Surviving the work jungle

Why are more and more women reporting that they're stressed and unhappy at work?

Conflict between home and work is a primary source of stress, reports Dr Lee Senior, head of the research division of the SA Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (Icas SA) in Women in the Workplace.

A woman who has to perform multiple roles often suffers from guilt and pure exhaustion. In her research, Dr Senior found that women who experience conflict between work and home often battle with anxiety, depression, irritability and hostility.

Sandy Lewis, director of training and consultancy at Icas SA, says that women find it increasingly difficult to balance work and home since the demands of each often conflict with each other, which causes internal discordance. The sad truth is, she says, that without massive resources such as money and the ability to hire all kinds of home help, most women can't have their cake and eat it.

Dr Senior's research shows, however, that even in management positions in which the money is better, you'll seldom find women with children, especially very young children.

Like it or not, women still assume the major load of childcare and domestic work. Admittedly, men are increasingly sharing the parenting and household workloads. But, the bigger picture still shows that it's primarily women who work the 'second shift' at home and although they might spend less time at work than men or single women (having to leave early to pick up the kids, for example) their workload is often heavier.

Other work worries
Being overloaded with work, having an autocratic boss who does not treat you with respect, not receiving any recognition for work done and feeling bored and not challenged at work are what most of her clients want to resolve, says Norma Colley, an industrial psychologist specialising in vocational guidance and assessments for learners and adults.

"When exploring these issues with my clients, it often becomes apparent that there are other reasons causing or compounding these frustrations," says Norma. "One of the most common work problems is that people don't communicate effectively."

Most employees, especially women, find it difficult to be assertive and to tell their boss if something bothers them or if they need assistance. Instead, they may take on too much responsibility. Or, being the nurturers that we are, women might do too much because we actually like to feel needed.

Women also often feel guilty about asking for help. There's a lot of pressure on women to be super humans and to cope with it all. The problem is that too much work and responsibility often only leads to being tired, stressed and feelings of resentfulness. The message here is to delegate, ask for help and let go of the guilt.

A work wish list
There are, of course, local companies that are taking steps to accommodate women, but most still have a long way to go to implement the proposed female-friendly work contracts that allow for telecommuting, flexitime, paid parenting leave, reduced-hour careers and compressed work weeks. The irony is that flexitime and shorter working hours could benefit men too, since we should not forget that men have families as well. In fact, if men worked in a more nurturing, flexible environment, they might have less stress and more time to spend at home.

What can I do?
Think twice before throwing in the towel, advises Sandy Lewis. "Don't make big decisions when exhausted. Rather take leave and think of solutions to your problems."

Sandy says your first line of attack should rather be to take steps to make your work environment more conducive to your happiness. Another must-do is to nurture yourself. Many women forget to look after themselves, says Norma Colley. "When I ask my clients how they care for themselves, they're always surprised, answering that they don't have any time for anything like that."

This is where many employees make a huge mistake. We can't be productive and caring individuals if we don't take care of ourselves. When you find that you become snappy and depressed, chances are you are in some way neglecting your own needs.

The right attitude
If you continue to feel negative about work, be honest and ask yourself whether there are issues at home that you should be dealing with, says Norma. Your home environment should be a supportive one where you can recharge and relax. If your home life is stressful, start there. Do you need to communicate more honestly with your partner?

Don't be scared to talk to your boss about things you want changed, but go to her with suggestions, not just problems. Become part of your working team and participate. Show interest in your co-workers and you'll build a supportive environment at work.

- Ideas

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