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Finding Peace - Occupational Wellness

Many of us find our identity in our occupation. Wow – this has changed during these past couple of months – while we find ourselves doing laundry and making meals between zoom meetings with work. This doesn’t make one activity more important than the other, as all of them need to get done. It was easier to separate “home - work” from “work - work” when there were two different locations but working from home requires more organization and discipline to separate the two.

There are many people who love their jobs! They go to work knowing that they are accomplishing their goals and achieving success. This sense of wellness measures their capacity to give back and make contributions in a professional setting, but also to the community as a whole.

We’ve heard of many first responders who take pride in their position to serve and protect. There are many who go over and above their role, just because they love their job and are committed to performing their duties and responsibilities with care.

Some people love their jobs so much that the benefit is often over and above the rewards they receive such as a salary, promotions, health benefits and paid vacations. These people need to be careful to budget their time to avoid over-extending themselves and reaching burn-out. I once had a job I loved, and worked between 50-60 hours/week. I didn’t get any payment for a lot of what I was doing, but loved it. Unfortunately, I ended up with my stress level so high I needed to take time off work.

In recent years, work has changed. Often management will expect their employees to answer calls, texts and emails on their phones after hours. This means that staff are always on call, and never really “off” work. We’ve seen over the past few weeks that a lot of this correspondence could have waited until the next day. It’s hoped that this habit can change as it extends the work week, and reduces the actual time off and to see time off as a necessity to relax and enjoy life.

During this covid19 crisis, many people have been sent home to work as offices have been shut down. It’s important to realize that you aren’t “working from home”, you’re “at home working”. It’s different. You’ve been adapting to a new office – which could be your dining room table shared with a school aged child who is attempting to learn their lessons. You could be sharing a home office with a spouse who is also “at home working”. Lots of distractions, lots of new stress. You don’t necessarily have all of the resources you need. You don’t have your co-workers to brainstorm ideas and keep the focus on your department or business. It becomes easy to lose focus.

Maybe you can see that you aren’t getting as much work completed as when you were in your office. What once took 8 hours to do, now takes 10 hours. But that doesn’t mean that you should be working 10 hours! Many things have changed, and your life is already experiencing enough stress.

So, what is it about your job that you love? What have you discovered that you don’t like? When you return to your usual work environment, is there anything that you can change? For example, maybe you’ve noticed that you’re enjoying the online and/or administrative tasks in your job description. Could these duties be adjusted when you return? Is it possible to work from home?

Maybe you’ve discovered that with distance from some of your co-workers that you’re feeling better – physically and emotionally. Could your desk be moved? Could you transfer to a different department? Could you remove yourself from the committee that is increasing that stress level?

Perhaps your routine had gotten into a rut, but now your time management skills are being challenged and you’re noticing how the old routine can be improved.

Time away from people and your job will also show you what you love! With this break, we may realize that we appreciate the people we’ve been working with. They are part of your work community.

Maybe you’ve been able to work from home in a quiet environment. But it’s too quiet. Your office buddies are your friends, and now life is just .. too .. quiet.

Or maybe you're able to work at home, but with no day care available life is just .. too .. noisy!

Some people have quarantined themselves away from families. Some are going to work in an unsafe environment with a heightened stress level and unhappy clients. Lots has changed.

Are you working on the front-line? What a challenge that must be to face clients, patients and families with changing health regulations. Working in fear that you may be the one to bring the virus to work with you produces additional stress. Or on the frontline in the stores, with some customers being demanding and unfriendly while you are trying your best to keep shelves stocked. Some offices remained open due to being essential services. With a plexiglass window separating people, life has begun to feel impersonal. Truckers, sanitation crews, drive-thru restaurant windows, banks … many businesses have had to make major changes in how to serve the public. And that has meant major changes for everyone.

As much as a healthy occupation empowers and nourishes your sense of worth, contribution and efforts, there are also toxic work environments that can be dangerous! We just hadn’t been aware of the difference until now.

Perhaps you’ve found it refreshing being apart from certain co-workers who criticized or undermined your efforts, or maybe you’ve missed the ones who offered encouragement in the days when things were tough and you realize that they’ve been a bigger part of your life than you recognized. If you’re an extrovert working at home alone, this isolation time will be extra challenging. Connecting through zoom and facetime to coordinate meetings will help.

Maybe you’ve noticed that your stress level has decreased significantly, and you’re finally able to sleep again. Was your work environment toxic and causing you negative health?

Many times, people come to work and leave home at home. They haven’t been able to do that now. Interwoven into their days has been the stuff of life. There’s still the teenaged son who has addiction issues, or the ones who are just arguing to go out and see their friends. There’s the grandma who is living in a nursing home we’re all worried about and have been attempting to visit through a window. The toddlers are running and playing and SO glad to see you at home! And you’re trying to keep the peace as well as finish that work project.

For some – home isn’t safe. Your co-worker may be living with an abusive partner but managing life with time separated because of work. Now this couple has been isolated together, leaving a new level of vulnerability. Attempting to get work completed may be a monumental feat to accomplish. We don’t always know what is happening behind closed doors.

Maybe you were laid off due to covid19. It’s a challenging time, and you may want to rediscover what your strengths are, what your interests are, and your career goals. Perhaps your job was stifling your creativity and this is a new opportunity to look elsewhere. Or maybe its time for a complete change. New doors will open when the old doors have shut. Sometimes we stay in an unfulfilling job out of habit and fear, and this is just the opportunity that you needed. Take time to check out some courses, even online, and you may be able to launch an entirely different career for yourself!

As a manager, this time is unprecedented. There are no words to describe what we’re feeling or how we’re thinking. Many don’t think they’re reacting, but deep down, everyone knows things have changed.

Do you manage? Or do you lead? Right now, many need a strong leader to guide the others into the new work day.

How do you plan to lead your team? Perhaps it would be a good idea to do some team building. Be patient with your people. Lead with compassion, as they will have been doing their best.

As we learn to become adaptable, we recognize the detours in life. Travelling a different route allows us to see things and hear things differently, that we missed when life was on autopilot. How has your staff experienced the changes in view and perspectives during these past months?

What did your staff determine to be their strengths during this time? We know that many managers have been working all along trying to get the job done without some of the staff, getting the necessary resources to their staff to allow them to work at home and are now planning for their return. All are essential jobs to keep the economy going.

As a leader, you may need to encourage your team as they regain their sense of connectedness. Much has changed, and transition isn’t easy.

What could be some stress releasing self-care / community care suggestions for your workplace?

As the weeks pass, and we make plans to return to our “new normal” let’s have patience for each other. As part of a team, all jobs are essential in order to contribute to our companies, agencies and communities.

I heard that it’s the same storm for everyone. But it really isn’t - is it! I know a woman who went on a canoe trip with her friend. As they paddled down the river a nasty storm showed up. What was once a gentle current becoming big waves pushing them around. They lost some of their cargo, water was inside their craft, and they were soaked. As they kept paddling, they came by a house boat whose occupants invited them onboard. These folks were dry, relaxing and enjoying their lunch and drinks on the water. Same storm … different boat.

It’s like that with this storm too. It’s affecting all of us differently. When we get settled back into life as “usual”, we may realize that being at home was exactly what was needed.

How are you doing? Like they said – same storm … different boat.

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