While technology has brought us many benefits, it has also lengthened the work day by giving us mobile phones, instant messaging, the internet, and e-mail. These technological inventions have facilitated accessibility beyond business hours. Answering e-mails and messages at night and over the weekend has become the norm for many professionals.
In 2008, Harvard Business School conducted a survey of 1,000 IT professionals, accountants, consultants, investment bankers, and others who work in professional services. According to that survey, 94 percent of those surveyed said they worked 50 hours or more per week, and almost 50 percent said they worked more than 65 hours a week. They believed it was necessary for professional and business success to keep to an always on work ethic.
Twelve years later, the pressure on people in some occupations and industries to work beyond office hours is still intense. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many are working from home — work schedules are more flexible, but quite a few people are still struggling with tech overload. For example, some employees who've started working from home because of Covid are logged in to video conferences for several hours every day.
The sense of urgency to respond to one's boss, a client, or a colleague whenever they call or email hasn't eased. It's fear of job loss, missing a promotion, or falling behind in one's profession that compels most people to overstretch themselves.
Yet prioritizing work above all else and working very long hours continuously doesn't necessarily lead to better work outcomes. Conversely, it can have an adverse effect on performance. Overworking oneself day after day can cause mental and physical strain, and allowing hardly any time for family and other personal priorities is emotionally draining.
Maintaining an equilibrium between work and personal life is important for our mental, physical, and emotional well-being. There's no single work-life balance formula that suits everyone. Each one of us has to figure out a suitable balance between work and life.
All work and no play
Poor work-life balance can lead to excessive stress — which has an adverse effect on mental and physical health — and eventual burnout. The impact of overworking yourself day after day can creep up on you gradually without your noticing it.
Eventually, you might find that both your performance and your interpersonal relations with people at work are suffering, and that you're not able to always focus on the work at hand. In the long run, this can affect your career. Many employers are also realizing that work and tech overload often lead to an increase in absenteeism and lower productivity.
Overworked professionals tend to develop health issues, mental and physical. Working long hours causes many to develop unhealthy lifestyles, which in turn can lead to anxiety, depression, poor concentration, lack of sleep, weight gain, digestive disorders, poor circulation, back pain, cardiovascular disease, and low energy levels.
On the personal front, relationships might bear the brunt of long hours at the office and taking work home. When you spend most of each day working, it leaves you exhausted, with hardly any time to spend with your children, spouse, parents, partner or friends.
Over time, long work days normally affect general well-being and happiness.
Balance is better
Better work-life balance lowers stress levels, improves concentration, increases energy, and helps prevent burnout. People who are able to achieve a healthy balance between work and personal life tend to become more productive employees and happier and healthier people.
You'll notice an improvement in professional outcomes as well as in your personal life. As a result, you'll be worrying less and enjoying yourself more. For those who are consistently overworked, it ios crucial to slow down and address the situation at the earliest possible juncture in order to avoid burnout.
Anyone can work out a better balance between work and life if they set their minds to it. Here are some suggestions from experts that might help:
Prioritise important things in your life: This differs from person to person. Set some time aside to reflect on your life and assess your priorities. Once you've got that down, establish a weekly schedule that allows more time for what is most important to you.
Ideally, you need to give adequate and undivided attention to the main people, activities, and interests in your life. It's not always possible to achieve this on a daily basis, but you can aim to fit all your priorities in comfortably over the week, at least. Try to avoid wasting time on unimportant and uninteresting activities, as well as on negative and unproductive people.
Striving for perfectionism can be stressful: Don't push yourself endlessly. Be realistic about what you can achieve. It is far better to strive to do one's best instead of aiming to be perfect.
Try to find stimulating and gratifying work: Liking your work is important. Not everyone is fortunate enough to pursue their passion as a profession, but try to find a job that interests you and aligns with your aptitude. If you are in a mundane or unsuitable job that makes you function mechanically, you'll be unhappy and carry some of that unhappiness back home.
Avoid toxic environments: Some work environments are overwhelmingly toxic. Alternatively, you might have a toxic boss or colleagues. In either case, you need to either move to a non-toxic department in the same company, or look for another job.
Continuing to forge ahead in a toxic workplace will almost certainly affect your performance and mental health over time.
Take care of yourself: Your health should be one of your top priorities. Nurture your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. This doesn't require much time on a daily basis.
A 20-minute brisk walk in the morning can not only do wonders for your circulation and posture, it also clears your mind. Find a few minutes at least 3 or 4 days a week for a jog, walk, or swim, or whatever exercise you like. Meditating for a few minutes each day helps to calm your mind and improves concentration.
Disconnect from work and the internet: It's necessary to unplug every now and then to unwind and take the load of your mind. Turn off your phone notifications, and don't check work-related emails. Read, cook, walk on the beach, or do whatever you enjoy. It's important to find time to relax and refresh one's mind.
Find time for family, friends, or activities you enjoy: Attending to your personal life, whether it's family, or friends, or hobbies, or other activities, is good for your emotional and mental health. You need to schedule time each week for people or activities that are important to you.
Go on holiday: Try to take a break whenever your circumstances permit, even if that means going somewhere quiet over the weekend. Everyone needs to step away from professional work now and then. It's vital to unwind to clear and calm your mind and restore your energy.
How to follow through
Fix a cut-off time: Set a cut-off time after you return home from work beyond which you will not answer work-related calls or check emails. Inform your boss, co-workers, and clients that you will not be available after a specific time in the evenings and over the weekend.
Tweak your schedule as you go along: Your daily or weekly schedule is not set in stone. It needs to change to suit changing circumstances. It's advisable to review your schedule frequently and ensure you're allotting adequate time to each priority and not wasting time on superficial stuff.
Ensure you devote some time to self-care each week: Whether it's exercise or meditation, or preferably both, it's important to continue the practice. The long-term benefits are significant.