I worked for “the man” in Corporate America for over a quarter of a century both in commission-only media sales and, for a short time, in middle management. I eventually left an ample paying position with health care benefits, a nice expense account, and 401k matching to pursue a different dream – releasing myself of the golden handcuffs.
Why wouldn’t someone want to stick it out for the proverbial gold watch and the pension? In my case, there was certainly no pension; or even a gold watch. However, stress was the corporate gift that kept on giving. The stress levels rose each year with every corporate buy out or merger and with each management team’s new “vision”. Eventually, it began to cause health issues. Funny how your doctor tells you to avoid stress. Like he/she doesn’t know your job, right?
The workplace, to me, had become more stressful and less user-friendly with each passing year. Perhaps due to the immediacy of technology and everyone (outside and inside the organization) expecting results in a nano second. Possibly it is the people sitting at the corporate office in their ivory tower having to massage the numbers to answer to the Wall Street stockholders. Or maybe greed and the desire for power has overtaken the way we do business on every level.
My purpose today is not to figure out the why, but to help you with a few survival skills to avoid job burnout in this corporate landscape.
1. Use every minute of your vacation time.
Yes, there actually are people who do not. I was once interviewed by a manager who was so proud he had not taken a single vacation day for something like 6 years. I looked at him closely for signs of the inevitable heart attack approaching. I could not imagine working in an environment which frowned upon taking the vacation time you earned. Needless to say, I didn’t take the job.
Time off clears your head, allows your internal system to truly relax and gives you time to make cherished memories with family, friends or alone time. “Vacation” does not mean you have to go somewhere and spend a bunch of money. Perhaps you plant a garden or go fishing on a nearby quiet lake. The point here is to check out. Unless you’re a rocket scientist, the world won’t end, nor is anyone is going to die without you at your desk for a week or two.
2. Be kind and respectful to all employees at your company (not just the boss).
Most career folks spend 40-50-60 hours a week in the presence of a staff at work. They may be higher or lower on the totem pole, but all of them can make or break your day. I have found that respecting their positions and working as a team goes a long way to keeping the corporate engine purring along. And takes your stress levels down.
3. Work from home whenever possible.
Many companies are now creating flex time and “work from home” options for employees. Being at home typically reduces stress levels. You are in your safe space. You don’t have road rage from sitting in that morning commute for an hour. You might be in your comfortable loungewear. Your sweet dog is at your feet wagging its tail each time you look down. Since so many people now work with their computers, it is not unrealistic to work from home, even if it is for a couple of days a week. If your company does not offer this option and you have a good relationship with management (see #2), perhaps now is a good time to suggest exploring alternatives.
4. Balance work with family time and hobbies.
The most successful and interesting people I have met in the corporate world also have a passion for life outside of work. It can be something as simple as date night with your spouse or taking the family to the park on Saturdays. Or a golf group or painting class or a happy hour with old friends. Whatever your other passion is, do it. Even if you are not that good at it. The key is to take your mind off work, ignore your smartphone and enjoy a less stressful atmosphere.
5. Do not check your messages after “quiet time”.
We all know these people. Hell, you may even be one of them. They work all day. Then they work all night as the messages on the phone keep pinging in till bed time. Priding themselves on being available 24/7. Sure sometimes we have a project past deadline and it needs immediate attention. But realistically, how often does it need to be done NOW? Reserve evenings and weekends for your other passions whenever possible. Most technology allows us to set a “quiet time” to make the pings stop sounding. Your significant other will thank you. So will your blood pressure.
6. Use “out of office” Messenger when away from your technology.
I mentioned earlier in this article that people seem to want results in a nano second these days. An email is received and then within a couple of hours a second one appears, “Did you get my previous email???” Some people no longer take into account an employee may be in a meeting, or focusing on a different proposal or are driving and don’t want a $500 texting fine, for Pete’s sake. Who was Pete anyway?
I have found the “out of office” bounce back message to be an effective tool. Create a response telling the recipient how long you will be away and who to contact for immediate attention. I found it takes stress levels down when you do not have to worry about the immediacy of emails and voice mails. Obviously, it is handy for vacation time, but you can use it when you have appointments out of the office or if you have long meetings/conferences.
7. Change jobs.
What? You love your _______ (prestige, paycheck, manager, title – fill in the blank). But the dirty secret in the corporate world is your company ultimately does not care about you. They care about your production for “the man”. Will they miss you when you are gone? Sure, maybe. Especially if you took care of #2. But the reality is that you are, most likely, replaceable (with the exception of rocket scientists). So why should you be concerned about leaving if you want a different/better opportunity?
When you feel that stress coming on it may be time to make a change. You know what I am talking about. Sunday night rolls around and you are dreading the next day. You have a sinking feeling when you read your email and your manager has called a special meeting. You know it is going to be a sales “beating” not a “meeting”.
There may also be ways to change jobs within the company to a different department. That way you will not lose your accrued vacation time (see #1).
8. Be honest.
It seems we see the honesty quality less frequently these days. Honesty goes a long way keeping stress levels down. Admit your mistakes and own them upfront. Don’t try to play the blame game. Most people do not get fired from admitting a screw-up and apologizing. At my last company, I was written up by HR several times (loud music at my desk, posting a seductive photo of myself on social media, blah, blah, blah). I would love to see that file today. And laugh. But seriously, when the team knows you are a straight shooter, honest and dependable, and not sneaking around causing drama, your job will be easier to not only survive but to thrive.
9. RUN from office drama and gossip.
We have all been in a work situation where you know the one who loves to create drama. Do your best to stay away from these people or least do not get involved. They will ultimately cause undue stress you never anticipated or invited. Same goes for gossip. It eventually bites you in the ass!
10. Never lose your cool.
During personal time it might feel good to cry or scream. But in the corporate world, you are much safer showing minimal emotions. There are even counselors and corporate mentors who can help you get there if it is a challenge. The guy who often goes ballistic over some office nonsense is most likely the next one on the chopping block. Unless he is the big boss, of course. Then you are screwed and might want to put #7 into place.
Here’s wishing you the best in today’s corporate world!