This past December, I felt something I hadn’t felt … perhaps ever before. I had a genuine excitement about the coming new year. There was this sense of childish exuberance about the start of the new year. Now, I am not one for resolutions usually and this feels slightly different…it was more like an inner confidence that a great year is ahead. Did anyone else get that feeling? Do you still have it?
It’s not like 2007 was bad, it was a wonderful year in fact. I had some fun clients and was stretched professionally myself. I worked long hours, but there was control over it. I know not everyone feels they have control over their hours so I often work with women to look at what they have genuine control over. I was reminded of the issue of hours and stress with an article I read a while back on "extreme jobs" .
What’s an "extreme job", you say? It’s a career that demands 60+ hour working week and a personal life that takes a backseat. You have an extreme job if five or more of the following characteristics apply to your role:
- unpredictable flow of work
- large amount of travel
- tight deadlines and a fast pace
- after-hours work events
- 24/7 availability to clients
- responsibility for profit and loss
- mentoring and recruiting of colleagues
- an assumption of being a physical presence at the office at least 10 hours a day
Globally, while men are much more likely to have these types of jobs, a good third of those in such roles are women – women like my clients who lament they "need a wife" to handle all the domestic tasks that don’t get done when they are working such long hours. What is interesting to me is how exhilarating many people initially find these careers. Society puts a high financial value on these jobs – they are often prestigious and well remunerated for the hours and energy they demand. True, is wonderful to feel fulfilled in a career to which you would want to dedicate so much time and energy. However, what I sometimes see in my practice are people who work long hours until they began to suffer the physical symptoms of chronic stress. As rewarding as work can be, our bodies often tell us, through headaches, ulcers and digestion problems, we are overworking before our minds are willing to accept it.
According to the Health and Safety Executive in 2002, work-related stress, depression and anxiety account for 13.4 million working days lost per year, more than any other work-related illness in the UK and costs £400 million a year. Stress and overwork are often seen as an individual’s problem, though it is pandemic – the World Heath Organisation estimates stress will cause half of the ten most common medical problems in the world by 2020 – a shocking statistic in a world where over half of people can’t rely on safe drinking water.
It is my job to help clients identify their priorities and feel better balanced – with a fulfilling career but without the negative ramifications of an "extreme job". I’d invite you to honestly think about how many characteristics from the above list apply to you. If it is too many for your liking, think about what you would like to do differently and how that might look.