The Work-Life Balance Conversation We Should Be Having


There’s no better time to have the work-life balance conversation than today. Balancing the demands of our professional and personal lives is a more difficult undertaking today than it was in previous decades. The global COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the paradigm even more, transforming tens of thousands of office workers into remote ones in a matter of days.

Because they don’t have to commute, some people have found it simpler to balance work and personal obligations, such as putting in an exercise during lunch or having time for family dinners. Others have felt as if the workdays never end since work moved into our living rooms, bedrooms, and other temporary home offices.

While some workplaces are planning to hire full-time staff and others are experimenting with new flexible schedule choices, the debate over work-life balance appears to be as pertinent as ever.

When did we start talking about work-life balance in the first place?

The idea isn’t new. For decades, psychologists and productivity gurus have studied it in order to better understand what makes people happy in order to improve work settings and mental wellness.

You can overload people if the expectations of one role, like that of a parent, collide with the demands of another role, say their day job, affirms Jeffrey Pfeffer, PhD, an organisational behaviour professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business in California and author of the book Dying for a Paycheck.

The goal is to live in such a way that we feel productive and not burned out at work, and that we have a sense of fulfilment at home and in our personal lives, according to Christine Carter, PhD, a senior leader at BetterUp and a sociologist and senior fellow at the University of California in Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, who studies happiness and productivity,

Dr. Pfeffer and Dr. Carter believe that today’s overload is more common – and way more severe than it used to be. Just because you can work from anywhere at any time doesn’t mean you should work all the time. It’s the modern problem of technology anchoring us to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, compounded by our unwillingness to set expectations and boundaries.

People require consistent vacation time, Carter explains. We need basic boundaries so that work doesn’t infiltrate every waking minute — and occasionally our sleep.

Employees and employers alike, according to Carter, have not taken that step back to admit that everything has changed as a result of technological advancements over the last few decades – that have drastically altered the way we work; and second, to figure out how to adapt to the transition.

The problem: Work is everywhere

As far as work-life balance, there used to be a distinction between job and personal life. There were hours when you worked and hours when you didn’t; an office where you worked and a space where you didn’t. According to Carter, who wrote The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less, many of us now have the opportunity to be constantly connected to work. It was a problem prior to COVID, but today it’s even worse.

And, for the most part, work intrudes into personal time far more than personal time intrudes into work.

Many people don’t have the flexibility to prioritise their personal lives during work hours without violating office standards (or risking repercussions from their employers). Many of us, however, allow work-related text messages, emails, and smartphone notifications to disrupt our personal lives. Balance means fifty-fifty.

Ever since COVID-19 became a thing, more people have worked from home, but this hasn’t necessarily helped the lack of work-life balance.

Employees worked nearly 49 minutes longer per day on average and sent about 8% more emails after business hours in the first eight weeks of pandemic-related lockdowns, according to a study that analysed de-identified, aggregated meeting and email data from more than three million workers from 21,000 companies around the world. Researchers from Harvard Business School conducted the research, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in August 2020.

According to a McKinsey analysis from April 2021 that includes survey data from more than 5,043 full-time employees, 49% of respondents felt at least somewhat burned out.

And there is evidence that when work pervades our life, our well-being suffers.

In survey responses, workers who were expected to check email at all hours of the day reported lower levels of health and well-being, as well as less satisfaction in their relationships with their significant others, according to a study published in the journal Academy Management Proceedings. According to survey replies from the employee’s partner, they appear to have incurred some of the same costs – A total of 142 full-time employees and their significant others were polled for the study.

Technology and flexible work schedules have become synonymous with working all the time. We’ve come to accept things that are simply bizarre, Pfeffer notes.

There would be consequences if you owned a race horse and didn’t allow it to rest and recover, he adds. If an employer did it to someone, nobody would care much.

To change the culture, we should table the work-life balance conversation

Our situation isn’t entirely hopeless. We can choose to set the limitations we need. We have the ability to alter our society. We modify our culture on a regular basis – it’s what humans do.

But, as both Carter and Pfeffer point out, we need to do a lot to move the needle, and a lot of it needs to come from the top down. They propose the following terms of engagement:

Make better use of technology

It’s not just a matter of willpower and not checking our phones all the time, because our brains are designed to need the social information that emails and other notifications provide. That message could be an invitation from a friend or positive feedback on your job, or it could be an ad to a designer table you’ve been wanting to have. You keep checking because you want to know when there’s good news. It’s like a game of chance.

Carter believes that we need places where we don’t — and can’t — check our phones. Begin by reiterating the rule that phones should not be used at the dinner table, during family time, or during meetings, and that email and social media monitoring should be limited to pre-determined times of the day.

Technology is neither good nor bad in and of itself. We need to learn how to use email, social media, and instant messaging more successfully.

Set Limits and Schedule Predictable Time Off

Work and life used to be separated by physical and time barriers and therefore we need to re-establish limits that are respected by both employers and employees to have some form of work-life balance.

People require predictable vacation time.

Choose a routine to fill that time if you’re a remote worker and a commute no longer separates work and home. I have a cat that needs a good after walk and some attention. A workout, a scheduled exercise class, or a long walk are all wonderful ways to conclude your workweek and separate the rest of the evening.

“On-demand” scheduling, which Pfeffer says is increasingly employed by shops and other organisations that use hourly labour, is adding to the problem. The schedule is created by sophisticated algorithms based on predictions of when the store will be busy. Employees may be aware of their schedule a week or two days in advance. Time off is tough to schedule because of the irregularity.

While many of these structural issues need to be addressed, Pfeffer advises that you may take action now by taking advantage of the vacation days you already have and staying logged off of all devices and platforms during that time.

A “flexible” schedule doesn’t mean you have to work all the time

Working for a company that allows flexible hours could mean leaving the office (or home office) at 3 p.m. for a doctor’s appointment, as long as you can log those last couple of hours of work from home, according to Rebecca Zucker, an executive coach and partner at Next Step Partners (a leadership development firm in San Francisco).

It doesn’t imply you have to be available 24 hours a day. According to Zucker, you should communicate with your co-workers about what they may anticipate from you. If you respond to emails at 10 p.m. or midnight, people will expect you to be available at that time.

Routines are changing once more as the world opens up again. Carter suggests framing that as an opportunity for yourself. Decide on your new best practices and set yourself some boundaries.

Have the tough but fruitful conversation with your boss

When you’re not in the corner office, how do you set the boundaries you want your co-workers to respect? Zucker suggests defining a mutually advantageous goal that both parties can get behind. For instance, realising that both you and your boss want to fulfil monthly targets, and that doing so in a sustainable way would be a good strategy for both parties.

When having that talk, acknowledging the good intentions behind the behaviours and expressing the impact they have on you will go a long way. Your boss may email at 11 p.m. because she needs to complete a task, but she may not expect you to respond at all hours of the night. Expectations.

Changes in society must come from the top down as well

When it comes to work-life balance, most individuals are in a difficult situation. When you’re feeling overburdened by work and home, Pfeffer thinks the greatest thing you can do is resign your job and look for one that would treat you better – although that may not be a practical option for most individuals.

Employers have a responsibility to manage their human resources in the same way that they are concerned about recycling, endangered animals, and other societal issues. That implies employers should ensure that employee obligations are reasonable and that employees have paid time-off and access to high-quality health insurance.

If we’re serious about solving the problem, employers must play a role as well.

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I’m Imad, the content creator and online marketing strategist behind The Guemmah Freelance Hub. My mission is to help more freelancers grow themselves, their business, and their profits.

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