In today’s fast-paced world where the idea of hustle is hailed, the pressure to succeed as a working professional can become almost unbearable.
Trying to survive within the rat race is symptomatic of the Western society. Studies have shown that the modern era of neoliberalism brought us this need to compete with both others and ourselves, and work harder in order to push forward and reach the perfect score.
Pursuing a career is a challenge in itself. It’s so easy to slip and neglect other parts of your life when you have your eyes on the prize. We focus on getting a promotion or reaching some of the set business goals, while putting our relationships, family, personal needs, and much-needed rest time – all on hold.
Seems like we’re failing at achieving the work life balance. But, does it have to be this way?
Why is Work Life Balance Important
Undoubtedly, each of us has a lot of different hats to wear, both in our work environments and in private lives. Juggling these often conflicting roles can really take its toll on our well-being, resulting in stress, fatigue, and burnout.
Work life balance implies dividing your time and energy between the two, so that neither falls off from your list of priorities.
Maintaining a work life balance is important for several reasons:
1. Preserve Your Mental Health
Numerous research show that working professionals get over invested in their job roles, which leads to disrupted mental health. Last year’s online study reported about one in four Americans experience depression that’s related to their workplaces, which is not unusual when you take into account the effects of accumulated stress and the little time available for private life.
In addition, employees often choose to keep the fact they’re not feeling well to themselves: according to the survey conducted by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only around 40% of workers will be open with their superiors about what they are going through. Seems like seeking help for mental health difficulties is still a bit of a taboo, but it is nonetheless of crucial importance.
2. Physical Health is Equally Important
Work-related stress can result in serious consequences for your physical health as well. Common stress-induced physical symptoms include headaches, muscle tension or muscle pain, sleep problems, a change in sex drive, heartburn, high blood pressure, weakened immune system, etc.
Managing stress is essential for taking care of your health. Only with the proper work life balance can you find the time for physical activity and relaxation. The best way to do so is by signing up for a gym membership or building a healthy habit of continuous recreation (sports, jogging, cycling, etc.), as well as by setting the time aside for reading, meditating, and socializing. Doing what you enjoy is the one of the best ways to stay both healthy and happy.
3. Working More Doesn’t Necessarily Result in Getting More Things Done
When it comes to work life balance, putting things into perspective can be quite challenging. The most common mistake we make, is to believe we will do more if we work more. In reality, this has proven to be a fallacy.
According to scientific research, only a healthy worker can be a productive one. Depression and fatigue influence the levels of productivity, especially in cases of full-time workers who experience less flexibility in their schedules and workloads.
In addition, more often in modern times employees are showing up for work, but are not fully present or focused on their tasks because of their poor mental state. Researchers call this problem presenteeism, as a counterpart to absenteeism, and it seems that it’s hurting productivity a lot more. Presenteeism is harder to detect, especially in large companies that have a lot of employees. Still, it costs companies billions of dollars a year, while also causing further problems for the person who’s experiencing burnout symptoms and trying to figure out how to carry on despite feeling unwell.
Even when you don’t show up at the office, it has become somewhat acceptable to be always reachable by your coworkers or the management, which makes it extremely difficult to separate work from our personal lives. Also, working overtime from home is often understood as taking one for the team and under this type of pressure – people tend to keep quiet about it.
So, how do you actually achieve work life balance?
Achieving Work Life Balance: Tips That Work
It’s often hard to say no to working from home, especially when you fear the consequences and when you’re not in a position to risk the financial stability your current job provides.
However, there are various techniques to balance your work and private life; here are the most important ones:
1. Learn to Say “No” and Don’t Guilt Trip Yourself
If you’re a loyal worker who doesn’t find it hard to go an extra mile for the greater good, you might be perceived like you’re always available to help out, 24/7. This is a slippery slope and could be very threatening to your work life balance. In these cases, your coworkers or managers might be delegating tasks to you and taking advantage of your eagerness to jump in where needed. However, they also might not be aware of exactly how much work you are doing and when you are doing it, given the fact you stay silent about the fact you are actually not comfortable with taking work home.
This is why you need to set boundaries and stop guilt tripping yourself.
Learning how to say “no” is not an easy task, especially if you’re a bit of a pushover by nature. That’s where science can help you out. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, it’s easier to say no if you use the right words and frame your decision so that it’s a solid rejection of any temptation, or in this case – additional workload you’re not obligated to accept.
Turns out saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” improves the odds of you sticking with the decision as it creates a feedback loop that reminds you you’re the one who has the power and control over the situation.
If your employer keeps crossing the boundaries you set and agreed upon, it might be time to speak to HR and communicate where you stand as clearly as possible. Remember: you do have the right to have a life outside of the office and demanding work life balance does not make you a bad employee.
2. Learn to Plan Your Time Efficiently
We all have only 24 hours in a day, but it’s how you organize your time that matters. In order to make the most of your day, ensure you create the balance between work and private life each and every day; avoid holding on to a vague feeling that you’re doing fine overall, as balance is a day-to-day task.
Create priorities and write them down. These can be family time, exercise, important project proposal, etc. Pinpoint your deadlines and strictly limit your work hours. This is especially important if you’re an independent freelance worker.
Needless to say, self-discipline is the key here. Explore the concept of flow by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, or other productivity hacks such as the Pomodoro technique, in order to make the most of your work time and truly stay present and focused. This is how you prevent your work time overlapping with your private time.
Resist the urge to check your work email when you’re at home or outside work hours. It would be the best to completely disconnect in order to destress and spend quality time, whether with your family or on your own.
But, let’s be honest. It’s true that sometimes, things will get out of control because of many external factors, which might put you in an unpleasant situation where you’ll have to sacrifice something in order to get the work done. Just don’t let this grow into a habit or become a behavior pattern, because that’s what creates imbalance. The same as you have to respect the work deadlines, you have to respect your need to rest, read, or do anything that’s fulfilling to you. Ensure you squeeze something that makes you happy and relaxed even in the most hectic days.
3. Don’t Forget About Self-care, Hobbies, and Socializing
Self-care is crucial for great physical, mental, and emotional health. It is the essence to nurturing a good relationship with oneself, it helps us refuel, and stay relaxed and content with our everyday life. To truly make the most of it, self-care activities have to be something you actively plan and commit to. They help you avoid burnouts and unnecessary stress, while maintaining great emotional hygiene.
Small adjustments to your habits can do wonders for the overall life satisfaction you feel. Healthy and balanced nutrition can provide your body with what it needs, while regular exercise can keep you energized and in a great mood; you’ll start feeling great as your body becomes stronger and in top shape. Establishing a routine you don’t compromise for anything is the best way to stick with your healthy lifestyle. If you really cannot squeeze 1 hour of workout every other day, you need to rethink how you’re spending your time.
We tend to lose ourselves in our jobs if they eat up all of our time. Make some room for hobbies and do things that excite you or make you feel good, whether it’s painting, cycling, reading, or watching your favorite TV shows.
And if you’re not convinced hanging out with your close ones matters, think again. An almost 80 year old Harvard study on happiness has concluded that relationships we have with other people contribute the most to how balanced we feel and how content we are with our lives. Turns out we deeply need one another, as loneliness kills just as alcohol and cigarettes do.
When it Comes to Work Life Balance, We’re All Responsible
It’s important to realize that work life balance depends on more than just one party and is in that sense a shared responsibility. In fact, employers are expected to design policies and procedures that align with the shared goal – having healthy and satisfied working professionals and a positive atmosphere at the office. This is particularly important for working mothers.
In addition to paid time off (which has become a normative), employers can also offer flexible work hours and define boundaries within such a system so to prevent any possible misapplications. Flexibility happens to be the key benefit today’s workforce needs: according to the Werk’s report, 96% of employee need some kind of flexibility and yet – only 42% get access to it. Companies need to adopt a more human-centric view of the way they do business and focus on employees’ needs more if they want to stay competitive.
Here, we’re talking about structured flexibility and additional involvement from the employers side. Employees’ personal needs and necessities regarding vacation time and self-care, need to be acknowledgement. This is why an increasing number of companies allocate their budgets to developing employee wellness programs, additional vacation days, and other perks that contribute to maintaining the work life balance.
The IT sector is maybe the best known for innovations in this department, and it’s pretty obvious why. The competition is harsh, so they need to offer something unique and pamper (or even spoil) their employees in order to retain talent. Take Google for example, a company that has built an amazing reputation about its culture and employee care.
The team from Google reached out to their employees directly so to find out what type of work-life arrangement they prefer and how they assess their current state. This research recognizes two types of workers
- Segmentors (those who separate work and private life)
- Integrators (those who blur this line and find it difficult to separate work and private life)
Google’s office in Dublin even ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” in 2012, within which they asked employees to drop off their smartphones and devices when leaving for the night. Turns out this helped them destress and not think of work during their personal leisure time. Managers were also encouraged to take out-of-work commitments seriously.
Over to You
Needless to say, poor work life balance leads to severe dissatisfaction. Studies show it can even have adverse effects on heart and mental health and increase the risk of extreme insomnia, coronary heart disease and stroke, along with mental disorders.
If you’ve experienced great amounts of stress because of your work, you need to rethink your strategy. We hope this article has helped you to get a fuller understanding of the exact reasons you need to create strict more conducive boundaries, better work-life-balance, and where possible keep work right where it should be – at the office and within the working hours.
What are some of your methods of preserving the work life balance?