Maintaining a Work-Life Balance: Come up for Air, Every Once in a While
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, the notion of work-life balance seems almost quaint, and maybe beside the point. How much does that matter compared to lives lost, jobs lost and an economy that has been pushed to the brink?
It is nonetheless true that the outbreak has knocked many, many lives out of balance, a trend particularly pronounced among women. There are now roughly 1.8 million fewer women in the workforce than in early 2020, as many were faced early in the pandemic with the predicament as to whether they should work or be home with their children, in the wake of school closures and the like.
One poll, from June 2021, indicated that 69 percent of the women departing the workforce did not plan to return within the next 12 months; another poll showed that almost 25 percent have no intention of ever going back. It is feared that that trend will have adverse economic and creative implications.
But let us return now to the larger point about maintaining one’s balance while retaining one’s job. In sum, it’s tough. It’s particularly tough now, but in reality it wasn’t all that easy before, when working long hours was not only extolled, but expected. It can be said, in fact, that corporate culture — “hustle culture,” as it has come to be known — was epitomized by a 2018 tweet from Tesla/SpaceX founder Elon Musk: “Nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.”
Never mind that some studies have shown that overloaded workers tend to be far less productive — by a staggering 68 percent, in fact. The idea nonetheless persists that in order to get ahead, one has to chain oneself to one’s desk for hours at a time.
The whole idea that a strong work ethic trumps all — alternately called the Protestant work ethic, Calvinist work ethic or Puritan work ethic — dates back at least to the founding of our country, and has been taken to extremes in recent years.
But at what cost? Those who put in too many hours tend to be in poorer health, and are particularly susceptible to cardiovascular disease. They also put their relationships at risk, and are much more likely to suffer from burnout.
Suffice it to say, then, that we need to walk away. We need our sanity. We need our lives back. Yes, it’s important to be good at your job, but it’s no less important to be good to yourself. As much as it is possible — especially in these troubled times — you need to manage your time and manage your stress.
The Mayo Clinic recommends the following steps for maintaining a work-life balance:
- Dial it back a notch: Pare down your schedule so that there are enough hours in the day to get everything done;
- Lighten the load: Delegate your responsibilities, or discuss your situation with your employer when your burden becomes unmanageable;
- Unplug: When working from home, close the laptop and … slowly … back … away;
- Be creative: Ask your employer about different work options (flex hours, job sharing, etc.);
- Practice self-care: Eat right, exercise and get enough sleep. And find time to do things you enjoy, especially with your loved ones. Life is short!
- Cultivate your support system: That means enlisting help not only in the workplace but at home (childcare, etc.).
The point is this: The situation might seem overwhelming, but that is seldom the case. You can get help, and you can help yourself. It’s a matter of stepping back, assessing your situation and understanding your options — understanding, ultimately, that you can regain your work-life balance.