Don’t let home-working stress cause household conflict

couple arguing about work, conflict

The move ‘back to work’ may have begun, but it looks as if working from home may be with us for some time yet.  

Even people who usually enjoy homeworking are likely to be experiencing  a degree of stress and anxiety and feeling lost without the usual interaction with their colleagues.  For some people, these feelings will be extreme and overwhelming.

The pressures of trying to maintain some kind of normal working life while under the same roof 24/7 with family or housemates cannot be over-estimated.  Minor irritations can soon build up into resentment, rows and moodiness – and unless we are mindful, these can quickly escalate into major family disputes.

In some households, several people are working from home, competing for space/bandwidth, and shouting over each other on the phone.  There are constant interruptions from children, with invading toddlers now a regular feature of Zoom calls.  Home-schooling is an unfamiliar scenario for both parents and children, and can test the patience of even the most prepared  – especially when  also trying to manage a heavy workload.   At the other end of the scale, people may need to focus their attention on high-risk or elderly family members, meaning priorities are torn in what feels like a million different ways.

If you are struggling to balance productive home working with family life during lockdown, here are some strategies you can deploy to avoid minor household niggles becoming major meltdowns and conflict:

  • Try to build a routine that everyone in your household can be part of. Build in fun time as well as work, making sure that you reserve those fun times exclusively for family rather than constantly checking your emails. Lots of small wins will keep everyone motivated and give you something to look forward to in the day.
  • Talk about your frustrations as a family or household. Sit or stand in a circle and allow everyone to speak and to not be interrupted. Respect what each other is saying and appreciate that this is hard for each other. Show empathy. This will help all of you to realise that you are not in this alone, you are in in together
  • Make sure you are open and honest with your manager if you are struggling to balance work with family, rather than just soldiering on. They will likely be more understanding than you think and may even be feeling the same pressure. Often, we self-generate stress by feeling the need to be always ‘on call’ at work and assuming that other people are being more productive than you. In fact, most people are in the same boat.
  • Take time to reflect on what you have rather than what you have lost. Reframe the lockdown as an opportunity to spend time with your family, have some downtime, learn new skills (maybe in the time you would have spent commuting?), and prepare for when this is all over. You never know, you may form new helpful habits which you can take forward, such as sharing family meals, or better prioritising your work/life balance.
  • If things get very difficult, avoid losing your rag. This is a loss of control and the short-term relief of verbally lashing out will be offset by a sustained period of guilt and upset for everyone. Take control of your emotions and try to reduce the release of cortisol and adrenaline – the chemicals that are causing the heat to rise. If you can do something active – go for a walk, run up the stairs, do some on the spot exercise (star jumps, squats, burpees) – these are all proven ways to help you to focus on something different and to ‘get it out of you system’.
  • Ultimately, self-care is key to getting through this. Take time for yourself amidst the business of looking after others – from mindfulness to YouTube fitness sessions to a cup of tea in a quiet place. You will be surprised that not only does it make you far more productive in your work, it will improve your relationships with every member of your household too.

About the author:

David Liddle is the CEO of conflict management consultancy The TCM Group, and author of the CIPD/Kogan Page book ‘Managing Conflict: A Practical Guide to Resolution in the Workplace’.

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