Chained To The Desk

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-By Kristy Attard

It is another typical Monday morning in Sydney, a cosmopolitan business hub. The streets are crawling with people in suits carrying coffee on their way to work. Some walk in pairs, chatting politely. Some walk alone with blank expressions and others enjoy the company of a mobile phone glued to their head. Everyone looks professional and put together, their lives under control like papers filed neatly in a briefcase.

Or is it all falling apart behind the scenes? Look behind the mask that many white-collar workers wear just to get through the working week. Australians everywhere are feeling the strain of trying to climb the corporate ladder and get ahead. What is the social cost of running in the nine to five corporate rat race that so many of us call just another day at the office?

Down Time

Australia has morphed into a society living on credit. We put in long hours to pay off loans and go into panic mode when there is an interest rate rise. It was not always like this. In the past, people were brought up with the mentality that if you could not afford something you did not buy it. You paid with cash, not credit. Today, people have been conditioned to have a “now, now, now” mentality. People tend not to worry if they cannot afford the latest and greatest; they just get a loan and make it happen. In reality, they may have to work to death to pay it off but that is not going through their minds at the moment of purchase. We crave that instant gratification – but how much fun are we really having, working hard for material stuff we could do without?

The traditional family unit has taken a tremendous blow from the pressures of parents too focused on climbing the corporate ladder. It mirrors a typical movie scenario where the highly ambitious parent is just too busy to pay any attention to the family. They get ahead with their career while the spouse and children exist in the background, desperate for attention. Eventually the career driven parent wakes up to the fact that their spouse will not hang around forever in a lonely relationship and the children deserve more. It is the same scenario playing out in many families today, except many people do not have that light bulb moment. No, they just continue blindly walking on the corporate treadmill as their family falls apart.

One in every three Australian marriages ends in divorce. Is it any wonder that so many couples drift apart from each other given that people today are working longer hours? Many people take work home with them and it may not be through choice; it may be a requirement of the job. Children pay the price for overworked, stressed out parents even if a marriage does not end in divorce. Parents are often just too busy with work to take the time to listen to what their kids are saying. Yes, you may get that elusive promotion in the end by devoting yourself entirely to your work, but if your family life crumbled under the pressure, is it really worth it?

Unhealthy Habits

Spending too much time at the office can also have an impact on health – and in more ways than stomach ulcers. A majority of people come home from the office exhausted and the last thing they want is to spend a night slaving in front of the stove and sink. It is far more convenient to dial for a pizza.

When this becomes a habit, it is not healthy. Australia is dealing with an alarming obesity epidemic. Good family eating habits are important foundations for health and wellbeing. Very few people are able to eat dinner as a family anymore. If they do, chances are dinner has come out of the microwave or drive thru and they are sitting in front of the television eating in silence. Parents shake their heads, tut tutting at newsreaders reporting that Australia has a childhood obesity epidemic. Meanwhile their kids are eating something that was thrown in the microwave straight from the freezer for dinner. Whatever happened to sharing real food at the end of the day with the family around the table? It has been squeezed out of family life because work is the main priority.

Speaking of eating dinner, whatever happened to cooking it as well? Channel Ten’s hit series ‘MasterChef’ has enjoyed huge success with the public, yet how many people do you know who cook on a daily basis? For many people it is a matter of time and convenience. Who has the time or energy to cook after a day of slogging it out at work?

Unhealthy eating habits can be observed in the office as well. More people have to eat lunch at their desks. That is while they are busy answering the phone, typing, reading… it is not really a break, is it? When a person is not being mindful of the food they are eating, they will consume far more to feel full. It is quite ridiculous when you think about it, but has sadly become commonplace in many offices throughout the country. No wonder people are feeling frazzled and stressed out; they cannot even stop for lunch!

Back To Life

Reading all this may come as a wake up call. You may recognise yourself or people you know being described in this article. So what can people do to flourish in the workplace but not to the detriment of their home life? It comes down to figuring out your priorities and making changes accordingly. Do not undervalue the importance of your health and the people in your life.

One common complaint from white-collar workers is that they feel lifeless and unmotivated. They may be blessed with good health and a loving family, so why do they feel so unfulfilled and disconnected? Part of the answer lies in the physical surrounds of their workplace. Having a pleasant office environment means happier workers. High morale in the workplace results in fewer sick days and higher productivity from staff. Making small changes can have a huge impact on the look and feel of an office. Of course, an office needs to maintain an air of professionalism. This is not about making an office look like a kindergarten classroom; it is about refreshing the décor so that the workspace is in harmony with the needs of its staff.

Have a look around your office. Is the only sign of the natural world coming from a dust-collecting artificial plant? Get rid of it and replace it with something living, preferably something that flowers. Live plants filter the air and make a room feel fresh. What colour scheme does your office have? Is it uplifting and energising? There has to be an alternative to the typical “hospital” colour scheme found in many offices. Too much black, grey and white can be isolating and leave staff feeling drained. Instead, introduce bright colours to stimulate mental activity.

Go into the lunch room/kitchenette area. Are there chipped mugs that do not belong to anyone sitting by the sink? Replace them along with that smelly sponge that is full of bacteria. What sort of lighting is there? Harsh artificial lighting is not flattering on anyone. Open the windows and let the sunlight in. The human body needs exposure to sunlight to make vitamin D and having fresh air circulating throughout prevents mould from growing. This is about doing what you can to make the office a comfortable, enjoyable and healthy place to work in.

What can you do if you are not in a position to give your office a makeover and suggesting it to the boss is out of the question? Have an honest look at what you are wearing. Does it look professional and make you feel comfortable at the same time? While you cannot show up to work wearing just anything, you can inject some of our own personality into your look and still maintain a professional image. Making small changes to the colours you wear can make an immediate difference. Mix it up a little. An interesting piece of jewellery would not look out of place, along with a new hairstyle. Altering the way you dress for work at the start of the day can make you feel differently by the end of it.

Above all, do not undervalue the importance of your health and family. There is a proverb that your job will not take care of you when you are sick. Stay connected with what is going on at home. Be there when they need you. Make an effort to enjoy dinner as a family. Look up some fast and healthy recipes you can cook; they do exist and are far healthier options than greasy takeaway. Growing kids and teenagers need proper nourishment and healthy eating habits that you help form for them now will last into the future. Prioritising your health and family is a smart move and from there you can build a successful career. The three may not last forever, but at least you will have enjoyed them in the meantime.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 25, 2018, 8:17 AM AEST