I have always valued being a reliable employee with a strong work ethic. I strive to excel and take pride in knowing that I got the job done right. I guess you could also say I’m a sort of people pleaser and feared being a disappointment. Not only did I set high standards for myself, but I also wanted to be a star employee for my bosses. Add in a department-wide six-day, 48-hours plus work week as well as going home to be Mom, and you can imagine how it became a recipe for burnout and a reluctance to say “no.” I was spreading myself thin and compromising my mental health.
So how did I take back my time and advocate for a more balanced work-life?
1. Get yourself someone to confide in.
I found moral support, an encourager, a cheerleader, whatever you want to call it. This can be a friend, family member, or another confidant. For me, my person was my health coach. She gave me the pep talk I needed and reminded me of the things I already knew about myself but didn’t readily acknowledge, because of modesty? Humility? Whatever the reasons, it’s difficult for me to take credit for my own hard-earned success and capabilities. Once I told myself, and believed, I was deserving of a balanced work and home life, I set to work on a plan to approach the topic with my bosses and told them we needed to sit down for a meeting.
- Acknowledge that rejection is terrifying, but it will not break you.
After allowing myself the grace to accept that I was deserving of balance, I had to approach fear and look it straight in the face. Having an unknown factor standing in the way of your goal is intimidating and often, enough to make you back down. And to say I didn’t have that fear too, even after my conversation with my coach, would be a lie. I made a list in my journal and noted all the reasons why I knew I was deserving and why I knew the company valued me in regard to the quality of my work and not overall time that I give.
- Find a mantra.
If you are a proponent for affirmations, and they truly speak to you, then now is the time to kick saying them into high gear. I had an anthem. And I listened to it several times a day then proceeded to play it on repeat the morning before my meeting to address my schedule. It had all the words I needed to hear and was the perfect sentiment to mentally prepare me. This may sound like a bit much, but if you get nearly as nervous as I do about confrontation, I can’t express enough how helpful it is despite how silly it might make you feel during preparation or in retrospect.
- Understand your boss is just as nervous as you.
When the time finally came to head into the lion’s den, or so it felt at the time, I continued to run the words of the song in my head as I walked to the conference room. When I sat down, I could feel the weight of uncertainty heavy in the room, and not from myself but from my two supervisors. Could this be happening? I wasn’t the only one feeling a sense of dread from an unknown outcome? As if I needed another indicator other than energy (if that’s too woo-woo for you), they totally showed typical signs of unease like the classic nervous laugh or even subtle movements of hand to face. This helped ground me and brought me back to the realization that they too are just human.
- Be direct, ask for what you need, and be prepared to compromise.
Once I felt the pressure lighten a bit from initially entering the room and going through the standard greetings, I presented my request. I needed to reduce my hours and total workdays. I noted my contributions to the department and offered an alternative schedule that would still allow for completion of what was expected of me. They were very receptive to what my needs were and worked with me to find a compromise that both my bosses and I could be happy with. I left the room feeling like the anchor had been raised and I was coasting along to a happier work life.
Throughout my entire experience of working up the courage to advocate for myself, facing the fear of rejection, and ultimately being honest with my needs for work-life balance, I learned that we are all human. We all feel the pressure to please at some point and also the flight or fight reaction when it comes to facing adversity. But the most important lesson I have learned? Always ask for what you need to make yourself happy in your environment. You live with yourself every day. No one knows yourself better than you. So who better to advocate for your needs than you? Take the leap.