27 Aug Sustaining a proper work-life balance, what does remote working do to us?
The role of work in your life
Work plays a significant role within our lives. However, the exact role is different between each of our lives. Sustaining a proper work-life balance has always been a challenge. But now, when we all work remotely, the physical borders of the office and our home diffuse. Many employees now live and work at the same place, integrating work and life. How does this impact our work-life balance? To discover the role of work in our lives, it is a good question to ask yourself: how much do you identify with your work? Imagine you’re at a party and someone asks to tell a bit about yourself, when would your work reach the topic of your conversation? You might perceive your work just as a mean to get money and thus prefer to talk about your hobbies, or you might perceive your work as the true representation of yourself, making the conversation almost seem like a networking event.
Two types of workers
In the extremes, there were always two types of workers, the “work-life balancers” and the “work-life integrators”. On the one side, we have the work-life balancers who hold a clear separation between work and life. The work-life balancers work steadily from 9-5, but once the clock reaches 5:00 PM, their “life” starts. From that moment, their mind is focused completely on their personal life like their family and hobbies. It is no surprise that some of the work-life balancers can’t wait for the weekend and refuse to check their email outside of work hours. While on the extreme other side, we have the work-life integrators, these people have their work and life relatively diffused together. True integrators are the group of people who think of business propositions in the shower, don’t mind working (a bit) on the weekend, and like to introduce their family to their colleagues. We usually find the extreme integrators in the higher levels of an organisation. Many founders have an unprecedented enthusiasm about their organisation and can’t stop thinking about their organisation in order to make it better and more successful. While these same founders have a difficult time understanding that some of their employees (the extreme balancers), can’t wait for the weekend to start. When you talk about how work relates to your sense of self, we reach the subject of identity. For work-life integrators, work is strongly connected to their identity, while for the balancers, this part is loosely connected. Although I discussed the extremes, many of the employees are somewhere between the integration and balance.
The loss of the office
The effects of the lockdown might be different between the work-life balancers and the work-life integrators. Since the integrators already mix home & office, they shouldn’t directly have that many problems with working from home, they were doing that already for some part. But for work-life balancers, the direct effects might be stronger. By working from home during the lock-down, these employees lost their strong office=work mindset. The facilities and assets gave them specific associations, bringing them into that working mindset. The office-coffee, their office-desk, and being amidst their colleagues who focused on work as well made them flourish from 9-5. But now unwillingly, they start to associate their home with work, which is undesirable to them because of the effects on their personal lives. For example, working full-time in bedrooms, on the couch or in a single-room apartment can have major effects on sleep and can also give employees a sense of not being able to unplug. 18% of full-time remote workers have reported this problem of experiencing continuous strain. Although work-life balancers might have become agitated because of diffusing work and life and distracted from work because being at home, different risks for work-life integrators might be looming. Integrators, already strongly plugged into work, now have lost their last sense of separation between work and life. Work becomes even more integrated into their identity. When struggling at work, for example, this can personally affect them since their effort at work is related to their self-worth. Especially during the current economic challenges, it is likely that some integrators feel a heavy burden on their personal shoulders.
The role of family
With working from home, an increased time is spent with and around family (for those who have a family). Strongly work-devoted employees might experience “family interference” while working, while others might experience rather “family distractions”; the desire to focus on family instead of work. Research showed that these strongly devoted employees usually perform better and reach higher positions as they lack the family interference that distracts them. But while working from home, many employees are strongly confronted with choices between work and family. However, researchers have also shown “family-enrichment”, where both parties experience a mutual benefit from the work-life relationship.
Discussion and tips
Employees, whether work-life integrators or balancers face challenges while working from home between their work and their life. The loss of the office confronts them with several decisions that bring them towards the diffusion or the separation. Each one of us has their own personal situation where there is an urge either to integration or separation between work and life. When there is interference in the form of a conflict between work and life, some diffusion might be warranted. The goal is then to coordinate the interactions with family and work by discussing the perceived duality, both with managers and family members, and taking the appropriate measures. Being open about the current situation, involving family with your work demands, while involving colleagues with your family demands, might create mutual understanding. But another solution could be to increase the work and life separation. Making barriers between work and life could be physical by changing workplaces but could be in the form of clothing (wearing a working outfit while working), use of IT (work and personal accounts on your devices), or by incorporating certain work-life transitions rituals in your day (e.g. starting and closing your workday by 10 minutes of meditation/listening to music).
Work and life seem to be different areas, but they are intrinsically connected in our lives. Even if you split them apart completely, the separation itself brings them together in you as a person. Through work, you pay for your life, and through life, you are ready to work and contribute to society. It’s more of a cycle than two separate entities. Nonetheless, the way you let both streams flow through each other is up to you. Sometimes they might benefit from each other, sometimes they might interfere with each other. Nevertheless, the overall sensed direction (purpose) of your life in your current situation; like being a good parent, or an excellent executive might determine how you organise your way of living your (work) life. In any case, we wish you good luck!
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