Moving from stress bragging to happy chatting

Written by B.J Woodstein, PhD

“How are you doing?” you might ask a colleague as you meet by the kettle when it’s time for your mid-morning coffee. Your intention is to be friendly, maybe superficial, and to just have a quick chat while you wait for the water to boil. Your colleague sighs. “I’m SO BUSY!” they tell you. “I have a presentation to give tomorrow, plus that big report is due next week, and you know we have that meeting coming up with the possible new client that we have to prepare for. Also, my daughter’s in a play at school and obviously I have to go see her perform, and my kids have so many activities every week that I feel like a taxi, not a parent. Plus my mum has increasing needs. And then there’s…”

They go on and on, and you wish you hadn’t asked. It’s not that you don’t care, exactly, it’s just that you don’t see the point of complaining non-stop about how busy you are. It adds to your stress levels and you’d rather try to stay positive. Or could it be that you’re the colleague who rants about your workload? Are you the one people back away from at the water cooler, because you’re always showing off about your jam-packed calendar and your repetitive stress injury from all the typing you do?

Welcome to the world of stress-bragging. Stress bragging is just as it sounds like: it’s when people brag about how stressed out they are. Sometimes, as in the example above, it’s when they list all the things they have on their plate. At other times, it’s when folks say something along the lines of, “Sorry, can’t talk, I’m sooooo overworked and busy!” However they do it, they’re signalling that they’re so very important, because they have all these tasks to do.

Why do people stress brag? Well, we live in a workaholic culture, where people are expected to contribute constantly. In Western culture today, rest is looked down upon, as something the lazy do. But of course rest is essential. We need to take care of our bodies and minds, and we in fact work more efficiently and effectively if we take breaks. But this isn’t something often discussed; instead, it’s all about making lots of money, contributing to society and buying more things. When that’s what’s prioritised, it’s no wonder people stress brag; we want the world to know that we’re achieving the goals set by our society. Also, we obviously feel like we have to prove that our employers were right to hire us over other people, so we feel we need to offer constant evidence of our competence. It’s as if our stress levels become our brand, or are themselves proof of our right to be alive.


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How the soft life can inspire the workplace

Written by B.J Woodstein, PhD

The phrase “the soft life” sounds wonderful to many people. When you hear it, you might imagine folks lounging about on velvet sofas, eating chocolate, while listening to string quartets, or perhaps you’re envisioning people sleeping late, then going for a gentle swim, followed by a scrumptious lunch buffet and an afternoon of board games. Whatever you might picture, it probably is something relaxing and pleasurable. It may also feel completely out of reach for you. You might shake your head and say your life is nowhere near soft; on the contrary, it feels pretty hard, with long hours at work, rushed lunches at your desk, pointless meetings, and not enough time with your relatives and friends.

But did you know that the soft life is actually achievable? And it’s also compatible with work? The concept of it can actually inspire the workplace and make everyone a little happier. Maybe we can all reach a point of, if not very soft lives, then perhaps medium-firm ones rather than hard.

A recent article in the Guardian noted that millennials in particular are leaving traditional careers and opting out of standard career paths in favour of the soft life. What’s meant by the idea of a soft life, however, is not a room full of young people reading novels or scrolling on their phones all day, even if you might get that impression from a headline that pairs “millennials” with “quitting the rat race”. Instead, it’s about more balance in their lives, and a recognition that as important as work is, there are better and worse ways to go about engaging in the world of work.

In the Guardian article, people talk about the stressful jobs they had, which didn’t even always pay enough to cover their bills or enable them to enter the property market or have children. They were exhausted from spending countless hours in an office and had no energy when they got home for anything else so that they ended up just crashing. 

Some of these people found that their managers just kept pushing them, rather than showing any empathy. Rather than managers trying to adapt the jobs to the individuals, the managers here seemed to expect the individuals to adapt themselves to the jobs and to make the jobs the centre of their lives. Heading towards burn-out, the people in the article chose to give up their jobs and change their lives entirely. Some moved back in with their parents, while others left the high rents of the city for the country. Some left the field they’d been working in and chose lower-paid and/or part-time work instead.

Interestingly, the examples in the article are all women. That might be a clear sign that females in particular feel pressured by the idea of “having it all” and that it is not sustainable to work 40 or more hours a week while also having relationships with friends and family, raising children, exercising, staying healthy and developing hobbies. Even though this concept may be particularly relevant to women, the learnings that we can take from it will help everyone in our society, no matter their gender or personal situation.

So how can we learn from all these people rushing towards the door to leave the hard life in search of a softer one?


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Extra Holidays, Extra Staff Satisfaction, Extra Productivity

Photo by Linus Mimietz on Unsplash

When I first moved to Sweden, I was taken aback by the way the country basically closes down for the summer. For five to six weeks, many workplaces shut, and employees head off to their cabins in the forest or along the coast. People move to a slower pace of life, with an emphasis on being together, eating good food and enjoying nature. From my American perspective, I couldn’t understand it. Wasn’t working long hours and making lots of money the most important aspect of a workplace? How could you be dedicated to your job if you went swimming all summer long? I was used to the concept of having a two-week summer vacation at most in the US and I thought that this protestant, capitalist focus on working hard throughout the year was what made society successful.

However, living in Sweden helped me realise that far from being a hindrance to a growing economy and personally satisfying careers, long breaks actually contributed to just those things. People benefit from having a significant chunk of time to rest and refresh. Their moods improve from spending the long sunny days (and long sunny nights – Sweden is quite far north, after all, and the midnight sun is a reality there) with their friends and family and devoting attention to their hobbies and passions. In mid-August, they return to work feeling revitalised and energetic, and are able to dive back into their tasks with a renewed sense of purpose and pleasure.

I began to adapt my work schedule to the Swedish one, enjoying not just the long summer break, but also the “sports holiday” in February (when many people go skiing), and more extensive periods off of work at other points in the year too. Another surprising aspect of the workplace there was the fact that people came to work at 8.30 or 9 am (not earlier), took one or two extended coffee-and-pastry breaks (the infamous “fika”) each day to chat with their colleagues, got plenty of things done, and still clocked off on time, without bringing work home with them. Sure, there were some obsessive workers, but they were viewed with some suspicion. In fact, someone once described me as “industrious”, and he meant it in a pejorative sense, because he thought I worked more than a good Swede should. The norm there was a careful work-life balance, where it was implicitly understood that time away from work contributed to people’s mental well-being, which in turn ultimately benefitted the workplace.

To read the full article, “Protest: When the Dust Has Settled”, you must be a PILAA Member.