We are frequently told by CEOs that their female employees are the best performers because they care so deeply and take such pride in their work. This is not surprising. Relational by nature, most women join companies with the desire to be part of a team, to connect with the other players, and to deliver outstanding results.
The upside of women caring at work is the seriousness with which we take our positions and our responsibilities. Gifted at relationship building, women are also skilled at forming solid connections with both colleagues and clients. Women professionals naturally “tend and befriend,” expressing interest in both the business needs and personal concerns of those around them.
The down side of the female tendency to invest so much of themselves in work could be described as “caring too much.” It can be more difficult for women to “unplug” at the end of a long workday. Interactions with coworkers, customers, and vendors tend to “stick” and replay in our minds. And women can take workplace transactions too personally – letting negative feedback or criticism take a heavy toll on their self-esteem.
- How many women have a hard time leaving work at the office – spending evenings and weekends worrying about who they may have let down or who they need to impress?
- How often do women reel from negative feedback, or obsess over someone’s insensitive remarks?
- How many women become overly invested in their client relationships – responding at any hour of the day or night to sudden requests from demanding accounts?
As the number of professional women continues to grow, and women attain higher positions of responsibility and authority, it becomes increasingly important to temper the caring that is inherently female so that we can succeed in our careers without burning out. We need to find ways to care less while accomplishing more. We need skills to disentangle ourselves from the interpersonal webs that can zap our energy and cloud our focus.
How Do We Care Less? By Setting Healthier Boundaries at Work.
What follows are eight steps that any woman can take to care a little less, and to create a healthier relationship with work. Each of these steps will help you put limits on the amount of time, energy and caring that you put into your job. Each step will also help you be more effective – by reducing your tendency to over-do, over-think, and over-give.
1. Learn to Under-promise so that you can over-deliver. By under promise, we don’t mean that you lower the quality of your work product. Under promising could involve requesting a later deadline than usual for delivering a project, or giving a less optimistic estimate for what you can accomplish in one day. Under promising helps you buy more time to complete tasks and incorporate delays. It reduces the pressure to constantly perform at warp speed.
2. Make sure that you take your lunch break every day – away from your desk. “What?” you say. “I can’t afford to take a lunch break. There’s too much to do.” Actually, you can’t afford not to take a lunch break. Leaving your desk and re-charging your batteries is a necessary part of gaining perspective so that you don’t care too much.
3. Leave work at a decent hour. This is much easier to say than it is to do. We know that after-hours can offer the quiet time you need to finish that package design, edit that annual report or comb through your emails. But productivity wanes when the day gets too long. Try leaving at twice a week at a decent hour – 6 pm (if you usually stay until 8). Trust that wrenching yourself away from the office earlier than you want will be better in the long run.
4. Practice a Daily Job De-tox. The female brain actually takes longer than the male brain to release emotions, so it literally takes greater effort for us to separate from the events of a workday once we leave it. For this reason, women need to practice daily de-tox activities. As you physically leave the office, make a commitment to mentally and emotionally let go of the day. Here are some actions that help:
- Get out of your work clothes and put on your play clothes.
- Engage in physical activities that release toxins – working out, walking the dog, taking a bath.
- Reach out to loved ones (friends, family) and do not discuss work.
Stay away from unhealthy habits like over-shopping, over-eating and over-drinking. These give short-term relief, but leave you feeling worse in the morning.
5. Shut electronics off at a specified hour. Turning off or putting down electronics is a key component to setting health boundaries with work. Create an electronics curfew: 9 pm or 10 pm. When the time arrives, turn off the computer, put down your smart phone, stop looking at email. It may be hard to resist, but unplugging from the technology of work allows your brain to rest and your emotions to heal.
6. Create “work free zones” at home. These are specific areas in your home where you do not conduct business. Work free zones provide physical boundaries between you and the demands of your job. They also protect your loved ones from losing you to work distractions – emails, texts and phone calls. We suggest that you designate your bedroom, your dining table, and your children’s rooms as “work free.”
7. Make sure you take a vacation. Taking a vacation begins with scheduling a vacation. We recommend that you take at least one full week off at a time (and preferably two). Vacations provide a crucial respite from the pressures of work. Time away allows your brain to refresh itself. Vacation is also a great vehicle for re-connecting with family, taking in nature, taking up a favorite pastime. Vacations allow you to remember who you are outside of the workplace.
8. Remember that workplace relationships are professional, not personal. Your boss, coworkers, clients, and vendors are all in your life primarily to do business. While you may befriend some of them, and while you may want them to like you, you are being paid to do a job and you will be rewarded for producing results. Be careful not to over-invest in any single workplace relationship because, should that association turn sour, you’ll feel trapped. In general, it’s better to act friendly towards the people with whom you work without becoming friends.
Katherine Crowley is Harvard-trained psychotherapist and Kathi Elster is a management consultant and executive coach. They are the co-authors of Mean Girls at Work – How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal. Their firm, K Squared Enterprises, is dedicated to helping clients manage interpersonal relationships in the workplace. For more information go to www.ksquaredenterprises.com.