The Signposts along the way…
The modern working world is really not good for our health, this much we know. We experience an unnatural amount of stress and in most cases this is usually acute and ongoing. We don’t exercise or eat well and many of us don’t sleep as many hours as our bodies need or suffer with sleep related conditions. I learnt the hard way that we avoid the signposts at our peril.
What do most assistants do when they are not well? They postpone going to the doctor, self-medicate or simply try to ignore the problem. Our justification is that we simply do not have time to seek medical assistance; we cannot afford to be booked off. People need us! Assistants generally are the kind of people who put the needs of others before their own but I am here today to say that in the case of medical issues you really shouldn’t! It is costly, painful and in some cases you never recover from the damage that has been done. In most cases this damage could have been avoided if you had paid attention to the signposts along the way!
Your body is your instrument; it is how you earn a living. Keeping it in peak physical condition “should” be a priority, but for most of us it isn’t. So what is going on in our environments and in our heads that keeps us from the required maintenance to keep ourselves functioning at an optimal level?
Here are my thoughts:
1.The PA Personality
As assistants we want others to view us as competent and reliable. We are perfectionists and rarely admit any weakness to others. These are good traits but can influence our decision making when it comes to our health and other priorities outside of work. For many of us it is embarrassing to admit we are not well or even ask for time to visit a doctor.
2.Viewing self-care, relaxation and putting yourself first as a luxury
Office professionals are generally very busy indeed (especially those with children or doing additional studies). We start viewing any time off or taking care of ourselves as a waste of time or something that we cannot afford to do. Often many illnesses can be avoided with a bit of self-care, adequate rest and a bit of well-timed relaxation.
3.Being too focused on the care of others
Our worlds tend to revolve around others. We are taking care of executives, teams and our family to the exclusion of all else. Again, functioning unselfishly in service to others is not a bad thing but it can be detrimental when we forget about our instrument and the fine tuning that it needs to perform at its best. As the saying goes “when your jug is empty, you cannot fill another person’s cup”
PAs around the world have absorbed some of the tasks traditionally done by middle management when they were downscaled during the recession and many assistants now support multiple executives. In very rare cases have the workloads of these assistants been reviewed to see if it is actually sustainable and in even fewer cases PAs have spoken up if it is not. Increased workload which is extreme can lead to burnout and deteriorating relationships, missed deadlines, decrease in accuracy or performance and a feeling that you are unable to cope and a belief that you are no longer competent.
5.Information overload and tech stress
Our world is hyper connected. Many modern assistants have their office with them 24/7 on their smartphones. This means that we never switch off! We are checking and responding to email at intervals during the traditional “off time” when we should be focused on our family, studies, rest and relaxation. Many assistants around the world are working between 11 and 13 hours every day, receiving between 400 and 600 emails that they need to read and respond to. Often even considering taking time off will stress you out because of the amount of email you will need to process when you return and because you will check email and respond even when you are on sick leave or on vacation.
6.Lack of job security
In the modern world the message is drummed into our heads that there are tons of people waiting in line for our positions. So many of us, especially those who are in companies who are currently retrenching see it as a risk to go to a doctor or dentist during these periods, never mind being booked off with health related issues.
So what can we do? The situation seems bleak. The simple question you need to ask yourself is: If I cannot afford 2 hours to see a doctor can I afford 6 weeks to recover from surgery? If I destroy my health what will it cost in time, money and relationships to get it back (if at all possible)? Can I risk being permanently ill at home if I don’t look after myself now? In essence these are the decisions you face if you don’t look after things that need to be attended to.
In the words of Audre Lorde “I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival”