In the UK we’re just entered month three of pandemic lockdown; and until restrictions are lifted and kids return to school we’re gradually adjusting to our ‘temporary new normal’. Two months in we can reflect on opportunities and challenges brought about by changing circumstances. A key thing for many of us has been the recognition that working from home in current conditions means adapting our previous working practices. We’ve learnt what works and what doesn’t. Now’s the time to consider redesigning your job.
In her Alec Rodger Memorial Lecture two years ago Professor Eva Demerouti identified four quadrants of jobs. There are those with low job demands and low resources, which lead to apathy; while those with low demands and high resources result in boredom. Many of us, however, are currently in the third quadrant where we face high demands with low resources; and we’re at risk of burnout. We must move ourselves to quadrant four where high demands are supported by high resources. This is where engagement, satisfaction and wellbeing reside.
Resources are all the things that make us feel more supported and more capable of doing our work. Some – such as external childcare – are currently not open to us; but others are still available. It may have taken us some time to recognise what resources we lack in the new landscape. It could be training on how to navigate technology more efficiently, better feedback from our manager or more support from colleagues. When we focus on making these adjustments for ourselves the small steps add up. A common approach is job crafting.
The concept of job crafting was developed by Professors Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E Dutton. It focuses on the proactive, bottom up approach employees take to adjust their jobs; and it has three aspects. The first, task crafting, is about changing the scope, number and type of tasks that make up a job. The second, relational crafting, is about making improvements by altering the balance of interactions with stakeholders. And the third, cognitive crafting is about reframing how we see those tasks and relationships. Research suggests the best results occur when people use all three together.
You can use the job crafting framework to identify and access more resources; and to reduce the physical and mental demands of your job. The focus is on working smarter rather than harder. Consider the following questions:
- What are the key tasks I should focus on right now? The ones that will move my job and my employer’s business forward? What are the tasks that take up lots of time with little or no reward? Can I drop these (even if just for now)?
- Where do I become frustrated in my interactions with others? How might I improve these interactions? Are there people who can help me progress my work more effectively: and am I making best use of their skills and knowledge?
- How do I currently think about my job? Am I angry and resentful, simply trying to hold on until things improve when I might quit and find more satisfying work? Or am I seeing this as a learning experience and a stepping stone on the path to a more fulfilling career?
According to professor Demerouti job crafting activities rise during periods of change as people embrace the need to adapt. For those not willing to redesign their jobs there’s a higher risk of burnout. This week, take some time to jot down the small adjustments you can make that will lead to you feeling more in control.
To #rebalance 2020 are you ready to redesign you job?
People who’ve mastered the art of assertive communication tend to get more of what they want or need. They possess a skill that helps them resolve matters when things go wrong. And they know that assertiveness works just as well with children and older family members as it does with workplace colleagues.
Communicating assertively means we’re behaving as adults; taking charge of our lives rather than feeling we are merely victims of circumstance. We’re also respecting the recipients of our communications as adults willing to hear our requests and support us; while we accept their response may be a ‘no’. Much of what I’ve been writing about in previous weeks – such as managing our boundaries and creating order in the chaos – depend on assertive communication.
Being assertive is not the same as being aggressive. We’re not demanding and we’re not coming from a place of feeling entitled. Nor is it the passivity of giving in to the demands of others and behaving like martyrs. We’re actively negotiating our own needs and desires while remaining mindful of the needs and desires of others.
As women we always run the risk of being labelled aggressive or difficult: especially when we’re being assertive. In my experience that type of criticism often comes from people who are not themselves behaving as adults and are not treating us as adults either; but are simply playing games.
Nevertheless, in the current circumstances it’s important to remember everyone is under pressure. An initial negative response may simply be a reflection of this. Someone reacts badly because our assertiveness appears to make their life harder. So we’ll need to negotiate.
Choosing to be assertive stops us feeling overwhelmed and can make us more productive. It will help calm our own emotions. It’s hard to focus when we’re feeling angry or frustrated; or that we’re not being heard and supported.
There’s plenty of advice about how to be assertive in person. Being assertive during telephone and video calls can pose more of a challenge. However, the basics remain the same. Tap into your self-confidence, relax, breathe and remain calm and alert. The more we do this, the more even our tone of voice and depth of pitch become. Both of which add to the ‘body language’ of assertiveness.
Remember to keep the conversation focused on your needs and feelings, not on berating the other person because of ‘how they make you feel’. Separate the individual from the behaviour and ask for changes to the latter. Above all, keep in mind that many of us are struggling. We want to do our best and we want to support each other. We may not always get it right but if we start with that basic assumption in mind we’ll succeed more often.
Let’s choose to be both assertive and kind. So we can support each other to rebalance our lives in these challenging times.
I’ve recently finished reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which has powerfully reconnected me to my feminist roots. They go way back to the late 1970s when I was at university, living in the optimism that things would be better for my generation (and successive generations) of women. Despite increasingly focussed equality legislation progress since then has been at a snail’s pace. And with the advent of the pandemic I’m seeing more and more sexism everywhere.
My inbox and twitter feed are currently crammed with advice on how to manage flexible workers and flexible working. And all of it is gender blind. By which I mean it fails to acknowledge the huge differences between men’s and women’s circumstances. Women shoulder three times the burden for caring and household tasks. Advice such as making sure to take regular breaks from work is meaningless for women under unprecedented pressure to juggle work, childcare and home management. And the challenge of protecting our mental health becomes exacerbated as the mental load increases.
But men are stepping up; I hear some people argue. If only that were the case. Men believe they’re stepping up but, as the New York Times reported last week, they’re actually not. According to two US based surveys women continue to shoulder the burden of household duties while also carrying out the majority of home schooling. Men, on the other hand, report they’re helping more at home and covering the bulk of home schooling. The explanation for the discrepancy lies in the invisibility of women’s unpaid work.
So here’s some radical advice for women based on the words of Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw: be unreasonable.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
The history of women in the workplace has been one of them adapting to the working world. Now’s the time to be unreasonable and:
- Make employers, partners and even older children aware of the extra burden that women have always carried and that’s getting heavier at this time;
- Politely challenge gender blind employer guidelines on “how to be an efficient home worker” that assume work is our only focus;
- Remain grounded in the knowledge that women bring value to the workplace simply by providing a differing perspective. That our paid work makes an equal and essential contribution.
- Develop a vision of how better balance looks rather than compromise our own needs; and develop clarity around what that requires from both our employers and our family.
Yes, we run the risk of being called unreasonable. But then being reasonable hasn’t gotten us very far.
Our challenge is to create new working and living arrangements that are neither gender blind nor gender neutral; but that accommodate current differences between men’s and women’s lives. We must continue to press for progress. So that when the whole pandemic fiasco is over women are able to continue making their best contributions in all walks of life.
The global response to the pandemic has been swift. The resulting lockdown – as I wrote last week – created a nightmare situation for many working parents. It’s just as well women have always excelled at fixing things behind the scenes: isn’t that what the mental load is all about?
And yet again women – working mums in particular – have stepped up. The evidence is compelling: news and research articles describing how women continue to shoulder much of the burden of care and household work in the ‘new normal’. And social media posts from women asking for tips on how to work and home school; how to negotiate with partners also working at home; and how to fit it all into 24 hours when sleep is a necessity.
In a crisis women respond. And in that same crisis they often find creative opportunities.
Now the talk is turning to what happens as restrictions are lifted. It’s time to turn our attention towards the future; and to creating a ‘new normal’ that suits us and our families better. Drawing on the experiences of the past few weeks here are a few small steps to take:
- Reflect on whether your business case for flexible working has strengthened. The consensus is that the enforced move to home working demonstrated to employers that more jobs can be worked flexibly than they were ever willing to acknowledge.
- Use this opportunity to negotiate the reduced hours arrangement you need. Given speculation that employers may need to cut jobs, this is an ideal way for yours to retain key skills. If you’re in a managerial or other senior role then job-share could be the way to proceed. It’s an easy one for employers to understand. And as they say: two heads are better than one. With planning the impact on employers is minimal and there are many intermediaries out there who can help set it up.
- Ask your HR department whether the organisation has a stated Work Life Balance Policy; and whether guidelines exist on how to switch off from work. Research has shown only half of employers provide any formal advice on how to manage the information and communications technologies that increasingly push us to be always connected to work. Research has also shown this takes its toll on mothers who often work a triple shift and end up exhausted.
- If your workplace has a Parents or Women’s network put improving work life balance on the agenda for the next meeting. Encourage people to share their recent experiences and reflect on how things can be improved to accommodate women’s unpaid (and often invisible) caring responsibilities.
- Use this time to normalise conversations around work life balance. Most of us are currently in the same boat: juggling home and work in unprecedented ways. We’re being encouraged to acknowledge the challenges when interacting with colleagues. But the risk remains that once schools open and grandparents come out of lockdown those challenges will again fall off the radar of managers and employers. It’s essential we ensure that doesn’t happen or women will continue to be underrepresented at senior levels in the workplace.
The creative part of our brains has been given a boost as we’ve engaged in play with our children or reconnected with our cookery skills. Let’s harness that new found creativity to establish new ways to lean in on our own terms.