One of the greatest pressures that employees are facing today in our world of on-and-off again remote work is work-life balance. Working from home has undoubtedly enhanced a person’s ability to complete certain tasks such as supermarket shopping, walking the dog, taking kids to school, and visiting with an elderly parent during the day as opposed to after work hours or on weekends. This enables them to more fully experience a needed work-life balance while still accomplishing their day’s work. And studies have shown that separating from job responsibilities for brief periods of time during the day (the all-important work break) can lead to better productivity, as one comes back renewed and with fresh ideas or new solutions to workplace issues they may be facing.
Sounds pretty good right? Well, not so fast.
Creating a workspace on Zoom that facilitates the ability to concentrate and stay focused is its own challenge, but additional complications can arise when it is time to stop working, dim the lights, close the door, and psychologically “pull the switch.”
While remote work provides flexibility, it also requires a level of discipline to actually stop when it is time to stop. The freedom to go on an errand when perhaps “meeting-free,” or fit in an important doctor’s appointment or teacher conference doesn’t negate the fact that working from home has resulted in the lack of a clear stoppage time at the end of the workday, causing many to go beyond (or way beyond) normal working hours to feel a sense of completion of their to do list. Doing this day after day can conjure up the old adage of burning the candle at both ends, thus leading to a feeling of burnout.
We all have too much to do, but when working in an office it’s normal to complete what one can before the end of the workday and save the rest for tomorrow. Working at home results in a sense of being able to keep going and keep pushing to accomplish more each day. The boundary is blurred and there is no clear stoppage time, no obvious time to shut down and “leave the office.” So many of us, too many of us, just keep going.
Experience has shown me that burnout occurs slowly and steadily, not overnight. But it is the slow erosion of work-life balance that creeps in methodically until it has permeated the psyche and depleted a person’s resilience. So many become burnt out without even knowing it, but it is as if they have lost the spring in their step, their ability to shrug certain things off, and keep a level of positivity in their work.
I believe that leaders are key in helping their staff achieve work-life balance. They must first, and above all, promote having good boundaries when it comes to turning work off, encourage activities and hobbies that enable employees to move away from their work, and express value in their time with families and friends that enables them to come back to work with fresh perspectives.
Modeling this is a powerful tool in endorsing “me time,” relaxation, and the nurturing of relationships outside of the organization. In addition, taking an interest and asking questions about staff’s family and activities outside of work demonstrates the value that the leader and the organization places on work-life balance. Lastly, modeling discipline such as when to stop sending emails, or limiting meetings and blocking off calendar time to respond to calls and texts sends a strong message to those who are stressed from trying to do it all that it is okay to take needed time for oneself and one’s family.
These are challenging times that we continue to live through. Those in the human services sector are working each day to make lives better for others, which is the very good news in moments like these and the very challenging news as well. While working in a helping field can provide the ultimate in professional fulfillment, it can also cause an inability to disconnect out of fear that the work will not get done. The reality is that everyone in the human services sector is a contributor to the larger whole. No one person can do it alone, and without a way to create some distance and recharge one’s batteries, a person is left exhausted and ineffective.
Let’s use this time when we are working in our homes more and more to take the work-life balance challenge, using our energy to help others during our scheduled work hours, and caring for our mental and physical well-being on our own time. It is truly balance that creates the greatest enjoyment in life!