While work stress might start at work, let’s admit that it never stays there. Companies demand more from employees not only in terms of tasks but also time—and technology makes work not only omnipresent but omnipossible. This increased demand has negative consequences even for those not on the company payroll, as work stress seeps into home life. Since we are married happiness researchers, this topic is not only professionally interesting but personally important to us. We have both fallen into the trap of getting stressed at work outside of the house and then bringing that stress home to inflict on the other—even when we know better!
Based on our work with nearly half the Fortune 100 companies, we believe that the solution to helping ourselves and our loved ones deal with the stress of work comes, ironically, from the very companies that give it to us. The problem is not merely that work is too powerful of a demand, it is that we fail to create a strong enough protective culture at home. Only by understanding how the best companies create positive cultures can we replicate those successes at home to create a family culture that rejuvenates and restores us. It’s imperative we stop letting a toxic company culture dictate our family culture.
Positive cultures are based on often unspoken rules that encourage habits that support high levels of well-being and success. Just as a car gets regular maintenance, forward-thinking organizations set up a culture that encourages routines that help recharge and renew employees, such as taking vacation days, meditating as a midmorning break and regularly receiving meaningful praise. These positive behaviors are good for the individual and the company.
Our research has found that if you take 11 or more of your vacation days, you’re 30 percent more likely to receive a raise. (And that positive outcome is not simply because people missed you!) The break from work relaxes your mind and body and puts you back in the performance zone, which leads to better-quality work. Aetna made time for meditation during the workday and subsequently decreased employee health care costs and increased work satisfaction.
We have been experimenting with strengthening our family culture at home so that work doesn’t take over. Try these research-based practices to help set up and maintain a positive family culture:
1. Hold a stakeholders meeting
Too often we live life as it unfolds, without intention. Invite all members of the family old enough to meaningfully contribute to a meeting to discuss family values. What kind of environment do you want to create inside your home? How do you want to spend your time? What are the rules around use of electronics? By identifying your values and setting your collective plan of how you’ll support that vision, you can start to craft a life that follows it. Set up an environment that is nurturing and relaxing, so you get a mental break.
2. Start culture at the door
When we walked through the door to address senior leaders at Kimball International, it was clear what the organization stands for because its mission statement and values are posted at the door. A similar physical reminder of culture at home can refocus family members as they walk through the door after a long day at the office. Post loving messages, a list of values or even pictures of you as a family living those values. Think of this as a visual reset button so you start your time at home with a renewed mindset.
3. Bag up tech
Social connection is one of the greatest predictors of long-term happiness, but we can’t create that with phones in our faces. A study published in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that of the women surveyed who were in a romantic relationship, 25 percent said their loved ones sent text messages or emails to other people while they were having a face-to-face conversation. Move your phone out of your physical space so it is not easy to absent-mindedly use it. We’ve experimented with putting our phones in a zip-top bag with a rubber band around it as a reminder. Consider leaving at least one person’s phone at home for the day to get a chance to detox.
4. Sleep your way to the top
Research shows we make more positive memories if we get more sleep. In a study from the University of California, Berkeley, in which people were asked to memorize two lists of words, one positive and one negative, those with five hours of sleep remembered the same number of negative words (about 80 percent) but significantly fewer positive words than those who got eight hours of sleep. Write positive memories with your spouse by hitting the hay together early. You can help your spouse support this positive habit by brushing your teeth in plain sight or turning off the lights in the bedroom to remind him or her that the day is over.
How do you strengthen a positive family culture? We’d love to hear!
SHAWN ACHOR is best-selling author of the The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness. Shawn’s TED Talk is one of the most popular ever, with more than 5 million views, and his PBS program has been seen by millions. Learn more about Shawn at Goodthinkinc.com.
MICHELLE GIELAN is an expert on the science of positive communication and the author of the book Broadcasting Happiness. Formerly a national anchor for CBS News, Michelle holds a masters of applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. Learn more at Goodthinkinc.com.