Workers: It’s time to avoid the office creep.
Not that kind of office creep. This creep manifests in the pileup of work e-mails and dinging texts on our smartphones that distract us while reading a book to our kids.
It’s the pretend listening we do with our partners over dinner when we’re mentally melting down about the boss who berated us and that pest who stole our pizza from the office fridge.
It’s the conference calls we accept after hours from clients in different time zones, reasoning that it’s still their workday.
No doubt, technological advances and the human capacity for endless rumination make it hard to hold the line between work and home. Office creep is affecting our sleep and stress levels. Most worrisome, this workplace/home life fluidity can create dangerous distance from people we love.
In fact, Pamela Staples, a Minneapolis-based couples and family therapist, has seen it bring marriages to an end.
“It infiltrates the intimacy levels of a couple,” she said. “When people put all their energy into work, they don’t have much left for their relationships.”
That’s why she encourages couples to create what she calls “a teamwork support plan.” Just as people have different coping strategies at work, they can develop coping tools at home to shut out work. That effort is best begun on the commute home, where you mentally free yourself from the stresses of the workday.
“We don’t talk about work in the car on the way home,” said Kelly Madden, a Hennepin County public defender who commutes into downtown Minneapolis with her husband, Mike Holland, also a public defender. Raising two active young children, Holland said, the couple’s discussions shift quickly to “schedules, schedules, schedules.”
Once home, Staples suggests, couples should be ready to negotiate for what each partner needs. For example, let’s say you’ve had a rough day and all you want to do is decompress. The kindest words your partner can say are something like, “You take 20 minutes. I’ll start dinner and walk the dog.”
If kids are in the picture, tell them that Dad or Mom needs a little time to recharge.
“What’s cool is that they’re role modeling for their kids on how to manage stress,” Staples said. “A lot of kids like to come home from school and decompress.”
Or, let’s say you’ve had a rough day and all you want to do is vent. You get to — just not endlessly.
Staples suggests that you agree to an amount of time, say, 10 minutes. If your partner is a saint, you might get 20. Set a timer if you have to. Get it all out.
Your partner’s job is to be present, to really listen and to say things like, “I can see why that was tough on you today.” Don’t try to fix anything, because you really can’t.
“Once people are heard,” Staples said, “they don’t need more.”
‘I just listen’
That’s advice Leslie Branham takes to heart. Branham and husband Jeff VanMaanen are co-owners of Equipt Fitness in St. Paul, which means it’s rare for them to ever be apart.
“When Jeff has issues, I just listen,” Branham said. “Anything that’s a problem for him is a problem for me.”
Once the venting and decompressing are done, don’t slip into old patterns. Make a pact to stay united in the work-free zone you’ve created. Turn off your work phones for the rest of the evening. Play with your kids. Make dinner together.
Don’t worry. Work will wait for you.
“For most people, stress levels ebb and flow,” Staples said. “Couples have to have a general agreement that we are here to support each other.
“Family and marriage first.”