What does a balanced work-life mean in 2020?
We all admire and respect that colleague who works long hours, arriving early and leaving work late. That individual prioritises work first and deals with his workload with commendable grit. He does not even stop when tired. This is what an ideal worker looks like. Yet, not everyone can be like that. Showing reverence for the ideal worker propagates hustle culture, which glamourises hard work and relentless grit. Employees may be able to manage the high-intensity workplace, but at what cost?
Workers have families too. Contrary to what the majority of us think, work-life balance is not just about the number of hours dedicated to work or personal life. When the pandemic has pushed work and family under the same roof, we are no longer able to have clear boundaries between work and personal life. Work time and home-time can no longer be distinguished into two separate blocks. Under new circumstances, the knowledge and concept around work-life balance is constantly evolving. Hence, it is time to re-evaluate our definition and approach towards finding the right balance.
For those working from home, juggling work commitments with busy home lives is no easy feat.
More often than not, there will be a distraction while you are trying to complete your task for work. Parents have to supervise your child, run errands, prepare meals,etc.- all this, while trying to get your work done. Insisting on setting time aside to focus is virtually impossible and even exhausting. This is especially so for women who are disproportionately expected to take on most of the household duties. It leaves them disadvantaged and vulnerable.
Pic Cr: macrovector from Freepik
Instead, employees have to restructure how work is done and switch to integrating home and work. This will be the new normal. Interruptions from work cannot always be avoided. There will be non-standard family and work time so try to build a new routine for yourself.
How best to adjust to this new normal? Flexibility.
- Spot new patterns. What times of the day are you the least productive? What are some of your child’s needs that you have to tend to every day? What helps you to deep focus? faster? Being aware of such things enables you to factor in your break times when you are low on motivation. Pre-empt some of the tasks you have to help your child with and prepare them in advance. Build new habits that help you to work smarter.
- Communication. Speak with your supervisors so they can be on the same page with you. Be genuine and candid about your struggles with family responsibilities. At the same time, find your source of support. It can be speaking to fellow colleagues who are in the same circumstance as you are. Ask how they are managing at home and help one another out. A supportive network goes a long way.
- Leave yourself a note. This is a habit that helps with efficiency. Whenever you need to stop in the middle of a task, leave yourself a note. This note reminds you of where you left off and what you need to do next. You can resume your task almost immediately once you are freed up without having to backtrack.
At the office
When the lockdown lifts, some of us may resume working in the office. Office practices need to evolve too. The culture of posturing and grinding hard every day is unsustainable. Extreme work hours lead to fatigue, irritability and even a decrease in work performance – in other words, a burnout. In the start-up community, entrepreneurs often brag about their long hours on social media. Their toiling signals dedication and makes them “respectable” among their colleagues.
However, the hustle culture is a toxic sense of competition that creates an environment of desperation and panic. Think about it. It may just be a swindle to pressure workers to slog for the benefit of the elite few. Moderate pressure and hard work drives success but you are not an expendable resource! Companies need to start practising healthier work culture.
Pic Cr:pch.vector from Freepik
In the office, an open and honest dialogue is needed. Managers should give explicit permission for their subordinates to approach them when overwhelmed. Not everyone would voice their struggles so readily. Employees should also have a greater say in their work environment. In current times, the fear and anxiety about the uncertain future affects people in different ways and to varying extents. There are new stress factors and everyone is striving to adapt to the new normal. The same level of responsiveness and availability cannot be expected. Hence, companies should give employees the autonomy to determine their workload. They should have the flexibility to set their own goals and juggle their assignments.
Our value as human beings is beyond only human productivity. To achieve success, we do not always have to choose work over everything else. Supervisors should not pressure their employees to conform to this ideal, demanding selfless devotion to work. Every day, there are micro-stresses to deal with, especially in this pandemic. Everyone faces a diverse set of circumstances at home, with some coping with eldercare or childcare. No one should have to choose between caring for their family and holding down their job. Therefore, let’s use this opportunity to redefine a balanced work-life, revamp our systems and break down toxic work culture.