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Stress and burnout has many workers quitting or suffering in silence.FG Trade

Through the pandemic, Dr. Nour Khatib has been trying to avoid burnout.

Dr. Khatib is an emergency room physician at two Toronto hospitals and has witnessed the exodus of frustrated nurses and doctors through various waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic has been rough,” she says from her car while on call. “COVID-19 just accelerated a system that was already broken.”

While there have been attempts by administration to raise morale and prevent burnout to allay record staffing shortages, Dr. Khatib says there are “no systemic changes to our work-life balance coming from above.”

She’s seen positive changes, like wellness officers hired to ensure people are not overburdened with hours and workload, but “it’s hard to put out a building fire with a small bucket,” she says.

The data is clear on work-life balance – without it, you’re more likely to suffer stress, anxiety, and depression. It impacts mental health, your ability to sleep and contributes to inefficiencies.

In a recent talk, Dr. Linda Duxbury likened the changes experienced by people in the last few years as comparable to the Great Depression and the Second World War.

“It’s about the amount of change that it’s had on our society, on us and our attitudes and values,” says Dr. Duxbury, a professor teaching change management at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business in Ottawa.

“What we’ve seen is [work-life] balance has gone to hell in handbasket for many people.”

Longer hours, less leisure time

Dr. Duxbury has been doing ongoing research through the pandemic alongside colleagues in her field. She says that one-third of the over 33,000 people they surveyed over the past few years said they planned to change their jobs within a year. With baby boomers retiring, this poses a huge challenge in every sector.

Could the remote work that’s become commonplace during the pandemic be a culprit in this wide-ranging job dissatisfaction? A study published in Human Resource Development International this spring noted that remote work was accompanied by work intensification, including longer hours and people expecting colleagues to always be reachable. Caregivers would work late after taking care of their children through the day. When engagement and productivity was maintained at pre-pandemic levels, workplaces did not consider family obligations and employees’ work-life balance suffered.

Dr. Duxbury notes that the pandemic has been monumentally more challenging for people who have to show up at work in person, such as doctors, nurses, police officers and shift workers.

At the same time, the pandemic may have prompted some people to reassess what they value in their lives.

Dr. Bryan Smale, professor emeritus and director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing at the University of Waterloo, has seen significant changes in time use and how people spend their leisure time.

People used green space more during the pandemic and placed higher value on social interactions of any kind, he says.

“That renewed level of appreciation and activity brought back a certain balance in life as well,” says Dr. Smale. “It might have been motivated by needing that break, but I think it really reminded people how invaluable those kinds of activities and resources in their communities actually are.”

Dr. Duxbury notes that it’s important we not make “sweeping generalizations” about the impact of the pandemic on people, because it may be different for every individual.

“If we keep trying to put it in a nice, neat box, then the government and employers will think it’s easier to deal with,” she says.

‘Check in’ before you ‘check out’

Tina Varughese, a professional speaker and trainer in Calgary who focuses on improving work environments through diversity and well-being, says that self-awareness can go a long way.

Taking the time to assess how you’re doing physically, mentally and spiritually can help you prevent burnout before it sets in, says Ms. Varughese.

In other words, “People [need to] check in before they check out,” she says.

Considering the health implications of neglecting work-life balance, Dr. Khatib says she’s very concerned about people’s return to the office, because she feels employers and managers need to move beyond thinking about the bottom line.

“They need to think about more of a long-term goal and about retaining their employees,” says the ER doctor.

To maintain her own work-life balance, Dr. Khatib diversifies her work environment by splitting her time in two ERs and providing health care in the Northwest Territories.

“If I worked the amount of shifts that are standard for ER doctors [15 or more per month], I would be burned out,” she says.

Dr. Khatib’s best advice for navigating work-life balance now and in the future is implementing activities, good habits and routines that help you prepare for the bad times.

“I tell people, everybody needs a therapist, especially in the good times,” she says. “In the good times, you will be able to develop the tools in the bad times.”

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

Question: I’m not great at public speaking. I get tongue-tied and anxious and never seem to be able to express myself as well as I want to. I’m great on Slack though! Unfortunately, my workplace is big on having people talk about their ongoing projects in group meetings, and I feel like I always end up looking juvenile and disorganized when it’s my time to speak. How can I get better at this when it’s just not my thing?

We asked Karen Donaldson, a Toronto-based communication, body language and confidence coach, to field this one:

First of all, know that you are normal and that this happens to a lot of people. The longer you say that public speaking is not your thing and you’re not great at it, the longer you’ll show up in that manner. You must reset and be intentional with the conversation that you have with yourself, about yourself, in your head. (Read that again before you move on.)

You need to choose and use supportive language that sets you up to win. Choose a statement that you say to yourself in those moments where you’d normally say, ‘I’m not great at public speaking.’ Simply keep it factual and supportive. For example, ‘I’m good at what I do, I know my project really well, and I’m ready to share the highlights.’ Then commit to that statement.

Here are a few other tips to help you show up with more confidence:

Be prepared and practice

Make sure that you’re prepared and know what you are going to say. Stay away from ‘winging it.’ Write out what you’d like to say and then practice, practice and practice some more. One of the best things that you can do is record yourself, play it back and correct from there.

The three concepts rule

I always tell clients to share no more than three core messages, concepts or highlights with your listeners. It will ease the pressure for you, knowing that you don’t have to remember and share everything. It will also allow you to solely focus on those three areas so you can be concise in your delivery. Most importantly, you will give your listeners just enough information to keep their attention.

Be intentional with your physicality and carry yourself with confidence

Stand or sit tall, no slouching. Keep your chin up and parallel to the ground. Smile as you speak and your audience will mimic your behaviour. If you look like you’re enjoying yourself, so will they.

The main thing is this: No one is looking for a show, a performance or perfection. If you make a mistake, so what? You’re human. We connect with people who are genuine and comfortable in their own skin. Breathe, keep it simple and show up like you like yourself, because when you do that, other people will too.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.