3 Strategies for Leaving Your Work at Work

The season of gift giving has come to an end swiftly, as it always does.  But before you throw out the wrapping paper and take down the decorations, I want to let you know that there is one thing you can still give to yourself and your family that may be the most wonderful present ever. It’s the gift of coming home from work happier by leaving your work at work.

American work life is often a high-stress, fast paced, scramble-until-the-day-is-done kind of environment. Work stress can helpful in some ways; it can push you to do your best and stimulates creativity. But stress also comes in the form of office politics, red tape and job confusion (“What’s my role? What am I supposed to do on this team?” etc.), which can have very negative effects. Whether it’s “good stress” or “bad stress,” you probably don’t even notice how skilled you are at dealing with it. But that can also mean that you also don’t notice when it follows you out the door.

Leaving work-related behaviors and stress at the office is something that we, as humans, don’t do very well. Scott Schieman of the University of Toronto found that 50% of people bring their work home and those who “hold professional jobs with more authority, decision-making latitude, pressure, and longer hours” bring work home more than 50% of the time. And we all know, when the work comes home, the stress comes home too.

According to the Attitudes in the American Workplace Study, 80% of workers feel stress on the job. Half of American workers say that they have a more demanding workload this year, and 38% say they are feeling more pressure at work compared to last year. The stress you feel is real, and there are some real strategies to leave the tension behind and allow yourself to come home from work happier and ready to be present.

Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose.”  Maureen Killoran


Strategy One: Discuss Expectations. Create Firm Boundaries

Boundaries are key to maintaining an even keel in home and work life.  Healthy boundaries at work means setting expectations among co-works and bosses: knowing what you need from them and what they need from you. Stress often comes from ambiguous expectations. In a recent study, 31 % of the more than 2,000 survey respondents said “people issues,” including “unclear expectations from supervisors” is the most stressful situation at work (ComPsych.com).

Make time to have conversations about email response times, expectations on project delivery, daily check-ins and other stress-inducing parts of your day. For example, do your colleagues and/or boss need a status report every day, or is a weekly report adequate? What kind of check-in works better: in person or via email? Coming to an agreement on these basic things can put a full stop to unwanted interruptions from well-meaning colleagues.

Set expectations for how you work best. Let your coworkers know, for example, that you don’t check email after 8PM in order to keep healthy work/life boundaries. Here’s the hard part: hold yourself to that rule. Be stubborn about it. If you do happen to check email past 8PM, schedule your replies to be delivered early in the morning to keep up appearances.

Everyone knows you have a life outside the office, so don’t be shy about setting up expectations around what you can and cannot do. For example, you can say to a colleague, “I have to leave the office at 4:00 because I’m coaching my child’s soccer team, but I will get on email at 7:00 pm and will get back to you then.” Managing expectations will really help your relationship with co-workers and free your mind to be fully present at the soccer game or wherever you are.

Start these conversations about boundaries and expectations as soon as possible. First thing in the New Year is a perfect time to begin.

Strategy Two: Don’t be in work mode around the clock

Have a start and end time for work. Bookend your day so you can define the hours when you will be most productive.

Your start time allows you to prepare for the day. Take five minutes to get your things in order: compile your to-do list, get a cup of coffee or take a few minutes of small talk so when your start work time arrives, you can work with a clear head. You are inviting success to come your way when you have a morning routine. The routine announces, “I am taking care of myself now so I can be productive and present throughout the day.” (See Forbes article for 14 ideas on how to start your workday right).

“The first hour of the morning, is the rudder of the day.” Henry Ward Beecher

And at the end of the day, the same holds true. Experts suggest ending your tasks a few minutes before the declared end of your workday. Many of my clients feel that 15 minutes is the perfect amount of time to wind down. Working hard until the last minute may make you feel like a go-getter, but winding down slowly actually prepares you for a more productive tomorrow. Take a minute to write down all your unfinished tasks; this allows your mind to relax. Prepare your desk for the next day: remove all completed projects and delete all outdated emails. Send out your status report. Whatever end-of-day routine you choose to have, it will communicate to your brain, “We’re done with work. It’s time to move on to the next thing.” (Here’s another Forbes article on ideas on 14 ideas on how to end your day).

Research shows that we treat our brains too much like computers, switching from one program or task to another. We’re just not wired like that, and that’s why we bring our stress home with us. Taking time to wind down is a great New Year’s resolution.  It has paid off for many of my clients that have made the commitment to a balanced work/home relationship.

Strategy 3: Be present where you are

Being at home can be more stressful than being at work. Home life can be very messy; with no job descriptions and infinite projects to be completed, and demanding “co-workers” like spouses and children, women especially dread home more than work (ContemporaryFamilies.org). I often ask my clients, “What do you need to be your best self at home?” Is a walk outside going to get your steps in and clear your mind? Then maybe parking the car further from the office will do the trick. Or take an exercise class on the way home. Some simple breathing exercises when you get in the car for just two minutes can help you come home calmer and less stressed.

If you face a long car ride, experts agree that you should avoid the news or talk radio. Listening to a good (non-work related) book, or chatting on the phone with friends can get your head out of the office and into leisure mode. Taking calls from clients and vendors during that time can free up your day to move forward with other work. Just don’t forget to take your walk or do some deep breathing before you get out of the car and into home life.

Coming home happy is a really generous and wonderful gift for your entire family. It will be worth it for everyone around you, and you will notice the difference too. Remember that making a change  – especially a big change like this, takes time and lots of practice.

I hope you take on this challenge for the New Year, and give yourself and your family the gift that truly keeps on giving, a happier transition between work and home.


Julia is a Career Strategist and Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach based in the Bay Area. She helps career-focused professionals showcase their unique abilities and talents in order to amplify their presence in their chosen fields and when re-entering the job market. Julia uses her extensive leadership experience in executive management, business development, team building and recruiting to help her clients have the career they always wanted. Learn more about Julia at www.JuliaHolian.comwww.LinkedIn.com/in/JuliaHolian,   https://Twitter.com/JuliaHolian (@JuliaHolian) and www.Facebook.com/JuliaHolian

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