Most of us roughly make our to-do lists either physically or mentally. We plan ahead. We strive really hard to squeeze self, family and work within the seemingly short 24 hours that we have. Yet, most of the time these lists are crushed up into a ball and find their way into the bin. Compartmentalizing work and personal life is a far cry from reality. The spillover hypothesis in the field of industrial psychology states that life satisfaction and job satisfaction are positively correlated. Thus, if you have a happy personal life then you’re likely to have a happy work life. Or, if you have a disappointing work life, the stress is bound to affect your home affairs as well.
It is important to understand that work-life balance doesn’t imply separating the two important spheres of your life in airtight compartments. At the same time, work-life balance doesn’t refer to your “brilliant” ability to multitask between the two. Research has shown that multitaskers are neither productive nor efficient. In the same chain of thought, work-life balance isn’t about giving these two spheres equal importance and space in your life. Instead, work-life balance is when you are able to devote yourself at a personally meaningful level to both the spheres such that it contributes to your physical and emotional wellbeing.
However, many internal and external forces hinder us from exploring, achieving and maintaining this self-designated level of balance. In today’s competitive world, you have to be out there to pitch in your ideas before someone else does. Just a 5 minute delay in delivering a hard copy of your proposed plan and someone else might have already shot a similar idea through email. Thus, as much ease technology has brought into the work place, the same amount of pressure it has exerted on our personal space. In a bid to be on the top of our race, we tend to knowingly or unknowingly carry the baggage of work to family dinners. Similarly, although your weekend plans with friends can be easily made via tiny texts on your phone screen during work hours, it takes away your ability to fully concentrate on the computer screen inside your workplace cubicle. We are curious creatures who are rewarded with a kick of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine each time we satisfy our curiosity. Thus, we are neurologically rewarded to check our curiosity-producing-phone-notifications but end up compromising work productivity/ familial bliss.
Another deterrent to balanced living is unsupportive workplace policies. Although research shows that flexible work hours instead of the mandatory 9 to 5 schedule increase productivity and employee satisfaction, most of the workplaces don’t offer such independence. Majority of the managers still follow the redundant Theory X i.e. they view the workforce as being lazy and unreliable unless kept under constant surveillance and pressurized to be otherwise. However, such entrapment in the classic struggle of finances v/s familial, health and recreational priorities leads to frustration and helplessness become their second nature.
Examining the effects of an overwhelming home environment, research shows that this tension is greater for those with many children, younger children, caretaking responsibilities of elderly parents, unsupportive family or marital strife. Also, pessimism, introversion and lack of initiative are important personality-based contributors to work-life tussle.
How to strike the work-life balance under such circumstances?
- Become Aware and Take Charge: Actively decide how much of work you’ll take home and how much of home you’ll take to work. Understand which mix of self, family and work suits you best. Maintain a temporary journal of how you spend your day for at least a week. Over the weekend, sit down with an open mind to confront yourself over how you’re wasting time that can be otherwise fruitfully used. Try placing a finger on triggers of dissatisfaction. Consider your alternatives and manage your emotions accordingly. For example, you’re into the habit of taking an hour long lunch break irrespective of workload which eventually results in holding you back on that office chair way past 8 o’clock in the evening. The peak hour train rush is something that then frustrates you and makes you cranky back at home. All this time you’ve been blaming your boss for dumping extra work on you. But the reflective weekend may propel you to take a shorter lunch break and utilize the train time listening to some soothing music. This is a problem focused coping method. Alternatively, if you love your lunch break dearly, then an emotion focused coping method you can try is to own up the responsibility for working overtime and see it as a choice that YOU ARE making and not someone else.
- Say No: Enlist all the things you expect doing in a day and set them in their descending level of importance. You may realize that certain priorities are constantly pinned to the top of that list and when time comes to compromise on them, you are distressed. These are the priorities that are non-negotiable. If picking up your toddler from kindergarten at the end of the day is excessively gratifying for you then don’t take up a job that doesn’t allow you that kind of freedom. Certain non-negotiables should be organized around the needs of other people. Turn off social media notifications when at work and attach a ‘no-call unless emergency’ message at the end of your official emails when off on a family vacation. With time, we ourselves and those around us will fall in place with the structure that these non-negotiables introduce in our life.
- Mindful Timeouts: Everyone tells us to give our fullest potential to work. But we often fail to remind ourselves to not feel guilty when we take a break. We are humans, not machines. If our brain sincerely is at work for 1 hour then it deserves a 5 minute ‘me time’. However, when we take this break, we are physically scrolling through social media or chatting with a coworker but mentally we are fretting over how we have so much work to do. Thus, mentally you’re never ‘on a break’ and so each time you will return to work with diminished motivation and productivity. Don’t do that.
Thus, there are many ways in which we can try to create work-life balance at a personal level even if company policies don’t favor it. However, it is important to realize that imbalance is inescapable sometimes. Sad but true, it is increasingly becoming okay to disrupt personal life over work life but not vice versa. When you can’t make both the ends meet, quit being a superhero and learn to delegate your responsibilities. You’re not ‘lazy’ if you ask your brother to get the bike repaired while you’re working on an upcoming presentation. In similar current scenarios, a heart-to-heart conversation with loved ones to discuss your feelings and lending an empathic ear to their emotional venting can go a long way in preserving familial peace which shall ultimately spillover into peace at work.
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About the author
Vrinda Ruparelia is a Psychology Graduate with certifications in the Robert Carkhuff model of counseling, graphology, gender studies and first level of hypnotherapy. Vrinda has coauthored a research paper on ‘Procrastination, Perfectionism and Test Anxiety: A Perilous Triad’, which has been published in the Indian Journal of Mental Health.
Intrigued by the subject right after school, Vrinda has stayed passionate as ever towards the study of human mind to help people challenge the roadblocks created by their mental health. She can be reached at email@example.com