Women, Work and Wellbeing

Women, Work and Wellbeing

The Health and Safety Executive recently declared that from the age of 25 women suffer more with work related stress than men and it’s by no small margin. They report figures in the last three years (per 10,000 workers) as 3960 males over 25 and 6210 females over 25 so that’s 35% more women in that age bracket suffering than men.

Having left a full time job almost exactly a year ago I find these figures fascinating. I was working as part of a fabulous team with really great management support but the busy and pressured NHS environment I spent such significant amounts of time in did mean that I regularly suffered with work related stress. Never to the point of absence but regularly to the point of exhaustion and emotional upset.

Personally I have always thrived professionally under pressure but it’s a very fine line between feeling challenged and getting regular opportunities to give your brain a good workout and feeling completely frazzled and not knowing where to start when managing workload or dealing with difficult situations.

A labour agreement was drawn up in France recently for companies that employ more than 50 people meaning that companies cannot send their employees emails after 6pm or at the weekend and that employees themselves should not be sending emails outside of core hours. Tricky to implement but a serious commitment to protecting workforces and reducing the significant burn out that occurs as a result of workplace stress.

I know several people who work for large corporations who are of the opinion that their bosses make a concerted effort to be the last one at night to send an email and the first one in the morning even though they’re fairly sure they’re often on the golf course at lunchtime. Assumptions I’m sure but is it right that in this day and age when HR policy recognises that the most productive employees are more often than not the ones that work smarter and not harder, can Managers and Directors really be setting such bad examples?

Lots of Mums talk openly about the fact that when they return to work after having children they honestly wonder what the hell they were faffing about doing at their desks in their pre mothering days. When you have to leave at 5.07pm to ensure you’re not the last one to collect from nursery it’s amazing how organised your day can become. I’ve spoken to Mums who laugh about the time they used to spend browsing the work intranet or chatting to colleagues by the kettle. When you have no choice but to cram your workload into set hours you get your head down and get on with it.

In fact a really good friend just suggested to an employer who is desperate to get her back in the job they know she does really well that they might pay her less to do fewer hours so she can drop off at school and read the children a story in the evening but they refuse to even consider the idea as it would be setting a precedent. It seems to me that if an employee is being asked to do a job due to their unique skills then their unique circumstances and responsibilities at home should be accommodated too… otherwise we’re all just a herd of cows queuing up for our turn in the diary parlour (apologies to those of you who are breastfeeding for this analogy!)

So if you’re one of the alarming number of women suffering from work related stress, whether it’s caused by your longing to be at home playing lego with your small people or if it’s because you’ve got enough work on to keep all the staff at Google HQ in Energiser Bunny mode the first step in tackling it and making some small steps towards positive change is to get off the hamster wheel – even if it’s only for a little while. If you’re constantly running uphill on an downhill escalator you’ll never be in the right frame of mind to find the root cause of the problem.

So book a day of annual leave and book it soon (if your employer won’t let you take one then explain how you are feeling, if they still won’t let you take one then you might just have to take a day off sick). Ring fence it. Make a commitment to yourself that it is not a day wasted, a day away from the family or a day when you are being selfish. It is in everyone’s interest that you do not implode, burn out or do something hasty in a moment when it all gets too much.

Spend that day (phone and other distractions banished) making a list of all of the different things that you think are contributing towards your stress levels. Break it down in to areas of your life… so work, children, relationship, finance, family, yourself as an individual with needs. Make a list of all the things that would have to change to improve your stress in that area of your life, big things and small things, seemingly achievable or completely outlandish write them all down. Those of you with a stationery addiction go to town – get your sharpies out.

Find solutions (or at least potential solutions) to at least two of the stress triggers that you have written down. Be ready for some of them to involve asking for help – this is NOT a crime!

So some examples…

If one of your stress triggers is debt then this will no doubt be having a massive impact on your work related stress as you will feel like your debt means you have no choice but to work too hard and in a job that you might not enjoy. There is no quick fix to this problem but you can significantly improve it by controlling it rather than it controlling you. So brainstorm ways to achieve that control – i.e visit Citizens Advice (book it in now while you have time), proper budget setting, consolidating debt into one affordable payment (Citizens Advice can help), speak to a family member who you think might be able to help on a temporary basis.

If your boss is a nightmare…. you could request a meeting, perhaps today while you have protected time, write down specific examples of things that your boss has done that have been unreasonable or unfair while you have protected time – you’ll never remember them when put on the spot. If you’ve already tried this and it’s failed request a meeting with their supervisor or worst case set your mind to finding a new job (keep an eye on the Maman Friendly Job Alerts for inspiration.)

Ultimately you just need to control it. Make a plan, break it down into manageable chunks and take one small step forward on the journey to regaining a positive state of mind.  If that’s not enough then consider tools like mindfulness and meditation. Fresh air will increase your endorphin release and leave you feeling calmer as will sharing the reasons why you are feeling so stressed. Talk to those you love, stick a flag in the sand and say ‘help, I need you.’ Sometimes that’s all that you need.

Of course it’s really easy for stress to spiral into anxiety and for anxiety to plummet into depression and if these tips don’t help at all it’s probably time to go and see your GP – for the most part they’re a great bunch of people who can signpost you to the help you need.

I’d love to think that over the next three years we’ll see a downward trend when looking at stress in the workplace, mainly for Mums but across all groups of employees. When you find an employer who is forward thinking and comes up with or authorises unique and original ways of championing wellbeing amongst staff, shout about them to the rooftops. In this digital age we don’t need to shame those who do nothing – just celebrate those who do something. Eventually, if we perservere there may come a time when, across all sectors, an employee’s state of mind is just as, if not more important, than their productivity.

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