By Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia
Having “enough time” seems to be a luxury most people don’t have these days. In Norway one can often read about tidsklemma, which is translated to “the time squeeze”. This is often referred to as a challenge for parents with children and full-time jobs, but it is not limited to just this group. A modern person is drawn in many directions—work (and staying up-to-date, e.g. attending courses, getting certifications/more degrees, etc.), children, household duties, aging parents, sports, networks, charity, friends, and hobbies.
There have been many years of downsizing and cutting costs in the workplace. There have been several waves over the last twenty years, but it has tightened with the financial crisis. People are laid off, but tasks are not “laid off”—rather the contrary—and with the expectation to be more efficient, since there is advanced technology available. I hear via my clients, friends, and networks that people are wondering when this will end; they are feeling exhausted by the pressure.
We have been aware of these issues for a while, but I’m questioning whether they have grown of late. Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, videoconferences, and global travel—we are always on the move and expected to be available and responsive. I am noticing a certain fatigue on that front, evidenced by few replies, no thank yous (politeness is not a priority), and answering only one of two or three questions. This may be due to a large workload, but I would argue that it is too often at the cost of reduced concentration, mediocre results, and irritated people.
So what happens to the “inclusive environment” when people constantly feel squeezed on time?
It’s not necessarily all negative. On a personal level it can feel good to accomplish many projects within a short timeframe and to work at a high speed—both give a feeling of achievement. But the challenge is that we can’t be doing that all the time. Chances are we behave rather hostilely at work if there is too much pressure—and we are probably not very solutions-minded. It is very likely that our focus narrows down, and that “inclusive behaviors” becomes an estranged theory. The fact is we need to slow down at times and have time to recharge our batteries. That’s when we realize we haven’t asked how our colleague has been for the last six months; that’s when we take time to say thank you and when we consider a problem from diverse angles. On whom does the responsibility lay for that? Well, certainly with ourselves, for example, by making sure to take time off. It also helps to ask ourselves questions like: How can I be more organized? What is important here? Where can I take control? What activities take energy and what activities give me energy? How can I balance them? Where are my limits?
And by that, I invite you to ask yourself certain questions. Are you sure that the deadline is crucial and non-negotiable? Are you certain you can’t ask for help? Do you really think that you would lose your job if you propose delegating certain tasks?
All that said, it would be wrong to argue that responsibility lies entirely with the individual. An employer has systemic responsibility to set up a work structure that helps people get work done within a regular workday. Unreasonable pressure is a lose-lose for employee and employer and certainly doesn’t foster a friendly work environment. It sure is more pleasant to work in a company where everyone feels of importance and that they are listened to. An inclusive work place produces happy, creative, innovative, loyal, productive employees—and as we know, that’s good for the bottom line.
Sunniva Heggertveit-Aoudia, owner of NORSUN Diversity and Cross-Culture Consulting, is a consultant, trainer and coach (CPCC, ACC). She has more than 20 diverse years of experience from diversity & inclusion, human resources, and customer relations. She is a diversity specialist with deep knowledge on working across cultures.