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How Family Stresses Can Affect Work, And How To Handle Them

Career

At some point, we all have stresses at home, whether it is to do with our children, our partners or our parents. And without our realizing it, these can impact our work performance and relationships, especially for working women. So what do these family stressors look like, and how can we help to best deal with them?


The Forms Family Stressors Take

There are two main things that happen in families that have an impact on workplace performance. The first is anxiety about a family member due to illness or a social issue. You may be worried about your child who is in danger in some way, either “social danger,” such as being bullied at school, or has a medical struggle or a serious illness. Those are ordinary stresses that parents can carry to the workplace, and particularly mothers. They can really preoccupy a parent, and take their mindset away from being able to give their full attention to work. I often have people coming here for therapy who say “I need to have my cell phone on in case my child calls, because they are really afraid of being beaten up on the way to school.” And you can have the same kind of worry and concern about an aging parent, or about a spouse with health-related events – for example, if your wife has unexpectedly in her 30s or 40s gotten breast cancer. A life-threatening or chronic illness in the family, especially at the onset, when you are not sure what the treatment is going to be and the outcome, can be very preoccupying.

The other family stress we see time and time again brought to the workplace, is where there is a significant relationship rupture. That could be your spouse telling you they want a divorce, or the discovery of an affair, or even a terrible argument. And you don't have to be married to have a relationship rupture – you could have a serious disappointment from someone who you have been dating for a while that you had hopes and dreams about. And when those happen, people bring that to the workplace. Depending on the length and depth of the relationship, the reverberation of the rupture can deeply affect people short-term in the workplace, or even longer-term.

Unconscious Impact of Family Stress on Work

We may not be conscious of the impact those stresses are having on our work life. If you are preoccupied, your concentration may be affected, even your memory or recall. “Oh, really, did I say that? Today's the date that's due?”

And your emotional bandwidth might be thinner, so you may be more impatient, you may express more irritability. For example, there may be someone at work who annoys you – I like to say they twitch in a way that doesn't match your twitch – but you actually manage it really well and never show your annoyance.

But your tolerance for those folks is now lower and so you may not be as well able to mask your annoyance. Or you may respond in a more short-tempered way, with a peer or someone you are supervising, who makes a mistake. You may have a shorter fuse than you normally do. So it's really important to watch out for that. One relationship rupture can start to deteriorate your workplace relationships, and create unnecessary conflicts.

Photo Courtesy of The Spruce

Some Ways to Help

So what are some ways we can help these family stresses and their impact on the workplace? One thing that can help is to tell those people in your workplace that are the closest to you, your boss and maybe someone that reports to you, that you are under extra pressure at home. Now, it's not a good idea to give all the details of what happened at home – “we had this terrible fight, I said this, then she said that,” – you don't need to personalize the content. Just let them know you're having some extra stress at home right now. For example, “Look, I just want to give you a heads-up that I may be a little bit off my game today, because as you know, my parents aren't doing well and I need to be checking in.” It can build more understanding – even if your boss has to come to you and say, “I know you're having a tough time right now, but I need this done today,” at least they are expressing some understanding. Feeling understood actually helps the stress. Having someone treat you with consideration when you are in a more stressful situation improves workplace performance.

Another thing is that everyone now has cell-phones that text. It's not like the old days, where the only way to communicate was by phone. So, for example, if you need a particular appointment for an aging parent, you can call the doctor on your break and ask their office to confirm by text. The technology has allowed a lot of the planning communication to happen pretty easily. Nowadays most people don't use their work computer for personal matters, because their phone is a computer for personal matters. Getting those texts back on your break can relieve your worry – checking-in is a very good idea, and enables you the relief to get back to work.

The Reverse: The Impact of Work on Home

And of course, this is bi-directional. Our work relationships also affect our family lives. Some people find the workplace a relief from family stresses because the demands of the workplace are so great, it distracts them from thinking about the loss or pain they have had in their personal relationships. But you want to be careful, that work doesn't become an escape from the family, where, for example, rather than deal with the fact that you want a divorce, you spend many long hours at the office, and you avoid coming home until everybody is asleep. This only builds further stress.

And we also carry workplace injury into the family. If you are mistreated at work – if you are spoken to disrespectfully, if someone raises their voice to you, if you experience being humiliated – when you come home, and a family member speaks to you in a tone that you find disrespectful, you may be more reactive to that person.

When we look at people who have very successful relationships in the workplace, but have a very difficult time at home, there's one thing that we often notice, especially with people who have pretty high-powered positions at work, such as those in management with lots of responsibility. Employees regard them as a great boss, and see them as someone who expresses lots of understanding and compassion at work, but they've given so much at the office, they have nothing left for home.

They don't utilize the same relationship skills at home that they do at the office. Instead, they exhibit some very poor behaviour – they're grumpy, they get sarcastic, they speak in code, they don't explain themselves, their expectations are sometimes unreasonable. And part of this is, they have given so much at the office, they come home extremely fatigued. And people are not at their interpersonal strongest when they are tired.

That's why babies whine and cry – it's not that they're not delightful children, but when they're tired, they whine, they're hard to soothe, they're hard to move from one activity to another; well, adults aren't really that different! If in the privacy of your home, you huff and puff, it may be that you are just too tired to be present in the relationship, and you really need to take yourself to bed.

I used to say to my kids when I came home after a terribly long day at work, “I'm not fit for family company.” I let them know I needed to lie down and just rest for a half hour, before everyone comes at me with “Mom, this” and “Mom, that.” When you come home tired, you need to compose myself to come into the family arena. If that means you have to take a bath or shower, or a 5-minute meditation, or just lie down on the bed, do it. And change your clothes from work to comfortable play clothes. There's some transition that needs to occur. Such small acts of self-care can have lots of relationship benefits.

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Politics

Michael Bloomberg Can’t Handle A Woman With A Voice (aka Elizabeth Warren)

Elizabeth Warren majorly called out "arrogant billionaire" Michael Bloomberg for his history of silencing women through NDAs and closed-door settlement negotiations. Sound familiar? Probably because we already have a president like that. At this point, Bloomberg may just spend the remainder of his (hopefully) ill-fated presidential campaign roasting on a spit over a fire sparked by the righteous anger of women. A lesser punishment than he deserves, if you ask me.


At last night's Democratic debate, Michael Bloomberg could barely stammer out an answer to a question on whether or not he would release any of his former accusers from their nondisclosure agreements. His unsatisfactory response was basically a halting list of what he has done for certain nondescript women in his time at City Hall and within his own company.

But that certainly wasn't enough for Elizabeth Warren, nor should it be, who perfectly rephrased his defense as, "I've been nice to some women." Michael Bloomberg is basically that weird, problematic Uncle that claims he can't be racist, "Because I have a Black friend." In a society where power is almost always in the hands of straight, white, cisgendered, men being "nice" to a lucky few is in no way a defense for benefiting from and building upon the systematic silencing of all marginalized communities, let alone women. Stop and frisk, anybody?

Here is a brief clip of the Warren v. Bloomberg exchange, which I highly recommend. It is absolutely (and hilariously) savage.

But let's talk about the deeper issues at hand here (other than Warren being an eloquent badass).

Michael Bloomberg has been sued multiple times, yet each time he was able to snake his way out of the problem with the help of his greatest and only superpower: cold, hard cash. Each time these allegations have come up, in Warren's words, he throws "a chunk of money at the table" and "forces the woman to wear a muzzle for the rest of her life."

As reported by Claire Lampen of The Cut, here are just a few of his prior indiscretions.

  • Pregnancy discrimination—Bloomberg reportedly told a former employee of his to "kill it," in reference to her developing fetus.
  • Sexual harassment—You could literally write a book on this subject (someone did), but for the sake of brevity...
"I'd like to do that piece of meat" - Michael Bloomberg in reference to various women at his company.
  • Undermining #MeToo—Not only did he defend the accused, but he went on the disparage accusers every step of the way.
  • Defaming transgender people—Though he claims to support trans rights, he has also been qupted multiple times as referring to trans women as "some guy wearing a dress."
Yeah... That's not a winning formula for me, Mike.

Furthermore, Warren points out the simple fact that if, as Bloomberg claims, these instances were simply big misunderstandings (He was just joking around!) then why go to all the trouble to cover them up? Does Michael Bloomberg think women can't take a joke? Or can we only surmise that the truth of these events are far darker and dirtier than we could even imagine?

Certain commentators have called Elizabeth Warren's debate presence "agressive," especially in regards to this instance but also continually throughout her entire campaign. If asking poignant questions to known abusers who are seeking to further their own political power is considered "aggressive," then I am here for it. Bring on the aggressive women, please and thank you.

Calling a woman aggressive for being confidant and direct is a gendered complaint. You don't see anyone whining that Bernie is "aggressive" when he goes off on a screaming tangent. Also, have you seen our president? He's basically the poster boy for political temper tantrums. But still, it's Warren that is deemed "aggressive," for honing in on the exact issues that need to be considered in this upcoming election.

This type of derisory label is another aspect of how our society silences women—much like Bloomberg and his NDAs. Because "silencing" is more than just putting a "muzzle" on someone. It's refusing to listen to a person's cries for help. It's disregarding what a woman has to say, because she's too "aggressive." It's taking away someone's power by refusing to truly hear their side of the story. Because if you aren't listening, responding, or even just respecting someone's words, they may well have said nothing at all.

"Silence is the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard." - Renecca Solnit

Nondiscolusure agreements are a legal gag for people who have experienced harassment and abuse at the hands of those above them.

Gretchen Carlson, possibly the most famous person subject to an NDA, is one of these people. Her story is so well-known that it has even been immortalized on film, in 2019's Bombshell. Yet she is still forced to maintain her silence. She cannot tell her side of the story even when Hollywood can. She was cajoled into her current position after facing harassment in her workplace. She didn't have the power then to do more than accept her fate. And now, she doesn't have the power to tell her story.

She was, and still is being, silenced.

After her experiences, Carlson was moved to fight for all women to have the power over their truths. In a recent op-ed for the New York Times she declared: "I want my voice back. I want it back for me, and for all those silenced by forced arbitration and NDAs."

Carlson may still be tied to her NDA, but there are those who go a different route. Celeste Headlee, who wrote an op-ed on SWAAY about her experience, chose to break her nondisclosure agreement. Though doing so undoubtedly opened her up to numerous legal ramifications, she knew that she could no longer "sign away [her] right to justice."

Because that is what an NDA is all about, signing away a person's right to justice. Their story is their justice. Their NDA is a lock and key. Headlee may have broken through that lock, but she must face the consequences.

Neither Carlson nor Headlee are any less brave for how they have handled their journeys. They are both actively working to shift the cultural and political norms that led them here, and their work will, with hope and time, lead to real change. But they are just two drops in an ocean of women who are held hostage by their nondisclosure agreements, by men like Michael Bloomberg, and by a society that would rather silence them than let truth and justice be had.