Channelising the Care: Realistic Ways to Manage Work and Home

In one of our earlier articles, we talked about working professionals, along with the struggles faced by the two genders, and how it’s necessary that we work with each other, instead of creating battles and rivalries.

Having said that, many working professionals still struggle with missing out on important events from their children’s lives. They often end up feeling drained out and demotivated as they juggle home and work, and often at the expense of the other. Many working professionals might relate with the following anecdote:

Riya was awarded the best administrative professional this month. She had thrown a little treat for her colleagues. It was an occasion to be happy and proud of one’s self. However, Riya seemed gloomy and just not her usual self. When asked if something was wrong, she revealed that although she had got the award, she had missed her son’s school function, and missed her mother’s birthday.

She was questioning her ability to balance work and family.

Sometimes, some of us are slightly lucky, with gracious colleagues and bosses who help us make adjustments. Another anecdote will throw more light on this:

Rajeev was not in mood that day, while his boss noticed, and asked what happened? Rajeev confided that it was annual function in his daughter’s school and she had participated in it. He will not be able to attend because of the urgent meeting today. To this the boss grants him two hours short leave to attend and come back, and then give the presentation at the meeting; the boss felt that since he had everything prepared, it won’t be difficult. Rajeev was grateful to his boss and quickly attended the event and returned.

Whether you are a man, or a woman, such scenarios might be very familiar to many of you. It is a sad reality of our times.

What are some realistic things working professionals can do to balance the home and the work front?

Communication and honesty:

The first step is to admit that you are struggling, that you are indeed missing out on certain events, sometimes in the home sphere, and sometimes in the work sphere. Honesty to one’s self is the first step. The pressure to be the perfect employee and the perfect parent can be draining. Once you admit to yourself that you are struggling, you can communicate this concern to your colleagues and bosses. You can also take your family and children into this communication, in fact, and ask everyone (at home and at work) what their expectations are from you, and what sort of event means how much to them. The next step is to communicate what are the things that you will be able to manage, and what are the things that might need some management of expectations from their end. Note that you may also have to manage the expectations you have from yourself.  

Once you have expressed your concerns, the next step is to prioritise.

Prioritise and set boundaries:

Some events at home could be more important than some events at work, and vice versa. Sometimes it is not even about the scale of events, as much as what the event means to someone. As you take stock of what’s on your plate, make clear distinction between what can be absolutely not missed at any cost, for both spheres. A basic rule of thumb is to communicate to your colleagues that you need to attend an event beforehand, and not leave it until the last minute as much as possible as was seen in the second anecdote.

While being polite and respectful about the communication to your colleagues, be unapologetic to that little inner-voice that makes you wonder if something can be compromised. That inner-voice might also tell you that you will be able to manage everything, and that you don’t need to say no to anything.

But you need to remember that it is about quality over quantity. It is about attending that one important meeting, where you let go of the event at school that doesn’t mean much to your child, and it is about attending the event (big or small) that means the most to your child, and letting go of that one meeting where you don’t even need to be present. You can also team up with your spouse, and coordinate as to who will be attending office on the day of the child’s event, and who would attend the event.

As you try to lighten the burden of expectations over your shoulders, the most important thing is to be kind to yourself. Letting go of the guilt that comes with missing out on something, whether at work or at home could be an unrealistic thing to think about: the guilt might stay.

But what can be done is to at least understand that the guilt is a natural response, and that it simply shows that you care. Channelising that care in the right direction, at the right time, through realistic expectations and decisions is what matters.

Conversation about Careers, Equality and Respect

Having equal respect for the variety is the key.

As Women’s Day as approaching, familiar conversations about gender and women empowerment would be coming up. While equality remains a common point of conversation while talking about these issues, it is also worth examining what are we genuinely looking for when it comes to equality, and if there are areas where we need to understand if equality is something that is the genuine need, or perhaps something more nuanced.

Respect and Equality:

The way men and women have to take up roles and responsibilities in a family setting, typically is not the same. While conversations about redefining gender roles and having a more ‘equal’ atmosphere abound, the reality is that the genders are different, and how a woman might handle a conflict, raise a child or manage her work will be different than how a man does.

Equality doesn’t simply denote ‘sameness’; it should and denotes equal respect. Perhaps, the need then should be to pay equal respect to approaches that a man and a woman might take to their responsibilities instead of simply saying things like ‘men and women are equal’. Men and women are different, with different ways of approaching personal and professional lives, and it is the differences that need to be equally respected.

The Different Approaches to Career:

Take for example the way a woman’s career trajectory is often looked at. Many times, life-stages like motherhood are considered impediments to her career! Not to mention how men are most of the times denied the importance of paternity leaves. How ‘gendered’ is our notion of a career! Organisations and personnel connected to management might benefit by understanding the difference in approaches to career, specific to the demands the two genders are faced with. An article by Harvard Business Review brings to notice some crucial points to keep in mind when it comes to questions about careers of women:

  • Pausing one’s career to look after domestic demands is not a bad thing. In fact, it is sometimes necessary and even in that pause, development doesn’t stop. Skills from time-management to personnel management are developed through the domestic duties that women often traditionally end up taking.
  • A slow pace is still progress. Say Mrs. A had a child, and in balancing her professional life, and looking after a small child, her career’s pace got slowed down. She remained in one post for around 8-9 years. Does that mean she would have no opportunity ahead? Does that mean she shouldn’t resume at a faster pace when the child has grown up enough? Does a slow pace mean a complete impasse? Of course not. A career can still be fruitful and successful, even with a slow pace. One can take pauses while climbing the ladder.

In other words, the time and intensity with which women can engage with their careers will be different than how a man does. As a result, the approach they take will also be different. That difference in approach, rather than being seen of a lesser value, and as makeshift, should be seen as an approach that is as necessary, valid and respected.

In an age of uncertainty, and of times when both men and women are faced with crises that challenge them to be better versions of themselves, it makes sense that we all act in support of each other, rather than competing unnecessarily. Variation in approaches in problem-solving, whether personal or professional, should be explored with an open mind, and a curiosity, rather than rivalry, animosity or the need to overly simplify ‘equality’. The first step lies in establishing respect for the differences.

Team UHR extends warm wishes for Women’s Day in advance!

A Different Approach to Decision-Making

Decision-making does not have to be daunting and stressful with these different approaches.

When we think about making a decision about something, we almost always think about two roads diverging. A fork in the road. A choice to make.

Metaphors like this can be very daunting and overwhelming. Decision-making as a process can be pressurising by itself. So instead of increasing the pressure with such heavy metaphors, why not think of some lighter metaphors for decision-making?

A Closet Full of Jackets:

As a conversation between authors Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferris brings to our notice in The Daily Stoic podcast, when we think about decisions, when we think about the ‘choosing one of the forks in the road’, we think going back on the ‘other’ road is not possible.

Ferris suggests that instead of the fork, the process of decision-making could be seen as a process of opening a closet and choosing the jacket you wish to put on. If you don’t like the jacket, you can always put it back and choose something else that suits your needs better. No drama, no do-or-die anxiety to deal with.

Decision-making often is actually a matter of trial and error in the process; of choosing the right jacket from the closet.

It’s not a ‘wrong fork’ you chose- it’s actually just a different jacket that’s needed! Say, you decided to change your career, and it didn’t go according to plan and now you decide to go back to your old career. Viewing that decision as the ‘wrong fork’ would make you feel horrible about the change in plans. However, viewing it as the time to go back to wearing your old jacket would enable one to de-escalate the pressure, see it for what it is- an experience to learn from, instead of an experience to be bitter about. Just a jacket to change back to.

There are More than Two Forks on the road:

Some of us would still be sceptical of this approach. What if we don’t wish to go back? Some decisions are indeed irreversible.

In that case, one more approach comes in handy- why see only a two-forked road? Why not think of the forked road like a cutlery fork- having multiple forks, multiple arrows, each leading to a different outcome? Having a sense of more choices, instead of a ‘this or that’ approach would be freeing. There isn’t just a plan B, but also a plan C, D and E.

There are not just two roads diverging- there are perhaps four or five roads, and we have the choice to weigh in our options, and then make a decision.

So, the next time you find yourself at cross-roads and a decision must be made, remind yourself that you are not actually at cross-roads and are instead looking at a process of trial and error. You are looking at a vast closet full of different jackets to try out, and you just need to pick the one that helps you combat the weather. If it doesn’t, you can always go back and change! You are looking at a road with multiple forks, and you have a broad set of potential outcomes to choose from!

Align Your Actions to How the World Works…

….and the world will do the work for you!

Question! What is that one tiny but major, basic but elusive secret to being a happy, successful, level-headed professional and human being?

Answer: According to research and this article by Farnam Street, it’s by working with keeping the basic principles of how the world functions in mind, and aligning one’s actions in that direction. Now that might sound confusing, generic and somewhat vague. Let us delve deeper into this.

Universal Principles:

 We will start by taking a very general example. We have all heard truisms like ‘health is wealth’ since ages. We know being healthy is a basic step to living a good life- everything else comes secondary. We know that without good health, we can’t enjoy the fruits of our labour. And yet, if we were to be honest with ourselves, how many times do we neglect our health in the day-to-day life? We forgo little chances of leading a healthy life. We scroll endlessly on our phones late into the night, or decide to keep the homecooked lunch on the side and opt for that vadapav.

Or consider waiting. Investments, be it financial or personal, take time to show results. We must wait a bit. We know this. But do we have the patience or willingness to wait?

Or how kindness leads to kindness, and fire leads to more fire.

Do you find yourself thinking of similar universal principles? Think principles around return of investments, savings, compounding, effort-reward, reciprocity of actions and so on.

Our peculiarity as human beings is that we tend to ignore these basic universal principles a lot of times. We know that we are ignoring, but we continue to ignore, and sometimes only follow them when we are forced to.

No one is an exception to these rules. Everyone needs to put in effort to live a healthy life. Everyone needs to wait for their investments to come to fruition. Everyone needs to put in effort to maintain and improve the status quo, whether we are talking about our professional or personal life. There are no exceptions to these universal principles of effort and returns.

Instead of aligning our actions to these universal principles, we tend to steer away from them, even when we know it’s not a good idea.

Where the Magic Lies:

The magic of universal principles and sticking to them is that once we start aligning our actions to them, the world will do the work for you.

All you need to do is align your actions to these universal principles. Nothing complicated. Whenever confusion arises, all we need to do is remind ourselves of these universal principles and align our actions to those, the rest would just be noise.

Nervous about an interview? Just think about the universal principle of effort and returns, and work on it accordingly. The rest will fall into place.

Confused how to approach a supposedly difficult client? Just think about the universal principle of reciprocity of behaviour, and approach them with a behaviour that you’d want them to reciprocate. The rest will figure itself out.

Wondering why a project seems stuck? Just think if you have waited long enough for the investment to show, and if you have waited long enough, think about the alignment that we talked about in our older article about working hard easily.  

One could also think about this in micro terms. Consider your office or field of work as a world. How does this world work? What are some ‘principles’ that seem to be embedded in its functioning? Find those out, and align your actions to those principles, and chances are, you will be pleasantly surprised by how perfectly and easily it all fits.

‘Alignment’ is the word to keep in mind. As we align our actions to how the world (and the multiple ‘worlds’ we inhabit) works, and stay true to ourselves, the world will do its magic for you.

Tips to Manage Work Related Anxiety

Anxiety is normal, and isn’t something to be ashamed about. Anxiety calls for us to tweak how we function and look after ourselves.

Have you ever felt a sense of dread or panic flow through you as you think about work? Have you felt a sense that you are constantly being judged by your colleagues and employers to the extent that you are conscious about every little mistake you make? Chances are, you have work related anxiety.

Being stressed about workload is normal. Caring about your work, and thus making sure you give your best is a good thing. But on an extreme end of this spectrum lies work related or workplace anxiety where the extreme worry manifests in symptoms such as:

  • Inability to concentrate, difficulty in breathing, tightness of chest, overwhelm
  • Extreme nervousness or persistent nervousness
  • A need for perfection and hyper-focusing on mistakes, feeling like one slip-up will cause a massive downfall. In other words, engaging in catastrophic thinking

The good news is that anxiety can be managed and one can even channelise it in a different, healthier direction. (Shoutout to an article by Manah Wellness for inspiring us to have this conversation!)

Here are some tips to manage work related/workplace related anxiety.

Create your boundaries:

Boundaries are your best friend. Creating boundaries enables you to only take up that which you can and are willing to, and ensuring you remain in your own energetic space. Creating physical boundaries looks like owning up your space:

  • Decorate your cubicle in ways that make you feel comfortable.
  • Little post-it notes of affirmations, pictures and small objects on your desk that give you emotional support- these are all ways one can ensure one’s space remains one’s own.
  • It also involves not compromising on your health and nutrition; taking breaks as and when needed, and not forgetting to eat well and drink water.

Creating emotional and psychological boundaries can look like:

  • Politely declining to talk about one’s personal life, or using tact to make sure you don’t divulge too many personal details.
  • Finding other ways to ‘participate’, when conventional ways to socialise feel too overwhelming.
  • Declining, delegating or asking for more time if you have reached your limit and you cannot take up extra work. Work-life balance is not just a buzzword to use!

Boundaries aren’t ways to be cold to people, or to push people away. Boundaries in fact can act as our own fuel which enable us to provide the best version of ourselves.

Speaking of best version…

Understand that anyone can make honest mistakes:

Being your best version isn’t about taking extra stress to be the best! Many of us put so much pressure on ourselves to be the perfect colleague, or the star performer, or just to make sure we are hustling to the best of our abilities, that we forget that mistakes are a part and parcel of life. We think a slip-up from us will be remembered forever, and its impact would be irreversible. Tell your anxiety, that the world isn’t waiting to see you slip up!

The thing is, it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to not be perfect and be on a learning curve. People, groups or organisations will find ways to figure things out even if a big mistake has been made.

Catastrophic thinking and fear about making mistakes and slip-ups only prevents us from living a fuller life and reaching our potential.

Ask for help, accept the good:

An attitude of seeing the positive in everything can go a long way in helping us cope with anxiety. It’s a blessing that as the world is changing, many organisations these days provide counselling services, and other resources to work with. As awareness about mental health increases, many bosses and colleagues are also willing to offer support and destigmatise in whatever they can. All you have to do is look around and ask.

There are multiple mental health well-being apps, digital well-being features on phones that are here to help in managing our anxiety.  

Anxiety about work is not something to be swept under the carpet, and it’s not something to be ashamed about. It’s a sign of our mind and body’s innate wisdom. Anxiety is a signal from our mind and body to pause, and reevaluate our approach to our well-being.