1. Stock up on wrapping supplies now. Avoid the Christmas Eve scramble where you inevitably realize you don’t have enough tape or wrapping paper by stocking up on these five items. You’ll be able to create endless gift-wrapping combinations, without the drama. Designate one easy-to-reach space for all of your holiday supplies to instantly make you feel more organized.
2. Prepare your pantry. Make sure your cupboards are stocked with Food Director Claire Tansey’s instant-party pantry essentials: olives, almonds, dates and crackers.
3. Buy hostess gifts in multiples. Make your life easier and buy several hostess gifts at once. Look for sets of pretty notebooks or delicious bags of holiday crackers — these can be opened, wrapped and distributed to more than one host. Buy sets that have variety to keep your gift-giving personal.
4. Load up your bar cart. Ensure your bar cart is filled with the essentials before you start hosting. Learn how to stock your bar for under $200 here.
5 easy ways to take your holiday table from Thanksgiving to Christmas
5. Replenish your supply of candles, cocktail napkins and matches. Stock up before the holiday madness sets to avoid running out of essentials mid dinner party. Tip: Keep batteries on hand so people can use their electronic gifts right away.
6. Make lists. We could write an essay about lists, mostly because they are life savers! Keep a separate list going for different tasks: Food to buy for your dinner party; gifts to buy family; gifts to buy hostesses. Having your to-dos down on paper means you don’t have to worry about forgetting anything (or anyone!).
9 ways to be the best holiday dinner guest ever
7. If you’re hosting, plan your meal now. From the appetizers to dessert, it will take a weight off your shoulders if you know what you’re serving. Make a shopping list closer to the date so you’re not scrambling last minute (see number 6!).
8. Dig out your tableware. Take the dreaded journey into your attic or basement and get out your holiday napkins, tablecloths and cutlery. Doing this in advance gives you time to see what you still need.
There’s a particularly cold prickle of fear that pops up when work leaves you feeling overtired, overwhelmed and under siege. It might seep in during a meeting, when your left eyeball starts to throb, or it might hit you later, when it takes far too long to realize your work pass will not open the door to your house. It lurks in the back of your mind when you’re wondering where exactly your short-term memory went, and it most definitely trickles in during the loneliest moment of your third consecutive night of insomnia.
With this nagging sense of dread comes a question you don’t want to answer: What is your job actually doing to you?
Most likely, you brush it off and get back to work. A roiling gut, a racing heart, that weird knot of pain in your shoulder — aren’t they just the price of admission to being employed in this sluggish, recessionary economy? “People think that stress is a normal part of work and everybody experiences stress, so theyjust have to suck it up and get over it,” says Mark Henick, a program manager with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), who works with supervisors and employees across the country.
But as new research suggests, concerns that the modern workplace may be harmful to our health are well-founded. As dramatic as it may sound, work and the chronic stress that can come with it may be slowly killing us.
Related: Is your workplace killing you?
In a meta-analysis done earlier this year of 228 workplace studies, researchers from Harvard and Stanford found that workplace stress can be as toxic to the body as second-hand smoke. High job demands increase your odds of being diagnosed with a medical condition by 35 percent, and if you consistently work more than 40 hours a week (perhaps to meet those high demands), you are almost 20 percent more likely to die a premature death. Constant worry about losing your job, the meta-analysis found, raises the risk of developing poor health by 50 percent.
That’s not all: A review published in the Lancet in August showed if you work more than 55 hours a week, you are 33 percent more likely to have a stroke, while several studies confirm that long hours put you at a heightened risk of cardiovascular problems. And here’s some disconcerting news for anyone who checks email during meetings: High levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is created when we multi-task, can cause the dendrites in the brain’s nerve cells to atrophy, leading to memory problems. Then there are the proven elevated risks of diabetes, anxiety and depression. And let’s not even talk about the dangers of a sedentary workday.
Dr. David Posen, a physician based in Oakville, Ont., who began to specialize in stress management 30 years ago, has catalogued a list of more than 125 early warning signs of chronic stress. In addition to headaches and chest pain, they include cold hands, compulsive shopping, even excessive sarcasm. “We weren’t designed to have ongoing stress,” he says. “It’s like driving your car in fifth gear all the time — it’s just not going to be good for the motor.”
It’s not that we’ve become lazier, less able to meet demands or more emotionally fragile than previous generations; workplace culture has changed, and when it comes to our health, not for the better. Posen has seen an uptick of stress in patients ever since the recession in the early ’90s, when, he says, “companies basically kept hiving off people and telling the so-called lucky survivors to do more with less, pick up the amount of work that other people had been doing.”
Demands have only increased since then, as companies try to keep up with the pace of technology and the pressures of globalization. And as more boomers retire, workplaces are experiencing catalyzing shifts in culture and values. A 2012 study from Carleton and Western Universities confirms that the feeling of work-hour creep is real, reporting that 60 percent of white-collar workers in Canada log more than 45 hours a week. (And 54 percent of them say they take home more work, amounting to another seven hours a week.) The study also found that 56 percent of respondents who work long hours at demanding jobs have partners who do the same. And if you’ve ever had to negotiate who will handle the daycare pickup or conjure up dinner, you know that two busy people means twice as much stress.
The very modern conveniences that were supposed to make our jobs easier have, of course, made it easier to work any time of day or night. It’s liberating to take care of some tasks from the cottage or send work emails while at the dog park — unless, that is, you’re no longer getting satisfaction from completing those extra tasks, and the stress is outweighing the benefits.
It’s easy to blame the boss, and it’s true that some could benefit from having a bit more compassion alongside their strategic vision and unrelenting drive. But we shoulder some of the responsibility too. Even in the absence of explicit expectations that you will check email or monitor social media on weekends, people will “fall into that because of their own desire,” says Dorothy Kudla, founder of a training and development company, Full Circle Connections, who has worked with hundreds of managers at companies from BlackBerry to Cineplex Odeon.
Related: How to be healthier at work with five easy tips
Human beings, by their very nature, want to be successful and add value, Kudla says. But in a workplace that is constantly changing and where the goalposts keep moving, resentment and burnout can easily set in. And that, in turn, can lead to anxiety, depression and, if employees have poor coping strategies, addiction issues. It may also increase employees’ risk of developing lifestyle-related illnesses such as diabetes or angina.
For employers, it’s a bit of a Catch-22. They want to drive innovation and productivity, but to do so, they may need to ask employees to do less or at least change the way they work, says Joel Goh, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and one of the co-authors of the second-hand smoke study. “We need to think very carefully [about] not just what employers can do, what programs they can offer to mitigate stress, but what employers are doing to their employees in terms of stress.”
So what do you do? We’re told to prioritize and delegate. Work efficiently. Set goals. These are the motivational slogans of an autocratic boss who is herself a workaholic. But the thing is, no flextime policy will alleviate your tension headaches if you don’t solve the underlying issues of how you work.
You have to learn to “control your controllables,” says the CMHA’s Henick. “You can’t control how other people think or what other people do or the workload that other people are putting on you, but that’s that. You are in absolute control of your reactions.” (Tellingly, several of the experts consulted for this story requested that the interviews happen during regular hours, and they have a policy of not checking their email after 5 p.m.)
Posen exercises every day, and while he doesn’t expect his patients to adhere to his fitness routine, he does advise them to take better care of themselves. “When people are stressed out, they reach for something that will comfort them. The first things that they can think of are things like smoking, drinking, drugs and foods that are high in fat and sugar,” he says.
There is a big difference, however, between knowing your behaviour isn’t healthy and adopting better habits. Corporations have been trying to bridge that gap more aggressively in recent years by implementing wellness programs. While they are a positive step, these programs don’t address the root problems, Goh says. “With wellness programs, we are shifting everything to the employees. It’s like, ‘Well, if you are stressed, we’ll offer you counselling classes, we’ll give you free gym memberships and yoga classes so that you can deal with your stress and your unhealthy lifestyle on your own.’ ”
Despite the seemingly intractable problems in balancing what is good for business with what is good for our health, there is cause for optimism for the next generation. Workplaces are on the cusp of a major shift as boomers retire, and Kudla says she’s already seeing major changes in workplaces with younger staff. Unlike boomers, who tend to respect hierarchy and crave prestige, millennials prefer collaboration and seek out valuable experiences. And in the next few years, they will make up the majority of the workforce. Whereas boomers “were not necessarily willing to sacrifice promotion, millennials are not willing to sacrifice fulfillment,” Kudla says.
This quest for fulfillment may be the key. As Posen says, “When people are stressed, they don’t create as well, they don’t feel as engaged, they are distractible, they’re tired, and it’s costing the bottom line.” And the inverse is also true. If we are motivated, challenged and supported, not only will we be more productive — we’ll be healthier too.
Dr. David Posen’s tips for reducing job stress
|1. Leave work an hour earlier. “Never in 30 years have I had a patient who couldn’t get the same amount of work done in less time when they took better care of themselves.”
|2. Spend that extra hour after work wisely. Book time for exercise, seeing friends, napping or even just sitting near something you find beautiful.
|3. Take a micro-break every 90 minutes. Research shows that’s the longest we can concentrate intensely on something. “The best thing you can do is get up and walk away.”
|4. Get a better night’s rest. To do this, Posen advises patients to slowly wean themselves off caffeine.
|5. Work out. Every bit helps. Exercise drains off excess stress energy, so it lowers cortisol in the body, which can help reduce anxiety.
|6. Change the way you think. Modify unrealistic expectations and try to identify problematic patterns. “Type A people need to slow down, and people pleasers need to learn how to say no occasionally.”
Here’s somewhat of an intimidating question: Are you on track to achieve your retirement savings goal?
If you don’t quite know the answer, take heart—most Canadians don’t know either. In fact, only 42% of us agree that we understand how much we need to save for retirement, according the latest results of a BlackRock global investor survey that tasked 2,000 Canadians with this question.
Based on BlackRock’s findings, part of the disconnect appears to come from Canadians not quite clear understanding of how much they should rely upon government plans to meet their retirement needs versus how they need to be actively saving on their own. For instance, very few (only 18%) of the survey respondents thought the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) would sufficient to fund their post-working lives for 25 years.
On this latter point, Canadians are absolutely right—government benefits alone won’t be enough for most retirees. According to pension expert Malcolm Hamilton, a senior fellow at the C. D. Howe Institute, only low-income earners making minimum wage or less throughout their entire working lives could count on government benefits providing them with the standard of living they’ve always been used to in retirement. Few Canadians, though, will actually fall into this demographic.
According to BlackRock’s survey, Canadians have annual retirement income expectations of about $47,000 in after-tax income—and the good news is that level of income will be more than enough for couples with basic retirement needs. That includes affording a car that’s used for eight years or more, taking driving holidays and even the occasional jaunt outside of Canada.
If you have that kind of retirement in mind, government benefits won’t get you all the way there—but the average Canadian couple can count on at least $30,000 in combined annual CPP and OAS payments once they stop working, according to Hamilton. (Don’t worry about the future of CPP and OAS, either. Both of these programs are very secure and sustainable, notes Hamilton.)
That means that you and your partner would only need to save up enough to provide yourselves with an additional $17,000 of annual after-tax dollars in retirement—not the full $47,000, for those who aspire to that goal.
Read more about retirement lifestyles—for couples or singles—and the savings required »
Keep in mind, too, that your level of retirement savings required will also be much less if you’re lucky enough to be enrolled in a workplace pension or savings plan. In fact, for some it could be enough to bridge the gap between a government pension and what additional level of savings you need.
For most of us, though, a diligent savings plan will be required to top-up our retirement nest eggs. And while you often hear retirement planning boiled down to a single figure (“you need $1 million to retire well”), a better approach is to calculate your must-haves in retirement versus your nice-to-haves—and then determine a specific savings goal based on the amount you actually require.
Hitting your target number might mean working an extra year or two longer than you planned, or you may find you can stop working earlier than you expected. And don’t forget, once you’re retired you’ll have considerably less living expenses: the home should be paid off, the kids will be financially independent, you probably won’t need that second car anymore, there’s no more commuting or business attire costs—and, of course, you’ll no longer be saving for retirement.
Calculate how much you really need
Want to get a handle on how much income you can expect in retirement? Try using this free online program called ESPlannerBASIC, which was recently made available to Canadians through a partnership between its creator, legendary economist Laurence Kotlikoff, and Jack Mintz of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy. It’s an elaborate financial projection calculator that allows you to enter the details of your particular situation, such as your age, your salary and when you hope to kick off your golden years. It then calculates how much you need to save each year, what your nest egg will be worth and how much you’ll need to live on. It automatically factors in Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) payments, and also accounts for mortgage payments, your spouse’s income, taxes and other factors.