Managing Stress At Work and Better Work-Life Balance

Words: Vanessa Salvia

Words: Vanessa Salvia
Photo: marekuliasz

It might seem obvious, but managing stress on the jobsite can lead to enjoying life more when you're not at work. Likewise, enjoying life more when you're not at work can lead to happier hours when you are at work. Even if people subconsciously understand how this works, it's difficult to put into practice. Developing skills that allow you to leave work behind when you leave work and keep stress levels down while you're at work can contribute to better home life and job satisfaction. 

Concept of Work-Life Balance

The concept of work-life balance is not new. Recent studies have shown that the more hours people work, the more likely they are to experience more insufficient job satisfaction, higher turnover, burnout, mental health issues, substance abuse, and increased personal relationships problems. Nothing good comes from work-life conflict. When employees have more of a balance between the hours they spend at work and their energy left for their personal lives, people are much healthier and happier. 

There's no single definition of a healthy work-life balance because it can be different for everyone, but few key factors exist. In the construction trades, common problems are long work hours, unusual work hours, working weekends, physical stress, and fatigue. A 2018 study by the Associated Schools of Construction in Fort Collins, Colorado, reported that construction is one of the most demanding industries (as if there was any doubt!). Construction workers have among the least flexibility in setting their work hours. An aging labor force and declining recruitment rates also mean that contractors may lose skilled workers, putting more pressure on the remaining workforce, which is continuously skewing younger. 

Managers Can Help

If you're a manager reading this, know that you are a "gatekeeper," so to speak, on your employees' well-being. You can provide employees with information about the company’s benefits and encourage them to take advantage. You can also interact with the company higher-ups to let them know what kind of considerations your employees need. Here are some things managers and company owners can do:

  • Allow schedule flexibility for employees that need it and allow for unpaid time off as needed. Go beyond just accommodating employees with young children. Employees may have sick family members, aging parents, medical issues, or other personal life demands. 
  • Encouraging team-building, so everyone gets along.
  • Allow people to take their vacation time with no hassle.
  • Allow for short breaks throughout the day to prevent burnout.
  • Teach managers to model work-life balance. For instance, discourage managers from texting or calling employees after work hours.
  • Support safety training and safe work habits.
  • Encourage good habits like not smoking at work.

Employees: talk to your managers about implementing work-life balance initiatives if the opportunity arises. Since contractors don't have a lot of control of their schedules, the best thing you can do is control what you can control. Here are some of those things:

Wind Down Before You Come Home

You must make time to take care of yourself. Give yourself an extra few minutes after you clock out to wind down and release the stress of the day, so you don't come home in a bad mood, still wound up. Maybe that means you go for a quick walk or just sit in the car and listen to your favorite song on the stereo before driving off.

Be Present When You Are Home
If you have a spouse or children at home, realize that you coming home is probably the bright spot of their day. If your spouse is working from home or taking care of the house and children, they want a break, and they also want to see you. Give your spouse a few minutes of attention when you come home by asking about their day or if there's any way you can help. If you have children, give them a few minutes of attention too. It's much easier to get children to behave if they get some attention first, and then you go off to give yourself a break, rather than telling them you'll play with them "later."

Put Your Phone Away
When you have family time, or if you're visiting with friends, put your phone away. Give yourself this time to truly pay attention to the food that's on the table, the conversation, and the other people around you. If you have young children, this is a great way to model future behavior. When they get older and have their phones, it will be much easier to tell them to put their phones away when they have grown up watching you put your phone away at appropriate times. 

Get Some Exercise
This can be a tough one for contractors who already work so physically hard during the workweek. However, it can help balance out some of what you do all week long with different activities that move other muscles or stretch your body in new and different ways. If you're always carrying heavy loads, consider finding a local gym with a pool to float in and swim laps. Play basketball. Try yoga. It's not just for women or jocks!

Plan A Weekend Getaway
If travel is something you can do, the act of just planning for a future getaway or vacation can bring many of the same benefits as actually taking the trip. A 2014 Cornell University study reported that planning and anticipating a trip could have almost the same mental health benefits as actually taking the trip. A 2002 study done by the University of Surrey found that people are at their happiest when they have a vacation planned.

Embrace "After Work" Time

If a call, text, or email comes in about a work-related matter, and it's not urgent, ignore it. It's not rude to have work time and after-work time. If you feel you must respond, answer somehow that lets the person know you'll give a complete answer when you're back at work and have all the information in front of you. Let your coworkers and managers know that you're just not available during certain hours. If people don't get immediate responses, they won't be "trained" to expect quick answers, and you are in control of that. 

Add Good Habits

It can be difficult for people to change their habits when that means cutting out something they enjoy, like smoking or beers and potato chips at night in front of the TV. If cutting out those affecting your physical and mental health is too difficult, instead focus on adding something that's a good habit. You can still Netflix and chill, but go for a walk around the block before you hit the couch cushion. Try a different snack that is still satisfying but with fewer calories. Add a piece of fruit to each meal. Add one more glass of water before you're done for the day. Each tiny change adds up, and over time you may find that your desire for your old habits starts to change without you even trying to change it.

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