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Maintaining work-life balance

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Posted by Emer Bucukoglu on 27 May 2020

Emer Bucukoglu

Maintaining work-life balance

Wellbeing | Covid-19 | Mental Health

Two months into lockdown and suffice to say that whilst we have all adjusted to a new way of working it is still far from normal to most of us. Family life has become a strange combination of balancing home-working, home-schooling and burning off excess energy by pacing around our living rooms or gardens. Whilst we have generally worked out a reasonable system of how to do our jobs we have also been isolated from the many office-based routines and environment that have given us structure and even motivation, to our day. Oddly, many of us are missing our commute to the office each morning, whether it is the drive-in program or the podcast we listen to on the train, stopping for a cup of coffee and chatting to our usual barista. I miss the routine of saying good morning to the various teams across the office and I know I am not the only one.

With the tide cautiously turning, now is the time to consider the new reality and that is, even as we establish a Post Corona world, for some of us, working from home, could become a long-term requirement. With that prospect in mind we really need to think of ways carve out some useful habits that might help us achieve some sense of balance between work and home but before we explore these it is worth considering what we mean when we think about work life balance.

Balance or Integration?
There is a widely held belief that to achieve work life balance we must have total harmony between our work life and home life, the true ideal is having a complete absence of conflict. I came across an interesting article that suggested we needed to let go of this way of thinking and the notion that work time and home time are distinct and separate blocks.  According to business scholar Stewart Friedman, a much more realistic goal than balance, is to better integrate work and the rest of life in ways that help wins between work, home, community, and self. 

His view, and a powerful one I believe, is that we need to focus less on trade-offs and more on synergies. Simply put, you will gain more by combining aspects of your life that up to now you may have kept distinct from each other and that at the heart of work life balance/integration is flexibility and individualism. Maybe I love writing a blog on front of the TV whilst watching the Donald Trump comedy hour, but someone else might prefer to get up early before the kids are awake to clear some tasks. The best approach for one is not necessarily the same for another and recognising and creating space for that can help you on your quest. 

This certainly seems like a sensible approach, so how might one do that? Here are some approaches that could get you started:-

1.    Determine your optimum working pattern
During this pandemic there has been an immediate requirement to change how and when work gets done, including making more room for family responsibilities and challenging the true value of the traditional working day. For many organisations it has meant allowing employees to re-design their working pattern, e.g. starting earlier in the morning before the onslaught of family life kicks in and finishing up at 4pm to enable meal preparation or help with school work, or to start later to take advantage of a Joe Wicks P.E class or to take an extra 15 minutes for lunch to spend time with your children. I believe employees are truly valuing the flexibility employers are showing them to keep on working in very testing times. We are no stranger to the statistics around workplace wellbeing, The Mental Health Foundation found 27% of people working long hours feel depressed, 34% feel anxious and 58% feel irritable. If we can continue to find a way to mitigate these contributory factors by establishing better patterns of working that work for us and our employers, not only will it allow us to improve our mental wellbeing but also our outlook and sense of teamwork will undoubtedly benefit too.

2.    Get Organised
This is all about having a plan. It is impossible to plan very far into the future but try to at least come up with a plan for the day. Think about the key tasks you need to get done and set aside the time to focus on those activities. It is good to work out when you have the most energy and use that to focus on the things that are important, of value, or going to require a bit more thinking to get done. 

3.    Unplug
Technology is our friend but also our enemy in that it has created expectations of constant accessibility. During this pandemic, for those of us who are used to leaving the office as a clear signal that the working day is behind us, now if feels like the working day never seems to end and we just can’t mentally switch off. Try to make a few changes could make a big difference: 

1.    stop worrying that because you are no longer physically visible that you are not appreciated or trusted.
2.    stop sending work texts during your child’s bedtime story or whilst they are talking to you.
3.    stop sending work emails while you are with your family.
4.    ensure quality time is true quality time. 
5.    recognise when you are continuously reacting to updates from work outside of your working pattern

These acts of self-discipline will help you to build a better sense of control over your work life integration which in turn should reduce your stress levels. In saying that, if there is technology that could help you develop a better level of self-discipline i.e. disconnecting from work emails whilst on holiday or a day off then make use of it! I have heard of companies offering to auto-delete all employee's emails while they’re on holiday, so they arrive back to an empty inbox, a bit extreme perhaps but an intervention that you may wish to adopt if your sense of control is not as strong as you would like it to be.

4.    Get some exercise
Even when we are busy, we still make time to eat, go to the bathroom and sleep but exercise is often the first thing to go when our workday fills up. There is so much evidence out there that exercise is an effective stress reducer so if prior to lockdown you got your exercise or mood enhancing fix from regular gym workouts, walking, or running groups, or simply running from meeting to meeting then you will certainly miss this activity in lockdown. Alternatives might be alternating early morning walks with lunchtime or evening walks, structuring your working day around it to make it happen or set up an exercise routine with family members. 

It is also important to recognise that not everything has to be the completion of physical exercise; it should also include self-care so that your mind and soul are also being nurtured. Meditation exercises are often a good route, start small with deep breathing exercises just prior to your morning logon perhaps. Our parent company PG recently circulated a very handy blog on Mindfulness including links to a useful meditation app called Headspace.

5.    Express your feelings
Finally, remember to express how you are feeling as well as checking in on fellow colleagues. None of us have this thing perfected but it is important to be open and honest about your struggles with the situation, a piece of work or just life in general. The prospect of no sunny holidays overseas, closed restaurants and our kids remaining home schooled for the foreseeable future, we have arguably less to get excited about. These used to be the conversations that happened naturally in the office environment so finding alternative avenues to vent and process these emotions such as increased 1:1s with your manager, a weekly team call that is more social in nature or a daily catch up with work colleague over Teams can all go to make you feel you’re not alone.
 

The Innecto team are on-hand to discuss any apsect of pay and reward. If you'd like to get in touch, give us a call on 020 3457 0894 or email emer.bucukoglu@innecto.com. 

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