I don’t believe in “work/life balance”. I have mentioned this over on LinkedIn before and I know it’s not the most popular opinion in the world - especially in a time where the line between work and our personal lives has been blurred more than ever by the pandemic and related working from home.
Still, I stand by it - trying to completely separate work and life is counter productive.
Work and Life Are Integrated
Now that I’ve ragebaited you into reading this far, let me elaborate: I strongly believe that everybody is entitled to a personal life unfettered by the concerns of their bosses and their company’s profits. I strongly believe that everybody has the right to disconnect from work. I believe in a secure distinction between one’s work devices and personal devices.
I also believe that it’s disingenuous to suggest that the 8 hours (or whatever) we spend at work every day are not integral parts of our lives. I think the world we imagine or that people strive for when we think of “work/life balance” is, well, practically Severance, and therein lies my objection: work/life balance shouldn't mean aiming to completely segregate everything, but instead to recognize that it's all connected, and we need to be able to balance how each aspect of our lives impacts the whole.
There is absolutely no way that when you put your cat down, or your roof falls in, or your friend dies at age 27 with no warning that you’re not going to be taking those feelings to work with you. If you’re like me in any way at all, you’re probably not going to forget that you have a job while at home, even if you take time off to process 0.01% of your grief. We cannot simply pretend that our work has nothing to do with our personal life or that our personal life has nothing to do with our work.
That’s not to say that it’s not hard navigating all this stuff at once, or that a balance is impossible to achieve, but it needs to be - and I dread to use this buzzword - a holistic approach. So how can we do this?
I am not a qualified therapist, and would never claim to be. The following suggestions are techniques that are both generally accepted and that I have had personal success with - but everyone is different, and if you’re really struggling then you should always speak to a doctor.
Use Your Words
This might sound patronizing, but telling someone what happened can genuinely help you process it, allowing you to verbalize your thoughts and emotions. Research has shown that talking about our feelings can be therapeutic and can help us cope with difficult situations.
It's important to be transparent about how events in your personal life may impact your work. Even if you don't expect it to affect your work at all, it's important to communicate this to your colleagues and/or manager. This helps to set clear expectations and allows for any necessary accommodations to be made.
Be Honest With Yourself, Too
It's okay to take time off to deal with personal issues, but it's also important to be honest with yourself about your capacity to work. If you feel overwhelmed and unable to focus on your job, it may be necessary to take some time off whether you want to or not.
However, if you feel that you are able to work despite the challenges in your personal life, it's okay to continue working. Many people can find it useful to keep working to help them stay focused and grounded.
Ultimately, different people and different situations call for different responses; you need to make sure you're honest with yourself about what you need to do to best recover.
If you are in a leadership or management position, it's important to be open and understanding of the challenges that your team members may be facing in their personal lives. It can be helpful for team members to know that they are not alone in their struggles and that others are going through similar challenges. This can create strong team bonds and improve team cohesion, which can be invaluable in difficult times.
Reclaiming Work/Life Balance
In conclusion, it's important to recognize that work and personal life are intertwined and cannot be completely separated from one another, no matter how much we are sold otherwise. We need to reclaim the term "work/life balance".
Communication is key in navigating the challenges of balance, and it's important to be open and honest, as well as understanding and supportive of the struggles that others may be facing. Equally, it is important to keep space for yourself.
While it may not be easy, finding ways to effectively balance work and personal life, especially during times of tragedy, can lead to a happier and more fulfilling life overall.