Manage Stress Through Workplace Flexibility
In this section:
- Flexible Work Arrangements
- Breaking Away is Good for You
Be a strong performer on the job. Flextime is an accommodation, not an entitlement. Slackers and clock-watchers won’t get the benefit of the doubt. Good workers are more likely to have requests approved. So your first step is asking yourself if your performance is truly outstanding. If not, focus on improving it before asking for a special accommodation.
Flexible Work Arrangements
Condensed work week If your standard week is 40 hours – typically broken into 5 days, 8 hours per day – could you perform your position in 4 days at 10 hours per day? Even if this isn’t possible every single week, you might convince your boss to consider it even just once or twice a month, which would give you a free weekday to tend to personal and family needs.
Telecommuting Instead of reporting for duty to your employer’s offices all five days a week, can your position be performed from your home one or two days a week? This would require you to have – or your employer to provide – whatever equipment and supplies are needed for your job, including dedicated phone line, computer, high speed Internet access, and so forth. This eliminates a commute and typically leads to increased productivity among already-motivated employees.
If you’re easily distracted or you don’t have dedicated space in which to work from, this might not be a viable option. Many employers won’t allow this type of arrangement if you’re using it in lieu of baby-sitting services. They want to ensure that you’re putting in your full hours even from home.
Vacation by the hour Even though it’s more difficult to keep track of time used, some employers are starting to allow workers to use their allotted vacation time by the hour instead of by the day. This enables working parents to attend school functions or doctor’s appointments without missing a full day of work. The benefit to employers is better productivity – more work gets done if an employee is present for part of the day than not at all. In other cases, employers sometimes allow staffers to convert unused sick days into vacation days.
Alternative work schedule The federal government and many private employers allow some employees to select arrival and departure times that suit their personal needs within the working day. For example, some people might want to avoid a heavy commute, while others may benefit from seeing their kids off to school in the morning. These employees are still putting in the same number of hours in the office as their peers, but they’re not necessarily the traditional 9 to 5 hours.
Access to concierge services Many employers recognize that life happens while we’re at work and they’re offering benefits that help the rank and file to better manage career and home simultaneously. Among the concierge services offered: dinner-to-go via their on-site cafeterias – to help parents who work a bit later avoid the rat-race of getting home to cook for their families, help with dog walking, routine car maintenance, a fill-in at home who can wait for the cable guy to show up, and other tasks that would normally take you away from work during the week or away from family on the weekend.
Part-time work Some women would gladly accept reduced pay and benefits to receive a reduced work schedule. Many companies will honor this arrangement for high achievers because it’s more cost-effective than losing them altogether. Some employers recognize that you already have the knowledge and training, which would enable you to achieve the same (or better) results on a part-time basis as someone else could on a full-time basis without the same training.
Job sharing This is perhaps the most difficult of all scenarios to secure because it requires the moon and stars to align in ways that aren’t always realistic. Even though some job-sharing relationships work successfully, the jury is still out on the overall effectiveness of such arrangements.
Do your research and make sure your plan can work with your job responsibilities. If you’re going to ask about working from home one day a week, how will your work get done? How will people reach you? Do you have the necessary setup at home to handle the work properly?
Research other departments within your company. If someone else has had success with flexible work arrangements, it could help to convince your boss to give it a shot too. The same is true for other employers in your area and in your industry. Those precedents can be very powerful in your favor.
If other coworkers would benefit from a similar arrangement, join forces. There’s often great leverage in numbers if you work together on a proposal that benefits your department and the company. Sixteen employees at a Texas company, for example, tired of long commutes, lack of time to pursue personal hobbies, and the demands of family life, dreamed of a compressed workweek with three-day weekends. That became the group’s goal, and it was determined to work toward it.With a membership in the double digits, their company was more likely to take their dream seriously than a lone employee’s pleas for flextime.
Write a formal proposal that presents the benefits from yours and your boss’s perspectives. This is a serious change; don’t ask for it casually. A written document is also great if your boss has to ask his boss about your request. You’d rather have your words passed up the chain of command than a paraphrased version with potential bias from any of the higher-ups. Our Texas 16 learned this the hard way: a year ago their request for a compressed work week was rejected because they asked verbally in an informal manner that clearly showed they hadn’t put the proper thought into it. This time they were smart – they put it in writing and it was successful! You should do the same.
Anticipate the reasons why a boss might say “no,” and offer counter-arguments. Before you present the proposal, figure out what the opposition might be – and address it in the proposal. If you think the boss will be worried that you won’t be available for key meetings that might pop up, explain how you’d be willing to alter your schedule as needed to accommodate such needs.
Show enthusiasm for your job and be clear about how flextime will improve your ability to do it. Be positive about your work. Don’t say, “The commute is killing me, so I must work from home.” Instead, explain how working from home will give you more time to devote to work and less stress since you aren’t sitting in a car for four hours a day. Be willing to compromise. Suggest a trial period and benchmarks to measure the success of your plan. Explain how you think the proposal should be measured by you and by your employer. You both must be satisfied for this to work.
Be patient. Even though we all love instant gratification, don’t expect an immediate answer. If your request is turned down, ask for feedback on why the idea was not accepted. Ask to establish a timeframe for revisiting this – and then be ready to go back with gusto.
Breaking Away is Good for You
A Boston College study found that employees who take a higher number of vacation days to just relax and enjoy themselves feel rejuvenated and less overwhelmed when they return to work.
Yet, according to Expedia.com, an astounding 51.2 million Americans will leave some of their vacation – an average of three days – on the table.
Barriers to Time Off: Stress, Job Security and Money
More than one third of American workers say they struggle with work stress while they’re away, so many say why bother taking time off. Instead of relaxing, they envision a slew of messages and massive to-do lists when they get back to the office. Or they use their vacation days to take care of important personal and family obligations – from doctor’s appointments to caring for children or older relatives – which isn’t relaxing at all.
Others worry about job security. “What if I go away and they don’t miss me? I don’t want to take that risk, so I’ll just stay put.” Money is also a big factor. Typical vacations conjure the image of steep travel expenses that many people can scarcely afford.
Rested Employees are More Productive
Savvy employers recognize that running people ragged and draining them isn’t a good thing. Studies have found that the total health and productivity cost of worker stress to American business could be as high as $150 billion a year. Studies also show that taking time off even reduces the risk of heart attack.
Recognize that just like a good night’s sleep refreshes you for the next day, a relaxing vacation – which means five or more days without work – rejuvenates you for doing your best on the job. Vacation is truly a necessity, not a luxury.
Tips for Stress-free Time Off
Pick an affordable destination. You need not jet off to a posh destination to enjoy time off. Do you live near parks and beaches that you’d like to explore? Can you take day trips by bike or train in your hometown? What about visiting a friend or relative with a spare bedroom to host you?
Designate a backup. Select a colleague who will be able to answer any questions about your projects while you’re away. Brief that person on your projects, where your files are kept and so on. Make sure you offer to do the same while your backup goes on vacation. This buddy system will keep your inbox under control while you’re away.
Change voicemail and email greetings. Change greetings on your phone and email accounts to indicate you will be out of touch. It’s bad business not to return calls, but if you let clients know you’re away and who to contact in your absence, they won’t feel ignored. And. most selfishly, it’ll save you from getting scores of messages filled with requests that could have been taken care of while you were away.
Give contact information to one person. Instead of telling everyone how to reach you, let one person know where you’ll be. He or she can funnel requests to determine if you really need to be bothered while away.
Set limits on work. There are some people who find being totally out of touch very stressful, yet constantly checking in defeats the purpose of a break. Make a commitment to yourself, your boss and your family to check in a limited amount: once a day, for example. Or if you have to bring work with you, limit the amount of time you spend on it – an hour a day, tops – and stick to it.