Work-life balance: Is there such a thing?
Updated: May 13, 2021
News headlines today have reported that 50 of the UK's largest employers do not plan to bring their employees back into the office full time. A post-pandemic 'blended' way of working is on the cards. Is this adding fuel to the fire in an already exhausted workforce and what can we do to safeguard our wellbeing and avoid burnout?
It has been an exceptionally tough year, with routines and life as we know it completely thrown off track. And if the boundaries between work life and home life weren't already blurred, they most definitely are now.
For some of us, this has looked like sitting at the kitchen table, while trying to homeschool your child, putting the laundry on and aiming to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour.
Are we working from home or living at work?
I can only describe it in one word. JOKE. (But not the haha kind, the kind where you have find humor otherwise you will cry).
Being able to mentally 'switch off' has never been harder. Slamming the laptop shut because your child has had their third snack before dinner, looking in the fridge for inspiration for a quick and easy meal so you can slump on the sofa for some much needed kid-free time has been a frequent occurrence in my house. And you daren't go to bed early because you NEED. THIS. TIME. TO. UNWIND.
These groundhog days have gone on for weeks, months and here we are now passing the one year mark.
If this is what work-life balance looks like, then something needs to change. So what's the solution?
Firstly, addressing the elephant in the room, life as we knew it in 2019 is a thing of the past. Yes, as much as we all just want to go back to "normal" when you could book a holiday in the sun, kiss a friend (although hugs are soon to be allowed!) and not worry about touching your face accidentally when out, it ain't happening. I hate to burst your bubble, but say goodbye to the old, normal way of life.
Welcome to 2021 as we transition to a "new normal", whatever that is. As for work? I certainly can't wait for some face-to-face interaction rather than the daily screen fatigue with the same four walls, but what will this actually look like?
Personally, I work for myself - an entrepreneur, a boss lady, hustler...call it what you want but my office building is my home. The place where I also eat, sleep, unwind and raise a family. Daily commute? No chance. Work-life balance? I'm doomed.
Or am I?
For others in the corporate world, there is talk of 'hybrid' working, split between working from home and days in the office. An unprecedented (I'm actually sick of that word) approach and one that needs careful consideration.
Some will be desperate to get back into an office environment, others not so much. Can these employers please everyone? Probably not. Is the hybrid model destined for more stress in an already burnt out workforce? Adding in the daily commute itself is likely to cause anxiety for so many, particularly if it involves public transport where social distancing is virtually impossible during rush hour. Not to mention being around colleagues who all sit in different camps of comfort around 'personal space' during a pandemic (that we are still in the midst of, btw).
Either way, in my eyes, a stressful and anxiety-inducing future lies ahead.
As life 'opens up' and social calendars start getting filled, the pre-pandemic emotions of getting to Sunday night and feeling like you've not had a weekend is imminent. Of course, we are all craving human connection with friends and family SO. BADLY. But will FOMO take over and will we over-commit to the detriment of our own wellbeing?
The jury is out. There are lots of questions.
A new way of living lies ahead. Despite so many unknowns, we still have to juggle the endless demands of life. So maybe we need to take stock now and say what we want that to actually look like. And by 'we', I mean you.
One word springs to mind.
Never has it been more important to have clear boundaries and fiercely protect them like your health depends on it.
Does that mean blocking time in the calendar for down time? For feeling the joy of doing nothing and having no commitments like in the first few days of lockdown? Being in your pj's all day and not leaving the house?
Ask yourself, when you say yes to someone, are you saying no to yourself?
I probably am.
It's OK to say no, right? "I'm sorry I can't take on that extra project." "I'm sorry we can't come to the party because it's been a really busy week."
Who are we kidding, no one WANTS to say that! Cringe. The guilt. The fear of how you'll be judged. It's not in our DNA to say no.
Well, in this new era, this needs to be reviewed.
If it fills your cup, do it. If it doesn't, don't. Harsh but simple.
What about, "Committing to this will affect my physical and/or mental wellbeing and stress levels so I have to say no."
Sound harsh? Maybe a little, but it's likely to be true, though.
The point I'm making, is that we have to use this as an opportunity to press the reset button of what really matters - prioritizing the things that bring us joy, nourish and recharge us because my god are we going to need it.
It's too easy to slip back in the old way of living. This is a chance to review your work-life situation and reframe how you want it to look.
Mental health has never had so much airtime. Employers worldwide are channeling their efforts on workplace wellbeing so now is the opportunity to speak up. A happy workforce is a productive workforce. And let's face it, there is going to be an element of trial and error of this blended approach before employers strike the right balance so take a moment to reassess.
Do you want to pick your kids up from school because it brings you joy? Ask. Do you need time to do your neighbor's grocery shopping? Suggest it. Do you need meetings to start after 9am on a Tuesday so you can build in time for yoga? Ask. No logging in at the weekends? Do it and have the conversation about workload.
You get my point.
This is what self-care look like. Acts of self-love.
Every act of self-care strengthens your stress resilience muscle, lowers your cortisol levels and turns off the fight or flight switch in your nervous system.
We need to work on this mental muscle more than ever.
Now is the time to reevaluate your so called work-life balance. Your mental and physical wellbeing must take priority over everything else.
And even for those not 'working' (SAH parents, grandparents, those furloughed, carers, unable to work), finding this balance for your mental sanity is just as important.
Love yourself enough to set them.
Make sure your stress bucket isn't overflowing.
It's in your hands. Your calendar, your time, your choice.
And be grateful that you have this choice. For the hundreds and thousands of frontline heroes that have worked tirelessly for the last 18 months to protect ALL OF US who haven't had this luxury (some of which are my closest friends), and some of whom are burnt out and reassessing their careers...or reevaluating their boundaries?
It's a privileged position to be in for sure.
Don't waste it.
(#REALTALK: Yes, I may be a Stress Resilience Coach but I'm also human and need to be reminded of boundaries too, especially being my own boss)