One of the most noticeable workplace trends of 2022 is the renewed conversations taking place about the importance of work/life balance. The global pandemic that impacted just about every aspect of our lives over the past two years has many people reevaluating their priorities and rethinking their approach to work.
A large part of this stems from the fact that a great many more workers than ever before began working from home. It was an effective strategy to keep people working and businesses functioning while the lockdowns were in effect. However, now that the worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us and things are returning to normal, many workers are reluctant to give up the flexibility of remote work and return to the office.
It isn’t just about being able to work in our pajamas. The desire to break away from the traditional nine-to-five workday model is frequently an attempt to achieve a more sustainable work-life balance. This is the effective prioritization of professional obligations and personal life so that neither one is neglected or overshadows the other.
Too often, when there is a conflict, it is the personal concerns that are overlooked. Our employer’s demands on our time always seem to be much more pressing and non-negotiable. Plus, work is a competitive environment. You have to put in the long hours and extra effort to demonstrate that you are a key player and worthy of employment and hopefully being given even more responsibilities. There will always be time later to spend with an aging relative or attend a child’s school event, right?
Well, the pandemic showed us that this isn’t always the case. Time is precious. So, while people still care about their careers and want to be successful professionals, for an increasing number, there is a new sense of determination to balance this with a successful home life as well. Can it be done? Is it really possible to have a fulfilling personal and professional life?
The flexible benefits of remote work
On the surface, it appears that working from home is a great step in the right direction. When you are working remotely, there is no commute. That alone saves Canadians an average of roughly 45 minutes at the beginning and the end of the day. That is an extra hour and a half to spend on anything other than public transit or traffic.
Remote working situations also generally offer greater flexibility in scheduling than on-site jobs. While there may be expectations to be on-call for certain times, or meetings to attend virtually, generally, people working from home can set their own hours as long as the work gets done. This means an early riser can be at their desk at 6:00 am and finish up their work by the early afternoon. Or a parent can duck out in the middle of the day to attend a school play and finish up their work later in the afternoon or evening.
The work-life balance downsides of working from home
Of course, there are some drawbacks to remote work. Chief among them is that while you are working from home – you are now also living where you work, which can lead to people feeling the pressure to be always on the job. Remote workers often end up working longer hours than they normally would if they were going into the office.
This can stem from the desire to produce a large volume of work in order to compensate for the lack of face-time with their manager. People sometimes also feel the need to over-produce just to prove that they aren’t ‘slacking off’ while working from home.
The same communications networks and devices that make it easy to be constantly in contact and accomplish tasks from anywhere can also make it increasingly difficult to separate oneself from work. When you are always plugged in and reachable, are you ever really away from your job?
This can lead to higher levels of stress, fatigue, and burnout.
Strategies for maintaining work-life balance
Maintaining a positive work-life balance shouldn’t be negotiable. It isn’t a perk that an employer can offer you but rather an essential part of workplace culture. If you are stressed and burnt out, you won’t be successful in your work or personal life. It isn’t in the employer’s interest to have an overworked and unhappy staff either.
So, how can you avoid it?
Set boundaries. This can be especially important when working from home, but on-site workers also need to set clear expectations with their employer about when they are working, what their deliverables are, and when they are unreachable.
Speak with your manager about your hours of availability, and make sure that you come to a mutual understanding from the outset. Of course, flexibility works both ways. There may be specific projects that require extra time and effort or emergencies for which you need to be reached. Just don’t fall into the trap of taking phone calls and answering emails all hours of the night and on weekends and taking your laptop with you on vacation because you feel the need to be constantly contributing. You need downtime too.
Stick to a schedule when working remotely. Even though remote workers have more flexibility in the time they choose to do their work, you should still try to stick to a routine that works for you. It’s easier to balance your home priorities with your work if you know which hours are dedicated to being on the job.
Take a lunch break. Whether you are at home or at the office, it is not healthy to sit in one place, staring at a screen for eight hours in a row. Get up. Take a walk. Eat something to recharge your energy. Schedule your before and after lunch tasks. It helps to stay motivated when the day is divided into blocks of time and assignments.
Consider a hybrid working arrangement. Another of the biggest workplace trends of the past year or so has been the rise of the hybrid working model. Seen as a compromise between the full-time remote work that became the norm during the pandemic and the traditional nine-to-five at the office, hybrid work has employees splitting their time between being at the workplace and working from home.
This arrangement allows for teams to work together in person and benefit from face-to-face meetings with supervisors while still cutting down on the number of days employees have to commute into the office. Employees can work on their solo projects independently several days a week from home while having strategic planning meetings, feedback, supervision, and brainstorming when at the workplace.
Arrange a flexible schedule. Of course, not all jobs can be performed remotely. However, even if you must be on-site every workday, negotiating a flexible schedule can still potentially boost your work-life balance. Do you need to be home by a certain time each day to pick up the kids? Are there personal activities you need to perform within the hours of a workday? Flexible schedules allow you to manage your workload while still making time for your other priorities. This can also be a strong sign that your employer values and trusts you to get the job done.
It is important to strike a balance between your work and the responsibilities of your personal life. The best way to do this is to have a healthy dialogue with your employer and have a clear mutual understanding of what the expectations are. Then, when you are on the job, work hard, deliver results, and be great at it. And when you are on your own time, be off work, unplug, destress, and don’t check in.
Many of us feel the need to be constantly online, always available. But that isn’t a sustainable way to live. Unplug from your electronics and reconnect with your friends and family.