Understanding Stress and How It Affects Your Workplace

Woman sitting at table speaking during a conference call.

The Pressure Is Real For Working Mothers

Nothing can ever prepare you for becoming a parent. Yet, many of us dive into a tireless pursuit of preparing for motherhood. We approach parenting systematically: we take classes, do research on what to expect, what to buy and how to best prepare for baby. Many of us set expectations for ourselves and devise plans to: give birth, nurse, and return to work. We check off each box on our list, sometimes twice. However, nothing can truly prepare us for delivery, baby and beyond.

It’s no easy task keeping another human being alive and thriving. The process is so uniquely complicated and fraught with unforeseen circumstances. We don’t contemplate the minutiae of motherhood and despite our best efforts; it’s impossible to fully prepare for life with your baby. Mothering is in the details. It’s in the number of ounces per feeding. It’s in pounds your baby has (hopefully) gained in the first 12 months. It’s in the hours your baby has slept through the night. It’s in the minutes ticking away on your maternity leave as you navigate a myriad of daily issues that ultimately determine the general health and well being of your child. Motherhood is constant, demanding and exhausting.

Yet, for many career-driven women, myself included, while we know that going back to work after maternity leave is going to be tough, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed, unprepared, and often at a crossroads. That’s why it was unsurprising to read in a recent New York Times article, what researchers in a recent study found: “. women underestimate the costs of motherhood. The mismatch is biggest for those with college degrees, who invest in an education and expect to maintain a career.” Women who plan to return to work after maternity leave, brace themselves for bumps along the road. What they fail to consider is the premium our culture places on perfection at home and at work.

New moms have the incredible gift and curse of too much information. We use apps to track our baby’s development and worry when they seem slightly off. We devote our precious time and energy to any class we can find on the weekend that will enrich our children’s lives and perhaps give them an edge. We are inundated with blogs and social media accounts sharing all the ways to be a better parent. We feel pressure, even if it’s self-imposed, to keep up with other moms and too often focus on what everyone else seems to be doing right.

Yet when Monday hits again, our responsibilities and concerns at home continue to mount as we resume our duties at the office, all while trying to secure a private room to pump before milk leaks through our shirt. For many new moms, they feel there is an expectation at work to act as though nothing has changed. I know I felt that I had to prove to myself and to my team that I had it all together and wouldn’t miss a beat. But the reality of being available in the late evenings, on weekends, and what feels like all hours, is already draining before baby. Add sleep deprivation to the mix and it becomes overwhelming.

Our disenchantment with integrating motherhood and work undermines the expectations of our generation. No previous generation has applied more effort in creating a harmonious co-existence between work and life. For Baby Boomers and Gen X, it was normal to draw a line in the sand and expect family life and work to be separate. But with technology significantly changing the way we work today and into the future, it is increasingly difficult to separate the two. Our ability, and now expectation, to respond to emails late into the evenings and weekends, has us wondering why flexible hours are still something to negotiate, or why we feel judged when we leave the office at 5pm to pick up our children, even though we are often getting to work hours earlier than others.

Something has to give. The biggest issue for working mothers is the idea that they must be available around the clock both at home and the office. And while most are up for the challenge, they will only be successful if employers and managers who shape office policy and work culture support them in all aspects of their life, at home and at work.

In 2014, Fashion Designer/Mogul, Rachel Zoe had five staff members in her company who were pregnant and due within the year. Her response? She built a nursery adjacent to the office, to retain her valued staff. She explained, “. I feel good sending the message to my team that they work for a company that supports and celebrates who they are in their personal lives and that we isn’t afraid to let those truths influence the culture in the office in order to make us more productive and happy on the whole.” As a mother of two children, Zoe empathized with the dilemma of juggling a career and family: “I wanted to create an environment where these new mothers wouldn’t have to make a choice between career and motherhood. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to grow my company from just a few people to more than 40 while having my kids (and my husband) by my side, and so I knew I had to do everything in my power to give my staff that same luxury.”

The Physical Impact of Stress on Your Sense of Well-Being

In response to these daily stresses, your body automatically increases blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, metabolism, and blood flow to your muscles. This stress response is intended to help your body react quickly and effectively to any high-pressure situation.

However, when you are constantly reacting to small or large stressful situations, without making physical, mental, and emotional adjustments to counter their effect, you can experience stress that can hurt your health and well-being. It is essential that you understand both your external and internal stress-causing events, no matter how you perceive those events.

Stress can also be positive. You need a certain amount of stress to perform your best at work. The key to stress management is to determine the right amount of stress that will give you energy, ambition, and enthusiasm versus the wrong amount of stress which can harm your health, outlook, relationships, and well-being.

Work setting

Sometimes your work setting creates physical stress because of noise, lack of privacy, poor lighting, poor ventilation, poor temperature control, or inadequate sanitary facilities. Settings where there is organizational confusion or an overly authoritarian, laissez-faire or crisis-centered managerial style are all psychologically stressful.

Act through labor or employee organizations to alter stressful working conditions. If that doesn’t work, try the courts, which have become increasingly receptive to complaints of stressful working conditions. Recent rulings created pressure for employers to provide working environments that are as stress free as possible.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is the federal agency charged with monitoring the work environment in the interest of work safety and health. If you think your work environment is dangerous to your health and safety from a physical standpoint, give them a call.

If nothing helps and the working environment remains stressful, exercise your avoidance options and get a new job. Job hunting can be stressful, particularly in times of high unemployment, but being ground down day after day by work is far worse.

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