“I’m sorry to inform you that you have a detached retina. You need emergency surgery or you’ll go blind in your left eye.” 

I received this news during a period when I was working 60-80 hours a week. I was the only Black woman in my department, and I knew that I had to perform. The stress was on another level with my manager contacting me at extreme hours, 2AM texts for status updates, last-minute changes to our project direction, and a constant state of anxiety. The stress from my job caused fluid to build up behind the retina in my eye, which ultimately led to my condition. Three months later, almost 40% of my cohort at work were laid off.  While the surgery was technically “successful” (i.e. my retina is reattached), to this day I still experience the negative impacts to my eye sight. Was it worth it?

A dear friend of mine got a huge promotion at work, her dream title. The promotion came with significantly more hours and frequent travel to Asia. She wasn’t able to spend as much time with her children, missing many key moments in their development.  Her healthy eating habits got tossed out the window with the travel demands. Moreover, the added stress and the workload weakened her immune system and ultimately she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her company then laid off 10% of their workforce. 

At the time of writing this, over 230K people have been laid off in 2023 according to layoffs.fyi, including over 990 tech companies and 119 biotechs. Your first instinct when you hear of potential layoffs might be, “This is why I need to work harder! I need to make sacrifices so that I won’t be on the next chopping block!”  

For Black people, there are added dynamics as a 2021 research study indicates that our community has a significantly higher probability of being cut during layoff periods. Since my early childhood, I learned that we, Black people, have to work twice as hard just to get half as far. Expanding on this logic, we are even more likely to go above and beyond to protect our job security.

Let’s say you take this approach and burn the candle at both ends with the hope that it saves your position. What you might not realize or want to accept, is this: 

During layoffs, you become a line item on a P&L, rather than the person that shed blood, sweat, and tears for the company’s mission and bottom line. 

Let’s say that you survive the layoffs. You are left with more work and less people to do it. And, you’re still at risk for the next round. While research shows that the “cut once, cut deep” approach is better than multiple rounds, companies like Meta, FedEx, Twilio, and Salesforce choose to do multiple rounds of layoffs. A study of over 4,000 employees who survived a round of corporate layoffs by Leadership IQ found that 74% of layoffs survivors reported a decline in their productivity. So you’ll work more, be less productive, and still live in fear that you’re next.

This I know to be true: Whether you choose to move on, or whether that choice is made for you, you will not be at your current job forever. Jobs will come and go, but you are here for the long run. With that in mind, are your priorities in the right place?

Take a moment and answer this honestly. Are you happy with:

  • … how much time you spend with family and friends?
  • … how much sleep you get every night?
  • … your mental health and your daily mood/outlook?
  • … how you are nourishing your body with your food choices?
  • … how often you exercise?
  • … how much time you have for joy in your life?

If you answered “no” to any of the above, you are likely at risk of burnout if you don’t do anything to address it.  This can lead to lower productivity levels, a downward spiral for your relationships at work and at home, and long term consequences for your mental and physical health.

So what can you do about it?

5 Tips to Prioritize Your Well-Being at Work:

1. Create and Communicate Clear Boundaries 

Define your personal limits around key parameters like working hours (ie. What time is too late to contact you? Are weekends ok?), communication channels (Is texting ok?), and anything else that might be on your mind. Share your boundaries with colleagues and supervisors in a polite and direct manner, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and a productive work environment. Consistently enforce your boundaries. Remember, you train people on how they are allowed to treat you.

2. Re-Define “Good Enough” 

There will always be more that you can do on a project. Perfectionism is the antithesis of self-care. Here’s one thing to remember: Your  “good enough” is very likely above and beyond what’s needed because we often hold ourselves to the highest bar. We are our worst critics. When you’re working on a project, be intentional about defining “good enough,” and pay attention to your energy levels and other things you might be sacrificing if you decide to spend more time on it.

3. Optimize Your Daily Routines

Optimizing your daily routines creates a foundation for productivity, well-being, and a balanced life, helping to maintain your mental and physical health in the midst of life’s demands and uncertainties. I used to get sucked into Instagram feeds when my phone was my alarm clock. I used to have poor sleep because of falling asleep with the TV on. When I finally decided to be intentional about what I did first thing in the morning (now meditation and journaling) and what I did before bed (now, restorative yoga and no screen time), I was finally able to approach my days with energy and consistently be in better spirits. What are your morning and evening routines today? If you were to be intentional about them, what would you change?

4. Daily Self Check-In

In my book, Black People Breathe, I share the practice of a Daily Self Check-In. This means, checking in with yourself around how you’re doing. I say to myself, as soon as I wake up, “Good morning Zee, how are you doing?” I use my name because it creates a feeling that I am being cared for. It’s personal and it feels warm and loving. I take a quick moment to answer myself. If I’m cranky, I say cranky. The simple acknowledgement of this feeling gives me the opportunity to do something about it, either to inquire to myself on the why, or to nurture myself with something to make me feel better. If I’m feeling energetic and ready, well that sets the tone for the whole day! I invite you to try this right now. Ask yourself how you are doing? What’s your answer? Now try this tomorrow morning when you wake up. See what your answer is then and how it’s changed.

5. Celebrate & Communicate Your Wins Regularly

Celebrating wins is essential for mental health because it boosts self-esteem, and provides a sense of accomplishment. Recognizing and appreciating even small victories can release feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine, which contribute to a more positive mood. Communicating these wins to your colleagues and your manager is also a powerful way to provide evidence that you are, in fact, indispensable during layoffs. Don’t be shy about tooting your own horn, especially if you are a woman or a person of color because it can have many benefits to your career progression and your personal brand.

Zee Clarke is the author of the book, Black People Breathe (Penguin Random House). She has been featured in many leading publications including ABC, Fortune, Forbes, CNBC, Ebony, Essence, and Fast Company.

She is a Harvard Business School graduate who applies holistic healing practices to corporate environments. Zee leads transformative workshops on mindfulness, breathwork and stress management tools for BIPOC employees at organizations such as Google, Visa, AMC Networks and more.

Learn more at https://www.zeeclarke.com/