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Dealing with work stress by living a healthier home life

Michelle Gielan and Shawn Achor are happiness researchers, and they are married. But that doesn't mean they are happy all the time. In a recent period of particular stress for him, she wondered what long-term, sustainable solutions they could implement to keep stress in check for both of them.

"We're finding that the answer to helping our loved ones deal with work stress surprisingly comes from the very place that is causing the stress itself: work. Specifically, the problem in our current system is not merely that there is too much of a demand on professionals to do more with less at all hours; it's that we're failing to create a strong enough protective culture at home," she writes in a Harvard Business Review blog.

That means taking the concepts that better companies institute for laying the groundwork for positive cultures and applying it in order to create your own positive culture after work hours. By collectively focusing on strengthening a family culture, she says we give our brains and bodies a chance to relax and recover.

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Here are some specific tips she offers:

  • Get the stakeholders together: Start with a discussion of family values with respect to stress and peace. Not just spouses – the entire family should take part, discussing the type of environment you want to create. Intention is the key to success. “By identifying your values and setting your collective plan, you begin to live a life that follows it. The cornerstone to the discussion is how you’ll work together to set up an environment that supports relaxing and recharging. From our stakeholders meeting, we decided: No more work talk after 5 p.m. or on weekends, among other things,” Ms. Gielan writes.
  • Use visual reminders: Ms. Gielan gave a talk to a company where the organization’s mission statement and values were posted at the building door, placing them front of mind. Similarly, you should use visual cues, such as family pictures, a list of values and loving messages on a bulletin board.
  • Bag up your tech: In a recent study, 25 per cent of respondents reported loved ones sending text messages or e-mails to other people while they were having a face-to-face conversation. Stay present with your family by zipping your phones into baggies when you return home as a reminder that it’s intended to be a phone-free time, keeping you from absent-mindedly using it. That simple barrier helped her family get on track.
  • Be a model: From when you arrive home until after dinner, set aside time to recharge and reconnect. She calls that time “sacred” and, more practically, notes how research shows that taking a break improves productivity and mental clarity. “And if you don’t feel justified doing this for yourself, what better motivation than to do it for your family? Modeling a healthy relationship with work is one of the best gifts you can give your kids. Not only will they adopt that approach during their adult years (hopefully), but they’ll also enjoy your mindful attention during their precious years as kids,” she writes.
  • Get some happy sleep: Research suggests a good night’s sleep will make you happier, and you’ll remember fewer negative things. So go for eight hours, making it a ritual with your spouse by brushing your teeth in plain sight or turning off the bedroom lights.

These aren't big things. But she says the small habits at home with your spouse will help you to reduce stress, recharge, and be more productive the next day at work.

The three factors linked to sexual harassment

Research indicates three factors are common to organizations prone to sexual harassment and abuse: male-dominated, super-hierarchical, and forgiving when it comes to bad behaviour.

Sharing those findings, sociologist Marianne Cooper says having more women employees, particularly in leadership roles, can reduce the incidence of harassment.

"It's not that women are somehow themselves preventing the behavior – in fact women too can be perpetrators – but that male-dominated organizations are more likely to have cultures characterized by aggressive and competitive behaviors and so-called locker-room culture. In addition, compared with women, men tend to have more trouble recognizing when women are being treated in an unfair or sexist way," she writes in The Atlantic.

As well, when women rise up in hyper-masculine settings, men can feel their dominance threatened. While we have been focused recently on the solicitation of sex by male senior leaders, she says the most common form of harassment is gender harassment, such as sexist comments, obscene gestures, and publicly displayed pornography, intended to put women in their supposed place.

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Another general principle the research suggests is that hierarchy seems to increase the odds of harassment occurring. Most organizations are hierarchical, of course, but what matters is the degree of the power imbalances among different people in the system.

"A type of hierarchical situation that is rife for sexual harassment is one in which powerful individuals have a lot of discretion and a singular capacity to make or break an underling's career," Ms. Cooper writes. Hollywood first drew our attention last year with Harvey Weinstein, but we have seen politicians, professors, venture capitalists and others come under scrutiny.

The third factor, and she says the single biggest predictor of sexual harassment on the job, is how permissive an organization is of such conduct.

"Permissive organizations are ones in which employees feel it is risky to report sexual harassment, think that their complaints won't be taken seriously, and believe that perpetrators will face few to no consequences. This may seem circular, and in a way it is – harassment begets more harassment – but it also implies an important lesson: Cracking down on harassers, severely and transparently, discourages the behavior across an organization," she says.

You can use that as a guide to change your organization, or as a checklist of which organizations to avoid joining (or to flee).

The signs you are heading to burnout

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Here are nine warning signs that you are heading to burnout, according to The Confused Millennial Blog:

  • Pain, such as never-ending headaches and shoulder or neck pain that won’t go away
  • Exhaustion
  • Thin patience
  • There are few times where you are having fun anymore
  • You’re struggling with relationships, not being fully present or being told by family and friends they never see you
  • Your home and work space are in constant disarray, reflecting an overloaded brain
  • Your phone is constantly glued to your hand, so they seem as one: phone-hand
  • You have no priorities, so you can’t say no
  • You are seeking perfection, at a cost

Quick hits

Watch for gender-biased descriptions in your job ads – verbs or adjectives associated with men or women – says Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard Kennedy School. Also, limit the number of qualifications in the job description to those absolutely necessary for the job.

In job interviews, act as if you have already gotten the job. Human resources executive Meghan Welch says that when that happens interviewers will start to see you as a colleague rather than a candidate.

And another interview tip: Don't look at your watch. It's not your job to keep the interviewers on time and looking at your watch signals you're in a rush to be somewhere else, consultant Mike Figliuolo advises.

When networking, ask questions. Research shows that people who asked more questions during a 15-minute conversation were better liked.

Quit worrying about what others are thinking of you, says life coach Louise Thompson. You can't control what others think and it's just an opinion anyway.

Mark Mortensen of INSEAD discusses his findings about teamwork and how knowing what teams others are on can improve workflow Special to Globe and Mail Update
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