Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Resolutions to take the harder edges off work

Work can be engaging, social, and fun. It can also be draining, lonely, and stressful. So let's kick off with resolutions that can reduce these hassles.

Actually, let's be specific: our debut post examined how some work hassles are hindrances of no benefit. But others - often more initially intimidating - are actually challenges that can transform and educate. So our byword should always be avoid hindrances, or eliminate them once and for all - but arm yourself to take on challenges.

Reducing work-life conflict

Work-life conflict dampens engagement and increases burnout, leading to illness and days lost at work - and it can spread to affect your co-workers too. Any steps that can be taken to manage these hindrances benefit the person and the organisation. Here are some steps you might take:

1. Introduce a leisure hours switch-off policy for work technology. It's harder to mentally disconnect from work, especially when technology keeps you plugged in, so introducing a formal policy, or simply taking personal initiative to power down your Blackberry at 6pm (as I decided to do), can pay dividends. The call for more offline time is likely to increase this year, both for leisure and working periods, but why wait to put a good thing in place?

2. Give shift employees more say in when they work. Or if you're that employee, start to demand it. After all, such autonomy - allowing people to coordinate work and home activities - makes more of a difference than the financial incentives that tend to accompany awkward shift patterns such as Sunday working.

3. Lobby for family-friendly policies in science, engineering and technology organisations. In all organisations, really; but women in SET careers, in academia and the private sector alike, experience a leaky pipeline that winnows out many before reaching seniority. If you're serious about this, men could cultivate more welcoming atmospheres whereas women might offer mentoring and support to more junior colleagues.

Role-specific issues

Particular responsibilities come with particular problems.

4. Reduce bureaucracy and other demands on time for academics. For example, burnout is now comparable in higher education to that in other sectors, and particularly high in younger staff. This is an institutional problem, so those with influence might want to think about how to help them keep their head above water.

5. Offer support to those who work at the edge and defend them from internal critics. It's often an unpopular duty to work at the interface between two functions, or between one organisations and another: you end up distrusted by both home and away sides. Try and break that habit, and offer some solidarity.

Meanwhile, newly minted MBAs can struggle in the transition from conceptual classroom to hands-on management. Perhaps you know one?
6a. Apply a little patience with new managers, and offer feedback on their blind spots where possible.
If the new manager is you, remember that the climate and attitudes of your MBA class is no model for the wider world:
6b. Get to understand how your team operates and what motivates them.

And finally...

Coming out of this holiday period, I'm taking a month off from overindulging. If you're a musician, you could choose to act as a drink-free buddy for your musician peers (7). Evidence suggests the muso boozing lifestyle isn't always one of choice but due to peer pressure, boredom, and habit. Be a haven for others who might want to shift down to soft drinks and save some cash - and their liver - for a while.

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