[email protected] Tips: STICK TO A HARD STOP TO AVOID BURNOUT

Ready or not, COVID-19 has dropped a workplace transformation on our doorsteps and most workers see a blurring of work and personal time. We all have a natural starting point to the day: Signing on. However, for many, the problem is signing off with a hard stop to the workday.

Just like in an office environment, chronic overwork as a daily routine creates health issues, burnout, errors, lack of focus, and poorer work quality. When work-life balance is out of whack and exhaustion enters the picture, a high-quality performance is not likely.

Why is a hard stop so hard to put in place?

Reasons could include:

1. Workers and job-seekers are still adjusting their routines and aren’t experienced in self-scheduling.

2. Working longer is one small choice that we can make to control the day during coronavirus.

3. Doubt about productivity brings guilt that translates into longer hours to compensate.

4. Some may fear being laid off if a work ethic isn’t “proven.”

5. Managers may not set clear expectations of work hours.

6. There’s no visual cue like at the office, with co-workers getting up from their desks, signing off, getting their coats, and walking out the door saying “Bye, have a good evening.”

7. Working from a living room may not feel like “real work” and two more hours makes it feel “real.”

8. Work isn’t simply just work for many of us. It’s also our personal identity, comfort zone, or passion. We might not want to stop our deep flow at an arbitrary minute of the day.

Probably, it’s a combination of the above.

To be clear, taking one extra call, sending one extra email or working one marathon shift isn’t a problem. These all happen and don’t constitute a pattern. Also, to be clear, sticking to a hard stop doesn’t mean working less than a full day.

LOOKING FOR A BALANCE

The goal is a sustainable work-life balance, delivering quality work and personal wellness. Build new habits, including a hard stop, even during this time of ambiguity. It’s self-accountability.

Some suggestions to set and keep a hard stop as often as possible:

Setting core work hours and putting them on a shared calendar is helpful. These can be labeled “office hours” for each person. For job-seekers, a family calendar might be posted to coordinate the household.

CONSENSUS CALENDAR

If some team members need to work a split shift or alternate hours to attend to responsibilities at home, it will be on the schedule, minimizing wasted outreach to them. When some co-workers sign on for late-night work, they might want to collaborate with teammates. One chat leads to another and soon several households are interrupted. Instead, support the hard stops of others and find a common “office hour” to collaborate. Some teams are being told to not sign on for the 12 hours after 6 p.m., or given other guidelines. If a manager has not discussed expectations yet about number of hours, constructively raise the topic.

CLOSURE RITUALS

Wind down for the last 30 minutes of the day by updating a task list. Cross off what’s accomplished and add tomorrow’s goals in detail. Send yourself a meeting invite for this half-hour of transition time. A team could hold a 15-minute video-call to end the day and mark progress, while wishing each other a good evening. Job-seekers can use this time to update their call sheet and targets. If it’s still difficult to sign off, try setting electronic device alarms as cues for the same hard stop each day. Start with 30 minutes before stopping, and hit the snooze to hear it again at 20 minutes, then 10.

MEANINGFUL REPLACEMENT

Looking forward to a fun activity at the end of the work shift adds incentive to stick to a hard stop. Change the day by changing the dynamic at the set time. Turn on the TV to hear theme music to a favorite show. Place broken-in running shoes prominently near the door. Invite your child to show up with your dog to take a walk. Order food delivery for the end of the workday so it’s ready when you are. These external signs are your new visual cues and rewards for putting in a full day of work or job-hunting.

Note: As a communicator writing on deadline, I’ve had opportunities to work from home that ranged from one to four days a week. At other jobs, I’ve been in the office full time. For other examples of my writing, see my online portfolio.

[email protected] Tips: INSTALL SELF-CARE IN HOME OFFICE WORKSTATION

Remote work is a skill. In this blog, I’m sharing tips with those who – ready or not – quickly joined the remote workstyle during the COVID-19 upheaval.

Home Workstation Ergonomics

When sitting or standing at a computer all day, we bring our whole physical selves to work. Sedentary work, in any location, needs a foundation of self-care and ergonomics, or body parts will let you know there’s a problem.

During my career of writing across industries, I have felt compassion for colleagues of all ages as they suffered eyestrain or scratchy dry eye from screen work. I’ve seen co-workers with wrist braces and others who needed lumbar pillow supports in work chairs. While neck pain is not uncommon, I’ve seen the most physical stress fall on eyes, wrists and spines. The positive fact is that employees got the care they needed.

My point today is to prevent as many work injuries as possible. COVID-19’s remote working started in a hurry. It caused many virtual teams to turn kitchen tables, couches and even beds into workstations and grab living room lamps and any chair nearby. The need for speed when converting home space to office space led to punting that couldn’t be avoided.

But that was then and this is now.

Easy tips to follow

In your own workday, it’s important to take routine short breaks away from the keyboard. Eyes get a break in scenery and direction; wrists get to resume a natural pose, and spines loosen up with a few stretches.

Here are practical steps to try, along with seeking medical advice or asking your safety expert at work:

1.    Eye care. Natural light is best, but the most important consideration is enough light. If glare from a screen is a problem, usually on longer shifts, prescription glasses with a tint to remove “device light” may be the answer. Non-prescription glasses used by video gamers to cut screen glare can also serve. If working outside, protect your peepers with sunglasses. Indoors, if a workspace shoots a jet stream of cooled or heated air directly at you, move. Eyes of any age can be dried and irritated externally. Also, many workers prefer a larger monitor to avoid eyestrain.

2.    Wrist care. Gel or beanbag wrist supports for a keyboard or mouse are inexpensive and provide a gentle, unobtrusive boost. Position your keyboard so that your forearms are level to it (see illustration). Hands at the keyboard should not be significantly higher or lower than elbows. Experiment with raising or lowering your chair, trying a different chair or adding cushions to sit on. If at a standing desk, use the same 90-degree angle for elbows.

3.    Spine care. In addition to using supportive chairs, watch posture. Nature did not intend us to stand or sit with one shoulder higher than the other, or shoulders hunched. A torqued, pretzel-twist posture with one knee over the other while typing is not good, either. As an exercise, try to push shoulders back about two inches to improve posture, which results in less fatigue. Push your shoulder blades together.

Cost policies

As COVID-19 has extended remote work for employed workers, the responsibility for equipment cost has become a topic.

I’ve heard the following:

  • “Employment is a two-way agreement and working conditions anywhere are a basic provision.”
  • “Those who have a job shouldn’t complain about equipment because so many are unemployed. Prop your laptop on thick books if you want to raise it higher.”
  • “Employers are saving operational costs in real estate and also saving in utilities in owned buildings. They have money to spend.”
  • “Budgeting now for office equipment is cheaper than spending later on expensive medical problems.”
  • “Gratitude for employment can’t override physical needs.”

Employers are contributing. Google recently announced an allowance of $1,000 per worker to buy office equipment. A Michigan company is offering catalog items, including chairs and printers, for ordering and delivery to employees’ homes. Large and small nonprofits in New York and Colorado are paying a stipend of $100 or more per month to help remote workers pay for home internet and other utilities. Some employees are retrieving office chairs and other equipment by appointment to stay socially distanced.

If you need a workstation item and have an employer, the first step is to ask. If you are a job-seeker or independent worker, consider the above tips and follow best practices. Self-care doesn’t require ultra-expensive equipment.

Note: As a communicator writing on deadline, I’ve had opportunities to work from home that ranged from one to four days a week. At other jobs, I’ve been in the office full time. For other examples of my writing, see my online portfolio.