MERCER BENEFITS U

BALANCING WORK/LIFE ISSUES

Juggling all your priorities can be stressful, which may affect your health and ability to focus on what’s important. Learn how to achieve balance so you can thrive at work and at home.
DESKERCISE
DESKERCISE
GET MORE SLEEP
TAKE BACK YOUR SUNDAYS
LIFE'S BALANCING ACT
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Finding the Right Child Care

When it comes to balancing one’s personal and professional life, working parents face the added challenge of attending to their children’s needs while also meeting their occupational obligations. In fact, 56% of working moms and 50% of working dads say they find it difficult to balance the responsibilities of work and family.1

Beyond finding enough time to spend with their family, parents of younger children also must figure out how to ensure their children are well-cared-for during the workday. And this is no easy task — 62% of parents with one or more children under age 6 say it is hard to find affordable, high-quality child care.2

Child care is a growing issue for American workers. Today, all parents in six out of every 10 households with children work out of the house, compared to only four out of every 10 households with children in 1965.3 At the same time, child care costs have steadily increased over the past 25 years.3

Child Care Options

If you’re struggling to find a child care option that meets your family’s needs while also fitting your budget, here are some tips to help you.

  1. Do your homework. Before selecting a child care center, be sure to ask a lot of questions, such as if there are extra charges to drop off your child early or pick up late. Find out how many children will be shared per caregiver so you know exactly what kind of attention your child will get. Ask about the day’s schedule and activities to be sure they fit your child’s personality.
  2. Consider in-home care. You might be able to bring a lot of sanity to your life if you hire someone to come to your home. The person you hire can care for your children, do some light housework and prepare dinner — all for a negotiated rate. And, in-home care often offers more flexibility than formal centers.
  3. Get creative when looking for candidates. Take advantage of online sites like sittercity.com, care.com or craigslist. Contact local colleges and universities to see if you can post an ad for a babysitting job. Ask neighbors or friends with similarly aged children if they would consider sharing a babysitter and having your children watched together. Or you may find a stay-at-home mom looking to make some extra money who would want to care for your child while caring for her own. And don’t forget to ask around at work — your colleagues may have day care recommendations or may be looking to share a sitter.
  4. Think about your backup plan. There will inevitably be days when your sitter is sick or your child care center is closed due to weather or a holiday. Your company may offer a backup child care program as a benefit to employees. Be sure to check with your Human Resources department for any child care benefits or discounts available to you.

Above all, make sure you check references before hiring a caregiver to be sure you feel confident in your decision. The less you worry about your children while at work, the more focused, productive, and successful you can be on the job.

1Pew Research Center, 2012
2Pew Research Center, 2015
3"Nine Facts About American Families and Work," The Council of Economic Advisers, 2014

Copyright 2016 Mercer LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Get More Sleep

From buzzing phones to blinking lights, here are the real reasons you're not getting sleep — and what you can do to get more shut-eye tonight.

Most healthy-living formulas consist of two basic tenets: Eat less and move more. Truthfully, it should be more of a three-pronged approach: Eat well, move more, and get adequate sleep. The first two steps are made more effective by the third — and when you don't have enough sleep, food and movement aren't enough to keep your body feeling well and performing at its optimal level.

Unfortunately, getting good sleep is a struggle many of us face, and it's not entirely a modern dilemma. Yes, blinking cell phones, bright alarm clocks, and dinging computers are relatively new in human history and may make the bedroom less relaxing and more taxing, but other factors can interfere with your sleep pattern, too. This month, get serious about getting more shut-eye. Here are some real solutions to the most common sleep obstacles.

Lights

"Light at night can delay your circadian rhythm, or your body's natural clock," says Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, assistant professor of neurology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The color of the light may make the biggest difference. Evidence suggests our bodies are most sensitive to blue light, which is emitted from many popular light sources, including energy-efficient bulbs and computer screens. The Fix: Turn down your lights an hour or so before bed. Hang blackout curtains or wear a sleep mask if light shines continuously.

Technology

You've probably heard that your tablet, smartphone, and other small-screen devices could be responsible for bouts of insomnia — the lights they emit are mostly on the brain-activating blue wavelength. Still, the National Sleep Foundation says more than 95% of Americans use some type of tech gadget within an hour before going to bed. The more time you spend on the devices, the more wired your brain will be, and the more wired your brain is, the less sleep you're likely to get.

The Fix: Check Facebook one last time at least an hour before you tuck in. Then turn off your device and give it a rest until morning. "You can also download programs like f.lux (justgetflux.com) that can change the spectrum of your computer screen to reduce the blue light," says Baron.

Temperature

The body's core temperature decreases as we sleep. If it's too warm in your bedroom, your body can't cool properly, and people with a higher core body temperature are more likely to experience insomnia and sleeplessness.

The Fix: The ideal bedroom temperature, says Baron, is around 65°. As a bonus, a colder bedroom may boost your metabolism. A recent study in Diabetes found that people who sleep in cool rooms — 66° — have increased metabolism and energy expenditure even in their waking hours.

Stress
Unfortunately, anxiety can create a cycle of sleeplessness: It makes sleep more difficult, and sleeplessness drives up anxiety. "Worry and rumination interfere with the ability to relax and go to sleep, and then stress can cause middle-of-the-night awakenings and waking up too early," says Baron.

The Fix: Here's a throwback relaxation technique that's worth a try: lullabies. A study in the International Journal of Nursing Studies found that people who listened to soothing music for 45 minutes before their bedtime spent more time in restorative REM sleep. And if you still can't sleep, don't wallow in your sheets. "Get out of bed until you feel sleepy," says Baron. "While you're out of bed, do something fairly nonstimulating, like reading a book. Wait until you're sleepy; then get back in bed."

Is 8 Hours Really Necessary?

Most likely it is. "Researchers amazingly still don't know how much sleep is enough," says Baron. "But studies consistently show that less than five hours per night is associated with negative health effects, and it looks like six to eight hours is associated with the best outcomes." But what about people who swear they don't need more than five hours of sleep a night? "They may be using caffeine and other techniques to stay awake during the day. They really could use the sleep and are just masking it," says Baron. "People never get accustomed to sleep loss, but they do become less aware of how impaired they are, even if performance continues to decline."

Mercer HR Services, LLC and Mercer Trust Company do not provide investment, legal or other advice and are not responsible for the opinions contained in this article. This article represents the opinions of the author and not those of Mercer HR Services, LLC or Mercer Trust Company.

Adapted from the January 2015 issue of Cooking Light. © 2015 Time Inc. All rights reserved.

Take Back Your Sundays

Every Sunday around 4 p.m., much of the developed world gives a collective groan. The weekend is fast receding, Monday is fast approaching, and the blues (a legit thing — ask the experts) set in. But you can outsmart them — and keep your mood in weekend mode till the clock strikes midnight — with a few easy strategies. Monday can wait.

Even after the best of weekends (or especially after the best of weekends), there's a cloud that descends. Chances are, you've felt it. In a 2013 poll from the career site Monster.com, 81% of American respondents said they get Sunday-night blues — and 59% said they experience them "really bad." As laidback "weekend you" begins to morph into uptight "weekday you," anxiety over anticipating an overflowing in-box, the drudgery of packing school lunches, and the tyranny of a mile-long to-do list sets in.

"Sunday nights aren't considered the end of a great weekend but the beginning of something neither the child nor the adult is looking forward to," says Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist and the founder of the National Institute for Play, in Carmel Valley, California. But what is the cause of this dread? And what can we do to change it? If you're prone to Sunday-night blues, try one (or, uh, all) of the following tips. And welcome to a future with no more sad Sundays.

Do Sunday on Saturday

Typically, we schedule fun stuff on Saturday, obligations on Sunday. This only reinforces the blues. Instead, take care of buzz-killing chores, errands, and commitments on Saturday, when you're naturally in a better mood. This could also change your experience of tougher tasks. For example, visiting your great-aunt in the retirement home when you're already feeling down may remind you of the shortness of life; seeing her with a fresh Saturday-morning mind-set might move you to reminisce about summers at the cabin (happier for her, too). This weekend switcheroo leaves you open for "moments of unencumbered joy" on Sunday, when your psyche is in need of them most, says Cassie Mogilner, Ph.D., a happiness researcher and an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

Homework is yet another Sunday downer. Nagging kids to hit the books creates an angst-filled evening. "Children may feel more positive on Monday morning if Sunday night is free of last-minute preparations for tomorrow's school day," says Erika A. Patall, Ph.D., an assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Slot time for homework on Saturday, with a little extra on Sunday morning.

Become a Forward Thinker

Another reason you feel off on Sunday, of course, is that your head is swirling with tasks for the upcoming week. Spare yourself this stress by ending your workweek with a plan. "Before you leave the office on Friday, prep your desk so you can jump in Monday without missing a beat," says Peggy Duncan, an Atlanta-based professional organizer. Create a Monday-specific to-do list, line up necessary files, and tag emails that require attention. If you have to check your work calendar over the weekend, do it Sunday morning to avoid having the prospect weigh on you all day, then dive into a distraction (exercise, playtime with the kids) to keep yourself from becoming consumed with work thoughts. If it is within your control, don't schedule Monday-morning meetings. "They just add to the sense of dread," Duncan explains.

Be a Social Animal

Slipping into hermit mode is all too easy come Sunday, especially in the short days before daylight saving time kicks in. But there is plenty of research that shows that people who are less social tend to be less happy. And a Sunday already potentially mired in the blahs is when you'll need contact with others the most. Can you stay in your pj's and communicate on Facebook? "Perhaps," says Mogilner. "But connecting over a computer isn't as effective as connecting with living, breathing humans."

Any regular Sunday social ritual — church for some, yoga or softball for others — can lift spirits. In fact, a 2010 study published in American Sociological Review found that people who routinely attend religious services were more satisfied with their lives than were those who didn't. The reason, researchers determined, isn't just related to faith; it's also about having friends in the congregation who give people a sense of belonging and, in turn, higher levels of well-being.

You may get similar benefits without joining a formal group. Institute a standing date with pals to skip the exhausting back-and-forth of making plans, suggests Gretchen Rubin, the author of Better Than Before, a book about mastering good habits. "Being accountable makes it much more likely that you won't back out at the last minute," she adds. It doesn't have to be overly complicated. (Who wants to wash a fondue pot on Sunday night?) And it doesn't have to involve many people. Something low-maintenance — like a scheduled phone call with your sister, margaritas with the neighbors, or even Yahtzee night with the kids — can make all the difference.

Volunteering is one more way to connect, but it has an unexpected perk, too. Giving away your time makes you feel as if you have more time, reports a 2012 study published in Psychological Science. Hence, it extends your weekend. "You get a sense that you're doing a lot with your time," says Mogilner, who worked on the study. "That inspires you to do more later on that day," which leads to more satisfaction. It's a tactic to fend off that "Where did the weekend go?" spiral.

Make Over Sunday Night

Why is it that 7 p.m. on a Sunday feels like 11 p.m., but on every other day of the week 7 p.m. is just the start of the evening? Maybe because our idea of "doing nothing" — say, binge-watching Game of Thrones — is not necessarily the best medicine for relieving the Sunday blues.

Active leisure — a book club, practicing yoga, or even going to the movies — will make you happier than choosing something that is passive. "If you're engaged in an activity that keeps you moving, you're absorbed in the moment and your mind has much less room to allow workweek worries to sneak in and take hold," says Mogilner. So while we're forever grateful to HBO for transforming Sunday nights, you may want to DVR your favorite episodes and watch them on a night less fraught with anxiety — say, hump day.

Mercer HR Services, LLC and Mercer Trust Company do not provide investment, legal or other advice and are not responsible for the opinions contained in this article. This article represents the opinions of the author and not those of Mercer HR Services, LLC or Mercer Trust Company.

Adapted from the March 2015 issue of Real Simple. © 2015 Time Inc. All rights reserved.