Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Cure For Stress Hidden In Your Back Yard

Chapter 8: Secure Your Community Part 13

We met Sebastian Tate, the balanced achiever, in Chapter 7. Sebastian takes his career seriously, and always wants to work at an interesting company.  “I would struggle working for a company doing cosmetic surgery just to get rid of wrinkles.” For Sebastian, work is decidedly not his community, and over the years he has surrounded himself with people who share his values about the relative importance of work and the rest of life. And every August for the last 20 years, they all get together for a men only camping weekend.

It started with friends he grew up with, and has “evolved to be group of people across different companies.”  Sebastian explained that sometimes “guys want to get together [only with] other guys.”  Sure, they hike and drink beer, but what I found particularly interesting were the intense discussions about life.  And I think it was the natural setting that facilitated the intensity of the community feeling.

There is something about nature that promotes tranquility.  People have a biological affinity to become more relaxed and healthy in a natural setting than they do in an urban setting.  Sound like an exaggeration? In 1984 Ulrich showed that patients with a window facing a park have a faster recovery from surgery than patients facing a wall.[i] Since then, numerous studies have shown  that access to green space reduces stress, improves cognitive function, and strengthens the immune system.[ii]  And green areas with water seem to have a bit of an extra benefit.[iii]

Of course anyone who has been on vacation to Maui knows that an ocean view costs more than a mountain view, which is more expensive than a “garden view.”  In this case, market-defined value matches what the science suggests are the most valuable traits for wellbeing.

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[i] View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Ulrich RS. Science. 1984 Apr 27;224:420-1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6143402

[ii] Green environments essential for human health Phys.org April 19, 2011 retreived December 23, 2012

http://phys.org/news/2011-04-green-environments-essential-human-health.html

[iii] In the green of health: Just 5 minutes of ‘green exercise’ optimal for good mental health by Michael Bernstein.  Phys.org  May 21, 2011.  Retrieved December 23, 2012 http://phys.org/news191999867.html#nRlv

The Harvard Business Review Tip For The Overworked

Build Your Community: Part 12

The The Harvard Business Review tip of the day: People who are overloaded by work should “create rituals—highly specific behaviors, done at precise times, that become automatic and no longer require conscious will or discipline. For example, go[ing] to bed at the same time every night [ensures that] you consistently get enough sleep.”

As a baseball fan, I’m all over rituals. This year during the SF Giants World Series run, I listened to the first two playoff games (losses) on the radio, and then I watched next three (wins) on tv.  It was a bummer, because I was afraid to turn the radio on for the rest of the playoffs, lest The Giants start losing again.  Unfortunate, because Jon Miller and the other local radio announcers are so much better than the various clowns broadcasting on tv.  But what could I do?  I didn’t want The Giants to lose on my account.

My silly-but-true example illustrates something important about human behavior: much of what we do is driven by emotion, not reason.  And while my turning on the tv was not a ritual per say, rituals serve the same function: emotional comfort from the sameness of an activity.

Rituals are one of the ways that corporate culture is perpetuated. A primary example is the quarterly company meeting, when all employees gather to hear senior management go through a scorecard of performance, talk about what is coming up, and try to inspire employees for the future.  Employees at dysfunctional companies sometimes refer to these as “cool aid sessions” while companies like Google and now Yahoo use weekly all hands meetings as a way to build a culture of transparency and trust among employees.  (For more check out this interview with Laszlo Bock, Google’s SVP of People Operations on Thinkwithgoogle.com).

This tip from HBR is spot on, although I disagree with the overt suggestion to use rituals as a means to maintain a work-first mentality.

“Sebastian Tate,” who we met in Chapter 7 in this post, uses the ritual of the male-bonding camping trip to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

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Meet a Balanced Achiever At Work

Chapter 7: Secure Your Identity Part 9

“Sebastian Tate” describes himself as an outlier in the business world, not because of his results, but because of his priorities. Meet a balanced achiever at work.

“I never had the drive to be President or VP.  I made that decision pretty early.  [For me] work needed to be interesting.  If I’m doing work I don’t find interesting, I’ll go look for another job.  I’ve always made decent money, and I’m not an extravagant person, so I never felt like I needed to make a lot more money because I needed to have more stuff.  If for whatever reason [work] gets out of balance because you get a shitty situation, I start looking for another job, to find a situation that works for me.  I may be different than a number of people that you talk to, that want to be king of the universe.  But that’s why I’m still doing product management at 50.”

Sebastian is tall and wiry, with close-cropped hair, and a slow, deliberate speaking style that can drive an East-coaster like me crazy at times.  But he has that Buddhist calm that makes you want to listen.  I asked Sebastian if he ever felt work-related guilt.

“Guilt is something that you impose upon yourself.  You either accept it or reject it.  I always found it pretty easy to reject it.  If someone comes to me with a last minute request because they did a shitty ass job planning, and then try to make me feel guilty, it isn’t going to happen. I don’t know where I was when I learned it, but I learned to try to replace guilt with responsibility.  It’s a much healthier emotion.”

Note: This post is an excerpt from Busting Your Corporate Idol: Self Help for the Chronically Overworked, a 5 Star Amazon Best Seller in the Work Life Balance Category. Learn more.

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