Work-Life Balance – Setting the Stage
Work-life balance has been a hot topic on and off for years, so what has changed? In a word: everything! We’ve been living under restrictions of varying sorts since March, in other words eight months of suspended normalcy! The pandemic is prompting many of us to reconsider what we consider work-life balance. You may wonder why.
The boundaries between work and home are blurry, millions of people are working longer hours – on average 4 hours more a week with higher email volumes, meeting frequency and business expectations. The pressures on families with young children or elderly relatives has followed suit. Childcare or in-home patient support has been suspended or temporarily constrained falling back onto each of us. Add to this, the ability to take a much-needed vacation to recharge one’s batteries has become elusive or difficult. The swirling pressures for the average person are real with the JAMA Network raising mental health effect concerns, a growing phenomenon.
Leading us to ask, how can we manage better through periods of uncertainty and prepare ourselves for what comes afterwards?
Is Work-Life Balance Achievable?
Before we get into the steps, let’s consider whether work-life is a possibility or a utopian myth. I am in the camp of those believing that work-life balance (or satisfaction) is achievable. I analogize work-life balance to a four-legged chair. Each leg represents a distinct part of our lives: social groups (including faith-based groups), family/friends, work and, if course, ourselves.
The idea behind the analogy is the chair remains functional if one leg (one part of our lives) is temporarily broken (out of whack). However, if a second leg (part) derails or a single leg (part) derailment prolongs, then issues start to creep in. Sustainability becomes ensuring that no more than one leg is defective at any point in time. This is the essence of balance.
A typical work-life example
Let me use a simple example to illustrate imagine that your demanding career has you travelling 40% of the time and even when you’re home you take calls during family events and put in extra hours on the weekend. You begin to feel like you’re just missing out on life! Put that example in the context of Covid-19 and you get longer hours, care for kids (or parents), pressure to be constantly accessible, frustration with endless video-calls, and intermittent bandwidth performance. What’s worse? You are unable to reset or recharge in your normal ways. Different fact pattern but same end result, the chair is out of kilter.
One leg pulls (or drains) resources allocated from the other ones. For most of us, time with family/friends becomes the sacrificial leg. This resource pressure is manageable with a supportive spouse. One that bridges the gap by attending the kids’ events or social events, for example. In these moments, balance is achievable through the couple agreeing priorities.
However, if a spouse is unwilling or unable to bridge the gap tensions rise. Followed by arguments, burnout and many families breaking down (unless substantial changes occur, such as career changes). In these moments, balance is not achieved, stability breaks down as does communication.
Jumping into a Covid-19 world, the sacrificial leg generally becomes oneself. Time is spent on teleworking, childcare, housework and managing through the health crisis. Listening and negotiating become even more important skills to ward off stress and pressures of social restrictions. Families need the time and space to continue to work through challenges, as they ordinarily do.
Balance, when purposeful, is possible under differing circumstances. So let’s get into some actions that make this a reality.
Healthy Habits in Your Work-Life Marathon
The solution to an out of kilter work-life is you. Taking purposeful small steps right from the beginning avoids crisis management later on, just as the phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” suggests it will.
- Schedule “me time”. Caring for yourself, by taking time to reset or recharge, is very important. It can be done in simple ways, including working out, binge-watching your favourite show or spending time on a hobby or passion.
- Learn to say “no”. It may seem impossible or unfeasible to say no at the moment, but it can and must be done where necessary. Trying to be all things to all people will inevitably fail, so this becomes a critical skill to master (refresh yourself on saying “no”).
- Develop boundaries. It helps to keep in mind that just because you’re physically accessible all the time doesn’t mean you have to be. Set boundaries with colleagues and leaders so you all understand your availability out of hours or while on personal leave. I actively apply this in my own life (and have for the last decade) by remembering “no one dies wishing they had worked longer hours”.
Taking a backward-looking approach in determining how we spend our 24-hours a day is effective in helping us identify what matters most in our lives. Technology makes it so easy to just send that quick email or look at our inbox (personal or professional). However the impact to our sense of balance and well-being slowly takes its toll. The more work life filters into our personal life, the more we lose the balance that’s so important to our health and happiness.
How will you spend your 24-hours each day?
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Give it a try!
 Thomas Fuller, 1732