How to stop work stress tipping over into family conflict.
Thanks to the Coronavirus, work is intruding on our home lives like never before. Unprecedented numbers of us are now working remotely, isolated from the support of our colleagues and trying to get to grips with new working practices and unfamiliar technology.
Our daily commute, in normal times, can be a valuable buffer between the pressure of the working day and home, allowing us space to refocus on home life and shrug off the stress of the day. When we have only a few steps from desk to family we may find it more difficult to make that switch to home mode and we risk letting our work concerns spill into our personal relationships creating potential for anxiety and tension.
For many, the home working revolution we have been plunged into isn’t all its cracked up to be. Many families are faced with having to combine work with home schooling or the need to entertain pre-school age children. Others are being forced to share small spaces with family members or housemates who are also remote working, competing for bandwidth and shouting over each other’s phone calls.
Add to this the spiralling levels of personal anxiety people are feeling – about their health, their finances and their job security – and it’s easy to see how a pressure cooker situation can arise.
If not handled sensitively, minor irritations or disputes can soon tip over into full-blown family conflict – something no-one needs right now. So what can you do to maintain a reasonably happy family ship and make sure the pressures of working from home don’t create a toxic environment?
1. Be realistic
The reality is that in our current environment, remote working isn’t going to be plain sailing. Toddlers are going to invade the occasional work Zoom call, dogs will go into a barking frenzy at the worst possible moment and family needs will conspire to distract you from the task in hand. Don’t give yourself (and others) a hard time by expecting that you are going to be able to carry on completely as usual. These are not normal times and the important thing is to aim for the best you can do, rather than perfection, and avoid getting irritable with others when things don’t go according to plan. Work-related stress is infectious. If you are wound up and under pressure, there will be an impact on everyone around you.
2. Understand that change will affect everyone differently
We all respond to change at different speeds. Those familiar with the Kubler Ross change curve will know that we typically go on a journey from shock, denial and frustration through to experimentation and acceptance. Accept that members of your family may be at different stages, at different times. Some family members may be consumed with anxiety about the situation, while others may be trying to focus on the future and find some positives. Some teenagers may still be railing against the fact they can’t go out and see their friends and that the usual treats aren’t in the cupboard – while others may be rolling up their sleeves and getting involved with the cooking and gardening or volunteering. Understanding these variations in response, and showing empathy and compassion, is an important part of keeping the temperature in the household on an even keel.
3. Focus on what you can control
Try to shift your focus away from the things you can’t control (a dodgy Internet connection or your usual suppliers being unavailable) to those factors that you can influence. Agreeing boundaries around working time, for example, could be really helpful in managing the expectations of everyone in the house. In families where several people are attempting to remote work, one solution might be alternating working time in short ‘shifts’ between partners, so that one person can deal with the family while the other is concentrating on work. Setting a rough timetable for the day, so that everyone knows what to expect of each other and when the downtime is, is also useful. Of course not everything will always go according to plan, so a high degree of flexibility will also be needed. Taking a “we are where we are” attitude and shifting your focus away from situations over which you have no influence will help to reduce frustration levels enormously.
4. Don’t let arguments fester
Keeping the lines of communication open is vital during these challenging times. If what starts out as a small spat is allowed to fester, resentment will grow and before you know it, you will have a full-scale family meltdown on your hands. Take into account that in an uncertain, and for many frightening situation, people will sometimes behave irrationally and say or do things that are out of character. There will almost certainly be days when even family members who have been coping well will feel the need to stomp off and slam a few doors to let off steam. This is a sign that they are feeling upset, anxious, frustrated, disappointed …. and that they need support and understanding. Try to meet expressions of anger calmly rather than rising to them, however hard that may be. When it comes to teenagers or younger children, this is probably also a time for ‘choosing your battles’. Clearly bad behaviour can’t be allowed to persist, but sometimes a little bit of leeway is called for to get everyone through the day. Encourage people to talk about what’s bothering them, and work together to find a solution – or the very least, a compromise that everyone can buy into.
5. Keep yourself in a good place
Working from home is far from stress free – and many people who are remote working are actually finding they are busier than ever. It’s important to try and maintain an element of work-life balance and to look after your own mental health during this time. Take regular breaks, and if you have outside space, step away from the computer every now and then for a breath of fresh air. Consider taking part in one of the many free mindfulness, meditation or yoga sessions that are now freely available online. Keeping well hydrated and taking the allowed daily exercise will also help to minimise stress and allow you to keep a clear head, making it less likely you snap or lose your temper over something trivial. Try and draw a clear line between work and home, even if they are temporarily in the same place, and avoid the temptation to be ‘always on’. If possible, turn the phone and email notifications off at the end of the day so that you can relax. Your colleagues may be sending emails at all hours of the day and night – because they are being forced to work when they can rather than during conventional hours. But this doesn’t mean you have to respond to everything instantly.
New lockdown guidance out today says people can move to a friend’s address for a ‘cooling off’ period following arguments at home. At a time when so many of us are working from home, it’s easy for work-related stress to tip over into family conflict. In this article, written for The TCM Group. I look at steps you can take to stop the pressures of remote working creating a toxic environment. lockdown Covid19 wfh remoteworking conflictmanagement TCMOnline #David Liddle