Workplace Flex, Digital Overload and Stress Kick off National Work & Family Month


October is National Work and Family Month, but it generally gets off to an early start as the Families and Work Institute holds its Work Life Legacy Award Dinner at September’s end.

This annual event escalates the “work life balance” conversation heading into October, but this year the topic was also engined by the somewhat infamous (depends on your lens) article in The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, penned by Princeton University Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter.

The article, by the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, raised a ruckus on a so-called “gender gap” in the work-life merge, generating a gargantuan response in the blogosphere and in the press.

The commentary blew holes in the idea of being a “super-mom,” underscored the intense nature of holding a high powered position as a mom, the workplace flexibility necessary to manage both roles at once, and revealed the time-consuming digital overload that many working moms contend with.

Slaughter said the reaction to her observations made her think differently about work-life balance as she responded in The Atlantic saying that “work-life balance is for everyone” and that not supporting the idea is just bad for business:

“If they want burnt out, stressed, uni-dimensional people that represent a relatively small fraction of the population, then they should pay no attention to the lived reality of more and more of their workers’ lives,” Slaughter said of employers. “But if they want a talented, happy, productive workforce, they need to start listening and changing.”

And that also means valuing the well-being of employees and their needs.

Transforming Stress in an “Always-on” World

That brings me to the digital overload some employees experience and the stress it can breed. I was delighted to read a post by Saint Louis Associate Professor, Matthew J. Grawitch, Ph.D., at the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program’s Good Company Blog; Instant Responding Must be Managed to Work.

In his article, the Industrial/Organizational Psychologist wrote:

“When the desire for (or demands of) constant connection start to drive our behavior, we begin to burn ourselves out. We continuously shift our attention from one thing to another, which can actually cause performance decrements.”

Dr. Grawitch goes on to say that once we engage in constant multi-tasking, “it has negative repercussions for our performance.”

I firmly believe that navigating information, managing stress and cultivating resilience are at the core of better performance at work and that’s why has evolved and spawned a new tagline: Transforming Stress in an “always-on” World.

I’m taking the discussion up a notch around stress management, and how one can use such skills to create better synergistic conditions for creativity and innovation.

I’ve been tracking work-life concerns with a focus on workplace stress for sometime along with teaching stress management skills, but I want to go even deeper into the conversations and solutions to stress. Stress is a growing concern in a complex global marketplace where uncertainty reins, and instant digital gratification has become the norm.

“UPED U” Cycle

A few years back I wrote about this in my post: Your Work-Life on Steroids; Technology Overload and the UPED U Cycle. Here’s a refresher of how the cycle works:

1. Unlimited Incoming: A barrage of information is coming our way. The internet, tv, radio, blackberry, i-phone, newspaper (not so much anymore) family life, children, work, community etc.

2. Perceived Availability: Because we’re all wired to our families, work and communities and because everyone else knows you’re wired, people think you’re always available.

3. Expectation of Instant Gratification: That perceived availability leads to other people’s needs to be attended to. They want to be heard and answered-to in real time.

4. Desire to Deliver and Excel: Our nature is to not fall short. To nurture and want to please in what is a competitive working environment. To make our boss or clients happy, we desire to deliver and excel to keep up with the Jones’.

5. Unlimited Interruptions: So, in order to please everyone at the same time, we are often taken out of the moment, are lead astray from the initial task and surrender to multi-tasking.

The stages of this cyclical conundrum fall into each other and eventually we spiral into a place where we become less efficient and productive, our attention wavers and stress can set the foundation for failure in the way we communicate, our ability to set boundaries and our capacity to nurture important relationships.

As we kick off National Work & Family Month, take a moment – to take a break. Where in the “UPED U” Cycle can you pull the break and stop the spiral into chaos. Please share your story! And also, join the discussion on Twitter @JudyMartin8