By establishing a balance between your career and your personal life that works for you, you can reduce workplace stress while having a more satisfying personal life. There are several strategies you can use; however, they are most effective if you use more than one.
Get a flexible work schedule
Flexible work arrangements can enable you to adjust your schedule to attend family events, share activities with friends and enjoy your hobbies. All of these are great stress reducers. You can begin to do this by looking for companies that allow their employees to maintain flexible work schedules. For example, some companies allow employees to choose a 9/80 work schedule. On this schedule, employees work 9 hours Mondays through Thursdays, 8 hours on a Friday and receive alternate Fridays off. So many companies have allowed this in the Houston area that rush hour traffic is noticeably lighter on Fridays. When I worked for a Wisconsin-based specialty chemicals company, employees could choose to work 9 hours daily Monday through Thursday and 4 hours on Fridays.
Some of my coworkers used their Friday personal time for family activities, household projects, errands, etc. I used most of my Friday personal time to engage in my parallel career of writing magazine articles and books.
Some companies allow flexible starting and completion times. When working full-time, I had a flexible work schedule that allowed me to start any time between 7:00 AM and 8:30 AM and go home at the appropriate time 8.5 hours later. This enables some employees to miss the worst of the rush hour traffic and to pick up their kids from their day care center.
Control your communication time
Modern telecommunications mean we never need be out of touch. However, it also means that the telephone, texting, and e-mail can invade our personal time. Limiting these interruptions by simply not responding immediately to them can reduce stress and the interruption of your personal activities.
Hold family meetings
Family meetings are opportunities to share your activities with family members and learn about what is happening in their lives. These meetings may occur over a leisurely family meal or just relaxing in your living or family room.
If you are single and living a long way from family members, your friends can be a substitute. For example, I meet regularly on Tuesdays at a Chinese restaurant with a retired coworker over lunch. This provides a relaxing break in my workday. I live hundreds of miles from my brothers and some close friends. I carve out evening and weekend time to visit with them over the telephone.
Clubs and professional groups can provide activities that are an enjoyable change of pace from your job and provide opportunities to socialize. My bicycling club, local Toastmasters International club and ACS local section provide these.
Share your interests
Share your interests with your family members and friends. Doing so can let you serve as an ambassador of chemistry. Listen with equal interest when they talk about their jobs, hobbies and other personal interests.
One reason I share a hotel room with a long-time friend during ACS national meetings is that we have plenty of time to bring each other up to date on what is happening in our professional and personal lives. I also get together with friends for meals and meeting social activities.
ACS national and regional meetings are often held in cities with lots of interesting activities outside the meeting. While you’re in technical sessions, your family members could be seeing the local sights. Alternatively, they could travel to the meeting city before or after the conference and you could enjoy sightseeing with them.
Schedule regular vacations
Many hardworking chemists use their vacation time two or three days at a time and don’t take real vacations. I was this way for many years. Then ACS sent me to Fairbanks, Alaska to teach employment workshops at the Northwest Regional Meeting. After the meeting I took a 10 day vacation to travel on the Alaska Railroad around the state and see some of the sights. It was very enjoyable. I took over 900 digital photos. This experience taught me I really needed to use my vacation time to “get away from it all.”
Even a 2 to 4 day break can be enjoyable and stress reducing if you leave town to enter a new environment. I often do this after an ACS national meeting and visit local tourist attractions. I’m a history buff so there is a lot to see in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, all fairly frequent ACS national meeting sites.
Most U.S. companies do not allow new employees any vacation time until they have been employed for at least six months. So these employees may have to wait a bit before being eligible for vacation time. Experienced chemists may be able to negotiate more vacation time before starting work for a new employer.
John Borchardt is a chemist and freelance writer who has been an ACS career consultant for 15 years. He is the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers.” He has had more than 1200 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he holds 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents and is the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers.