Achieve Work-Life Balance Without Missing A Step


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Friday, April 7, 2023
Walking on a balance beam

Most of us spend our lives with feet planted firmly in two different worlds. On the one hand, we have personal lives: families, friends, pets, personal interests, and hobbies. On the other is professional life. Maintaining a balance between those can be as difficult as a gymnast walking a balance beam, but it’s critical for both health and your professional future. If you’re having trouble staying in step, follow a few pointers to get yourself on an even keel.

Set Expectations Early

With a new job, there’s a strong impulse to over perform. You want to make a good impression, and show off your potential and eagerness to work. But if you over deliver and are always “on” right from the start, that can set an expectation that you will always be like this. Being a “superstar” who always answers work emails after hours and is willing to burn the midnight oil can make it harder for you to set healthy boundaries later. Even the most well-meaning employer may be taken aback when you suddenly become unavailable after work if you’ve spent the first year or two under them being constantly responsive. They may even suspect you of “quiet quitting.”

Establishing work-life boundaries from the start at a job is good for you and your supervisor. If you work for a place that won’t respect those boundaries, it’s best to know that as early as possible. 

When You’re Off, You’re Off

It’s hard to make this an ironclad rule because some jobs are “on call” and emergencies happen that may necessitate jumping on something after work, but it’s a good rule of thumb to keep your work AT work. When you’re off, you are off: no work emails, no phone calls, no after-hours projects. That latter point is especially important: if you can’t finish your work while you’re on the clock, your boss needs to know that so they can improve their project management. If you’re being given a workload so heavy that you have to do “homework,” that’s a problem.

A simple and polite way to enforce this boundary is to set an out-of-office responder on your work email when you’re off the clock. This lets your co-workers know that you’re not available to respond to their messages and tells them when you’ll be back in office, so they aren’t sitting around wondering why you aren’t getting back to them. If someone from work calls with an “emergency,” politely and calmly assess whether or not the situation they’re asking about is actually an emergency. If it’s something that can wait until tomorrow, tell them you’ll work on it first thing in the morning when you’re back in the office. This can be hard, even scary, to say when it’s your boss asking you to do something but it’s critical to stay firm on these boundaries. You give once, twice, and soon the work-life balance is completely thrown off its axis.

That being said: if it is a legitimate emergency like a technical meltdown, being flexible and responding to the problem at hand is a wise move.

Be Transparent

If you are receiving too many communications after work, talk to your supervisor. Be respectful and explain how important to you maintaining a healthy home life is. One thing that’s important to keep in mind is that sometimes bosses and/or co-workers email off the clock because that’s how their minds work. They like to spitball and throw ideas out there at all hours. They may not actually be expecting you to respond to these messages. That’s why talking to your employer and understanding where they’re coming from is so important. If they send you an email at 11pm, they may just be brainstorming or getting something important out there before they forget about it; they may NOT want you to respond to it off the clock.

For employers who want to help their employees maintain a good work-life balance, don’t forget you have tools at your disposal that can help you do that.

“If you find yourself composing an email after hours and do not want your subordinates to feel the need to respond, remember you can schedule the email to send the next morning,” said Gina Pinch, Rio Salado College Faculty Chair for Business, Management, and Public Administration.

Working Too Much Is Self-Defeating

If you think that working after hours will help you be more productive, you’re wrong. Studies have found that working too much is actually counterproductive. The stress caused by overwork can lead to health problems, depression, and burnout. Your mind and body need time to recharge and rest. Having time to yourself to reconnect with friends and family, relax, and/or enjoy a hobby keeps you mentally sharp. Any job that demands all your time isn’t just doing you a disservice, they are also hobbling themselves by turning you into a more distracted, stressed-out, and uncomfortable worker.

Prioritize Your Health

You can’t work effectively if you neglect your physical and mental health. Be sure to incorporate stretch breaks throughout your work day. Take a quick walk when you have time. Make sure you have time in your off-hours to pursue healthy activities and do things that alleviate your stress. Even if you’re working in a tight crunch, do not pass up or neglect your break time. Even if you aren’t hungry, you should take that time to get away from your desk, take a breather, and get your blood moving. Breaks help us refocus. As much as you may feel the impulse to stay on task on busy days, it’s important to get away for a little bit so you don’t lose perspective.

“If you need to talk with a colleague by phone, perhaps you can ‘walk and talk’ to get a break from sitting at your desk all day,” Pinch said.

Take Time Off

Don’t be afraid to use your vacation! If your job offers personal time and/or vacation time, use it- especially if your work doesn’t “roll over” your paid time off and resets it at the end of the year. You may feel guilty about taking time off when things are busy, but it’s important to use your time off so you can recharge, mentally reset yourself, and come back ready to work at full capacity. The important thing is to communicate your vacation plans with as much lead time as possible so your work has time to account for your absence. 

It Works Both Ways

Just as it’s important to keep your work life from encroaching on your personal life, it’s critical to maintain boundaries so that your home life doesn’t get in the way of work. If you work from home, let your family and/or roommates know when you’re “on” so that you can work without distractions. Take your pets out early and play with them before work so they’ve received the loving care and attention they need before you get in the zone with work. Stay off social media and your personal email so you can remain focused on your work.

Speaking of social media: unless people from your work specifically try to friend you, it’s best to keep your co-workers and job off your social media. Social media is a chaotic environment; even if you strive to maintain a clean, professional social media brand, you still may end up saying or doing something that could offend someone you work with (even if you have the best of intentions). 

There’s No Perfect Balance

It’s important to strive for balance; it’s just as important to accept that there is no perfect balance between work and life. There will be times where work gets very busy and takes precedence, while there are other moments where personal crises or life milestones like children, marriage, or funerals can upend that balance too. The key is to bear these sudden swings with grace and recognize them as temporary. Don’t kick yourself if the balance is off; so long as you can recognize when it’s out of alignment, you can take appropriate steps to correct it.


Article by Austin Brietta

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