Why Are We So Stressed Out?

I recently ran across a USA Today article about Millennials and their expectations for the workplace. The article explained that many younger workers, born between 1980 and 1993, are looking for a “positive corporate culture.” The article cited examples of perks that create such a culture including generous personal leave policies, the option of working from home, after-hours social opportunities for employees, and even things like putting greens and ping-pong tables to help employees blow off steam during the work day. One company cited in the article touted a 95% employee retention rate.

I found this article particularly interesting because I recently completed VT’s Diversity Development Institute with a group of nine other VCE faculty and staff members as part of the new VCE Diversity Fellows program. We completed the Generations At Work training and talked at length about the generational groups currently represented in VCE’s workforce. We discussed the personality traits and work styles associated with each generation. Within my own office, we have two Baby Boomers, a Generation X’er, and two Millennials.

This article made me think about generational expectations of workplace climate, particularly as they relate to work/life balance. As a member of Generation X, I often find myself struggling to maintain some sense of balance. I am at the point in my life where my children are in school and are getting more heavily involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities. My parents are aging. And I am seemingly busier than ever at work. In talking to colleagues about work/life balance, it seems that many are dealing with similar issues. As spring and summer arrive, evening meetings and weekend programs are increasing for many of us. Many agents have confided that they are exhausted and a few have told me about struggles with health issues that are directly related to stress.

All of this information has led me to ponder the following questions:

  • Are there generational issues at work here? Do we really have different expectations of how we balance work and life outside of Virginia Cooperative Extension? If so, do these differing expectations contribute to conflict in the workplace and higher stress levels?
  • How do we perceive Extension’s culture? Do we, as people that stick with Extension careers, create the culture ourselves? Do we tend to be driven, often type-a personalities, high achievers who create our own culture of workaholics?
  • How does Virginia Cooperative Extension’s culture compare to other organizations?

The Diversity Fellows would love to hear your responses prepare to offer training for agents and staff members in each district. We are looking forward to candid discussion about generational issues and other diversity topics in coming weeks.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on generational issues and work/life balance?

Jennifer Bowen

4 thoughts on “Why Are We So Stressed Out?

  1. DB Heath

    I as well am reading articles and listening to people talk about generational differences and I struggle with whether it is generational differences or differences in people in general. Still trying to figure that out for myself!

    When I think of people in the workforce, particularly as women were entering the workplace in the 70’s who had been the main caregiver of children and family members, is it so different for them then, as now with balancing work, aging parents, fixing dinner, washing clothes, going to church, choir rehearsals, etc. Maybe one major difference is people moving farther away from their support as their need grows with children and aging relatives.

    I do believe that we as an organization tend to attract people that have a strong commitment to working hard, doing the right thing, being a committed employee, etc. but I also feel we need to help create that balance for ourselves. I’m very much interested in being the catalyst to help agents determine what to do, what to give up, what to cut back on, etc.

    I always told volunteers as an agent, if you are dependable, work well with others, etc., help me to help them by not overworking them, and same thing for ourselves, see the bigger picture of life.

    I do feel that because we are an organization that is misunderstood by a large population, most of us feel we have to do more, attend more, be more places, etc and in doing more opportunities come and connections are made and it becomes a big monster that grows out of control.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Bowen

      Thank you for your response! In tight budget times, I find that it is especially difficult to find things to cut back or eliminate in our programs. We all feel the need to produce those impacts and that creates a huge amount of pressure.

      Reply
  2. Karen DeBord

    Having been in Extension now 39 years, I have been through several generations. it seems! When I first started as a 4-H agent, I was single and young, right out of college. I worked, worked, worked! I am friends with a woman now who was 12 year old when I started as a 4-H agent. She was a record book winner, became an Allstar, and member of the state cabinet (we are much closer in age now!) and she says of me then…”You didn’t have a life, you were always with us!” I had set up an expectation of my time and dedication and that I would work 24/7. But I pushed myself and Extension was my life. Yes, we had a sign-in book and yes, the office manager knew pretty much where I was, but it was before cell phones.

    Today, technology makes us so accessible that we can work while we drive (not always safe!), work from home, work while we work (take calls and respond while we are involved in a Livestock show so that’s double duty), and although that give us flexibility without being physically present at a work site, it does that add also another level of stress? The literature in integrating work and personal life has a continuum that is offered about how individuals integrate the two. For example, I will totally integrate taking work phone calls during my personal time and checking email while on vacation. Others manage by making a definitive break between work life and personal life. The individual (personality and temperament) adds their own stress and manages their own stress. As with various personality types, we have different value sets and have grown up with various work ethics. So there is not one policy that will work for all. Some people it takes 3 hours to do the same task another takes 30 minutes doing. We are all different like that.

    However, I agree with Doris’ comment in that we attract and reinforce hard workers in Extension. Extension is proud of its hard workers and we reinforce that behavior but also know yourself well enough to do what is best for you to stay healthy so you can continue to contribute! Extension has more flexibility than many other careers; in that we can teach what we enjoy, create efforts around not on the need but those issues with which we have passion. We serve but we also get filled up by what we do (at least I do). Stress is real and “piled up” stress is often what creates tipping points. When breathing gets shallow, the gut or the heart rate start palpatating, then stop, sit, re-evaluate, determine what HAS to happen, what you can let go of (and don’t need to “control!” and who you can say no to (or hold off on) for now. Eat well, exercise, develop a plan, make sure that all parts relate to a larger professional goal and don’t get pulled in many unrelated directions.

    Reply

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