Leave work at work

My father taught me to work, but he did not teach me to love it.
Abraham Lincoln
1809 – 1865

A while back, my daughter shared a satirical article from The Onion that had a strong element of truth to it. The article states that health experts observed immediate and lasting changes in mood and stress levels when people stood up at their desks a single time, then left the office forever. While the story is funny, it highlights the fact that many people are very unhappy at work. This unhappiness frequently ends up bleeding into the rest of their lives, affecting their mood and disposition overall.

The article stuck with me after I’d read it and left me wondering if we could learn anything from their idea.

It occurred to me that, too often, many of us don’t leave our work at work; we carry the worries, frustrations and responsibilities home with us, with the result that we never get any relief from them. We might spend our commuting time rehashing mistakes we made during the day. Or we get home and immediately tell our spouse, partner or roommate about an altercation with a coworker or a customer. The behavior can even be as subtle as checking work emails after dinner or reading job-related materials before bed. All of these actions keep us connected to work during the limited time we have to recharge and enjoy ourselves.

I’d like to suggest that you try an experiment for a week. When you leave your workplace, say to yourself, “I’m free until my next shift. My time is now my own, and I deserve to enjoy it.” Then immediately put that idea into practice by putting your mind on something else during your commute home: put on your favorite music or try a podcast or audio book that will engage your mind and help you forget your day. Let your housemate know in advance that you don’t want to talk about work when you get home; instead, discuss an unrelated subject that interests you both. Don’t check your work email unless your boss explicitly requires it — and if you do, do it quickly and then switch to an engrossing task you enjoy like reading a book, watching a movie, or playing a game. And most importantly, don’t read any work materials before bed; view something that will restore you for the coming day.

If you’ve developed the habit of bringing work home with you in one form or another, it will be hard to change. Don’t get discouraged if you slip up the first few days. Keep trying, and remind yourself that not only do you deserve time to unwind, you’ll be in better shape the next day as a result. Everyone needs time to recharge, and if you don’t get it, it won’t just be your mood that suffers. In time, your work performance will drop as well.

At the end of the week, evaluate and see how you feel. Hopefully, you’ll feel a little more positive, a little less tired, and a little less stressed. Try to continue the experiment for another week or even a month. You may not be able to do it every day, but keep repeating these behaviors until they become new, healthier habits. The better you get at leaving work at work, the happier you’ll be.

What is without periods of rest will not endure.
43 BC – 17 AD

Copyright © 2018 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor

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