Work-life wellness – How we can stay resilient during challenging times

By Dr. Laura Hambley Lovett with April Dyrda

November 14, 2020

I had the joy of interviewing one of my own psychologist colleagues on a topic we are both passionate about: helping people build work-life wellness during difficult times. I first met April Dyrda in 2013, when she joined my psychology practices as a student. She is now a Registered Provisional Psychologist and a Consultant who brings over six years of experience in the realms of both counselling and workplace psychology. April traverses both organizational consulting and counselling, enabling her to understand how people can thrive in both work and life settings.

What is work-life wellness, and how does this compare to the more familiar time term work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a word we hear a lot, but that I’m trying to shy away from. I believe work-life balance sets up the idea that work and life are competing priorities, and that we can’t have both – they conflict or fight for our time. Work-life wellness, in contrast, is the idea that work and life can flow together and energize each other in a more harmonious integration. Work and life can fuel one another, which is the ultimate goal. Work is such a huge part of our lives and should fuel our non-work lives.

How does your job contribute to helping people and organizations with their work-life wellness?

At Calgary Career Counselling and Synthesis Psychology, I help people at an individual level. My focus is on bringing my expertise in psychology to focus on the human elements of work.

With Work EvoHlution, I consult to organizations on various topics pertaining to work-life wellness, including developing teams and leaders. My work often starts at the leader level, as they have more ability to influence organizational changes. Many workplaces don’t go beyond policy and procedure to focus on human wellness, whereas we know that work and life are intertwined, and the focus needs to be on the person as a whole. Helping leaders look at human lives beyond their technical competence and skills helps reduce turnover and absenteeism, and can increase engagement and innovation.

“It is important to help people as human beings versus humans doing”

I often bring up the topic of vulnerability – Navigating a pandemic is new territory for leaders, and it is important that they share their vulnerability to help establish human connections with their people. Empathy is lacking in many leaders, and they may see vulnerability as weakness when it is, in fact, a sign of courage.

What have been the biggest challenges the pandemic has brought to people’s work-life wellness, and how have you helped people overcome these?

With the sudden shift in March 2020 to many working from home, one of the challenges we are helping people with is “blurred boundaries”.  We recommend creating psychological separation between work and home life. For example, we use the term making mental moves to help people create psychological transitions between work and home – like taking a walk after work from home to mimic the transition that a commute creates.

What have been the opportunities amidst the challenge of the pandemic? How have people been able to improve their work-life wellness despite the uncertainty?

Although there have been many challenges for people as we all navigate the pandemic, there is also opportunity for better work-life wellness. About 60-70% of people now plan to work from home at least part of the time. Doing your work when and where you work best does not necessarily require a desk in an office building. One of the benefits of being able to work from home is that we get to quickly transition to our home lives, such as having lunch with our family. Not having to commute can also mean spending more time on exercise and sleep. For organizations, we see a 10-30% increase in productivity for people who can work away from the office. Engagement, satisfaction, and focus can all be improved with the right blend of working from home and the office.

 

Given your specialization in remote leadership, what can leaders do from a distance to ensure their people are thriving and staying resilient?

Don’t expect yourself to do this well right off the bat. This is a bizarre time to be managing people, and the skills to be a remote leader are additional to what you need in the office. This is a period of learning, so don’t expect yourself to know all the answers.

Vulnerability is especially important when leading from a distance. Specifically, creating opportunities to put people first is what I focus on. For example, taking 5 minutes to check in on how people are doing at the beginning of a meeting or at the start of an email. Simple practices have a massive impact on our ability to connect with people. I’d recommend the book “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown as a fantastic one for leaders to learn how key vulnerability is.

As a leader, make sure to have regular virtual coffees or drive bys with your direct reports to connect and maintain trust. It is important to have a curious stance, which means taking the time to listen. The best listeners are those who ask the most questions, and are also genuine – that is key to having “human conversations”.  Empathy can’t be artificial or forced.

Dr. Laura’s Note: A lot of leaders fall into the trap of needing to be experts and provide advice, rather than genuinely and deeply listening to their people. According to April, “to understand rather than to be understood is so key!” Everyone can benefit from being more aware of their active listening skills and practice to become better listeners, as upwards of 40% of communication is listening! Not truly listening also hinders innovation and creative problem solving. “God gave us two ears and one mouth” is one of my favourite sayings.

What would be your top recommendations to others embarking on their own work-life wellness?

I find people can benefit by being aware of their “focus zones.” In other words, when are you most engaged and energized in your day, and when are your lulls? We need to differentiate what truly energizes us from what we think should energize us. The greatest limitation to our work-life wellness is not a lack of time, but instead not spending your time where it is most stimulating for you. Capitalize on your more focused times to be more mentally adaptable. If you’re feeling drained at the end of your day, you need to be building in more energy building breaks during your workday. Not doing so means we aren’t recharging, and we risk edging towards burnout.

Another thing is to create and respect your non-working times. Turn off alerts/notifications during your “off” time, as these are constant reminders of work and can nag at you. Give yourself permission to turn on “Do not Disturb”, and step away. To help you achieve this, remember to communicate overtly. We don’t have signals about when people are available or busy, so communicate when you can realistically get back to someone, then keep your commitment to do so.

What has been your greatest challenge when it comes to your own work-life wellness, and how have you worked at overcoming this challenge?

The big thing for me is valuing my personal time like I do my work time. I used to feel like I had to earn my rest time. Since I work from home on some days, work is in my space now, so giving myself permission to step away and recharge is crucial to my productivity and efficiency. Research actually shows that taking breaks makes us more productive, so in other words, pausing = productivity. Scheduling in “Do Not Book” slots in my calendar creates mental and physical space for myself, making sure I have time to take a break and get some fresh air.

If you could have one wish for a better world when it comes to work and life, what would it be?

For people to give themselves permission to have work-life wellness, to believe that the two can be in harmony and not be competing. A change in perspective is needed so people can see their work and their lives working together rather than against each other.

“If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness” is one of my favourite quotes. Focus on what you can control – and there are certainly aspects of your wellness you can control. There’s no denial these are anxiety-provoking times, but reflect on what you can do in your life to build your energy and wellness.

“If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness”

 

I hope you found April’s tips and ideas as useful as I did, and may this be a good reminder to us to stay well, in both our work and our lives.

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