Have you ever noticed that anniversaries tend to cause one to reflect on both the past, what has changed, and the resolutions to implement in the future?
For many, the pandemic was a shock. Like 9/11, a generation prior, it seemed as if life again was imitating fiction: another staple from the world of comic books made real. Each day fed a grotesque thirst for the macabre as stories engrossed us in closures, lay-offs, and the confused messaging from government officials. Should we wear masks, wash our groceries with bleach?
Anxiety was multiplied by worries about making ends meet. The societal conversation shifted. Some poked fun at working from home half-clad while many binge-watched TV series that they previously had not the time to get to. There were ideas on how to readjust to the new normal, one, in particular, citing lessons found in the movie The Martian. And, just to balance the crisis out, there had to be the nay-sayers and righteous propounding hoax and conspiracy, causing us to wonder what was the truth.
As with any shift in a foundation, many of us found new points of equilibrium. We changed our daily habits, adapting to being at home, some with their entire families. Dropping off at daycare before heading to the office, if one was still employed, metamorphosized into finding a quiet place to concentrate and have an online conference call.
While some employers already had the infrastructure in place for remote staff, many were unprepared for the hardware requirements and security issues. Family members in some situations competed for bandwidth or pc time when older children had online lessons. Investing in one’s private IT could no longer be postponed.
Working from home prompted many to revisit how they managed their time, planned their days, and interacted with their families and/or housemates. It is arguable that the pandemic has forced us to revisit our work-life balance. And as the situation persists, continues to make us ask important questions about ourselves.
The pandemic has brought to fore the outlines of the myth about meritocracy. Or more so, that working hard will in time be rewarded. “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay” promoted the principle that we should give our employers our all.
Some companies realized this though was a fallacy. How could one give one’s all if there are other pressing demands upon an individual? What if they are parents with young kids and cannot afford daycare? Solution: offer a creche to employees. Need time to take care of an ailing parent? Solution: flexi-time or teleworking.
Not all companies can or want to implement such. Mandating this universally smacks of socialism and is unlikely to happen in today’s America. Whether you agree or not, what truly needs addressing is that squeezing as much work as possible out of employees in itself causes stress. And stressing employees is counterproductive. It leads to irritability, passive-aggressive behavior, anger, irritability, and ultimately depression, addiction, burnout, or worse.
Fundamentally though, even the most well-meaning companies cannot, on their own, implement policies to mitigate stress as fundamentally the objectives of the company conflict. Consider, a company’s primary goal is profitability: meaning it needs to get as much as possible out of staff at the minimum of cost. Allowing employees to delay deliverables increases production costs. Thus, even though it may boast employee benefits, the company will instill deadlines and are regimen that prioritizes work or private time.
A zero-sum game
Some thinkers, like Nigel Marsh (Youtube video) how painted how this is a farce woven into our society where we are taught that those who die having amassed the most money have somehow won. Marsh counters that we should be looking for a balance to answer the question that a life well-lived is one surrounded by love and admiration.
Balancing work-life is not simply living healthier. It is more holistic as we need to define what fulfills us:
- Physically – going beyond exercise and considering sports and other activities that are active and satisfying
- Mentally – challenges our understanding, causes us to grow, and feeds our curiosity
- Emotionally – stimulates and supports us through our relationships with family, colleagues, friends, and society
Finding the right balance is a personal choice. Many, including Marsh, talk about making an inventory of what would be our ideal working day. In cataloging our routines and rituals, we should rate what gives us satisfaction. That might be immediate, but it can also be delayed or derived through the joy and fulfillment we bring to others.
We should look at what distracts us. The ever-present smartphone with its camera and constant push notifications deliberately demands our attention elsewhere. Having such with us, demanding to be checked usually at an inconvenient moment, detracts us from being engaged elsewhere. We can all agree that a ringing cellphone in the middle of a concert performance is uncouth; so why is it acceptable to check messenger in the middle of a conversation with your spouse or child?
These interruptions also add up. Answering a couple of questions throughout the day might not seem like much but total up the time they actually consume and add in the time lost by not completing whatever it was you were doing. More than likely you will find you give up more of your time than you reckoned.
Work-life balance should enforce the concept of “me-time”. If you are going to be out-of-the-office, then you should not be expected to drop everything if somebody needs to get hold of you. Instead, set a time when you will be back among the working.
Boundaries are tested constantly. Our societal ethos is such that when “duty calls” we drop our private responsibilities. In this way, we are allowing employers to tilt the work-life balance in their favor. Establishing, if only to yourself, that there is a line is critical. And like any problem, recognizing that work transgresses is a step to managing what you accept. Over time, being known for respecting and separating work from your private needs should earn respect from those with whom you work. And if enough people stand firm, then societal attitudes will shift.
In recent months, as the world has sought a new equilibrium while living with the pandemic, there have been numerous stories about shortages. Not just shortages of products, nor time-slots for services, but also in staffing. Forbes and others, looking for a catchy title, call it the Great Resignation. Suffice to say that millions of people re-examining what they are paid to do, the safety and respect of their employers, and their work-life balance.
And perhaps this is a tectonic shift in America’s expectations of its employers. As more individuals vote with their feet, the country will search for the reasons for this mass movement and whether more needs to be done to redress such. As argued here, the work-life balance lies at the core. It’s time to revisit what honest means in the old adage. We have evolved and honesty also includes an expectation that work respects personal boundaries.