With women comprising almost 50% of the workforce and attaining almost 70% of the advanced degrees in this country, they aren’t just influencing the workplace — they’re shaping it. This is good news.
Women can bring a different sensibility to work. They arrive ready to participate, eager to be part of a team, wired to care about the company’s product or service. They bring a personal investment to their jobs and to producing excellent results.
The dark side for women in the workplace is that they sometimes care too much. This becomes apparent when women don’t set healthy boundaries around their workloads. Some women take work home every night, stay at the office until 11 p.m., respond to e-mails at 2 a.m., or find themselves out of town so much that they have no personal life.
Caring too much can also involve taking business interactions and business relationships too personally. The harsh words of a disgruntled boss can devastate some women. A mean-spirited co-worker could cause certain female employees hours of angst as they try to determine why that person treats them so poorly. The departure of a favorite account could be interpreted as an indictment rather than the natural course of a business relationship.
As women continue to shape the workforce, they must also tend to their caring natures and find a balance between commitment to excellence and overexertion. They must learn how to both give professionally and recharge personally. This takes practice. If you are a woman professional, finding this balance may not come easily. Still, taking small steps to unplug and care a little less can help.
Here are some ideas for getting started:
- Pick an activity that becomes sacred and gets you away from work on a regular basis. This could be exercise, meditation, yoga or some kind of bodywork. One of our clients picked a Pilates class that she could attend two times a week — one weekday evening and one weekend morning. Leaving work just once a week at a reasonable hour (6 p.m.) led her to other ways of setting limits around her job.
- Find a mentor or hire an executive coach who can help you establish some emotional distance from work. An experienced professional can help you navigate difficult workplace relationships and pursue your career without losing site of your overall life goals.
- Don’t forget to have a personal life. The last thing many women may want to do after a hard week of work is to throw a dinner party or go to a sports event. That art exhibit that sounded good on Monday may seem inconvenient by Friday night. Who wants to do online dating after an upsetting day? Yet, failing to tend to one’s personal life can lead to regret just a few years down the road. No matter how busy work gets, make sure that your personal life receives time and attention.
The excitement, enthusiasm and commitment that women bring to the workplace will surely lead to many improvements. Work teams likely will enjoy greater collaboration. Work environments likely will be more welcoming, work schedules more flexible. At the same time, women will need to build skills that allow them to invest in their careers without losing sight of the rest of their lives.
Home, friends, family, significant others — all of these must get time and attention so members of the workforce can enjoy a balanced life.
Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster are authors of “Mean Girls at Work,” “Working with You Is Killing Me” and “Working for You Isn’t Working for Me.” Visit their website.