles, a long run, setting boundaries, unfollowing people on social media, a day off – whatever it is, have a system in place for whenever those inevitable life challenges happen. When not properly cared for, anxiety and stress tend to get passed on to those around you. If you have direct reports, make sure you are taking care of yourself- a healthy work place starts at the top.
PROMOTE HEALTHY WORKPLACE HABITS:
The day we stop using “rise and grind” and “team no sleep” will be a good one. I have so many memories of conversations centered on who was the busiest and who was getting the least amount of sleep. Yes, there will be moments in our careers that in order to get to the next step it will be necessary to work extremely hard and “grind it out”, but it shouldn’t become a lifestyle. The extreme negative health effects of not sleeping and excessive stress for long periods of time can lead not only to fatigue and poor work performance, but high blood pressure causing increased risk for heart disease and strokes, depression, anxiety and problematic weight gain/ loss. You can do something about it now or a health concern will make that decision for you later.
KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO LEAVE:
Sometimes a work environment has reached stagnant or toxic levels that no amount of self-care will solve and it’s time to move on. A toxic work environment can be traumatic leading to severe panic attacks, insomnia and depression as well decrease in professional confidence and self-esteem. Consult a mentor or career coach to help guide next steps. Your ego may try and stop you and your self-esteem may try to convince you it’s failure because you were labeled “the problem”, but sometimes we have to move on. Black women are already dealing a great amount of stress as the recent New York Times article on The Strong, Stressed, Black Woman points out. Not every workplace is terrible and a different environment may be what you need to grow and reach your professional goals.
Beauties, how do you manage your work life balance and not stress out at or because of work? Share your tips below.
Stacey Younge, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Sixth Street Wellness. Her private practice focuses on utilizing both traditional therapy and tele-behaviorial health specializing in depression, anxiety and trauma. She is also the Senior Youth Clinician at a community mental health center in Harlem, New York specializing in adolescents and justice involved youth. Stacey is a California native, runner and mental health advocate who is here to help you.