Overworking out of guilt? Experts share tips to ensure work-life balance
Do you think of self-care rituals as little luxuries and often overwork out of guilt? As we grow increasingly more connected through technology and social media, it is becoming more and more difficult to separate work from our personal lives. Here are some expert tips to ensure work-life balance
As we enter the third year of these unprecedented Covid-19 times, we find the world is slowly limping back to a new normal, work from home is here to stay but while it comes with saving time on commuting, not meeting toxic colleagues etc, there are several downsides too like decreased motivation, anxiety, uncertainties, distractions, work getting easily carried over to family time and disrupting the work-life balance. As we grow increasingly more connected through technology and social media, it is becoming more and more difficult to separate work from our personal lives and we begin to think of self-care rituals as little luxuries while often overworking out of guilt.
Agreed that work plays a significant part in all our lives and our earnings ensure that we are able to live a life we want but it is no easy task to achieve work-life balance in today’s unpredictable and fast-paced world. Work-life balance isn’t just about finding a great job, it is also about setting boundaries and integrating wellness into our daily routine because even a great job can be dangerous if not managed properly.
How can employers and employees ensure work-life balance?
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Mehezabin Dordi, Clinical Psychologist of Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Department at Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital recommended, “I think the key here is understanding that balance doesn’t happen overnight and it takes considerable amount of discipline. We need to understand that it is not a race to perfection. Don't strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while other days you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or spend time with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day.”
She added, “A good and structured routine goes a long way. Set boundaries for yourself and your colleagues to avoid burnout. Don’t be afraid to unplug from time to time. Whether you work away from home or at home, it is important to determine when you will work and when you will stop working. Include others in your journey of attaining work-life balance. It would be a good practice to notify your team members, colleagues and your manager about boundaries beyond which you cannot be accessible. This will help to ensure that they understand and respect your workplace limits and expectations.”
Echoing the same, Dr Jalpa Bhuta, Consultant Psychiatrist at Global Hospital in Mumbai's Parel, suggested, “Strictly set boundaries. Work hours should be at a fixed place, with a desk and chair. Wear work clothes if possible. Start at a fixed work time and exactly end at whenever your office time closes. Switch off from work completely and focus on family. No checking emails, texts, deadlines. Do not carry work pressures into your personal time. No working from bedroom etc. Children should not disturb you during work hours. Employers have to be supportive of the above. No unreasonable work demands should be made. Regular checking with your employees to see the stress levels, coping ways should be made. Motivational workshops and frequent online interactions should be encouraged.”
Offering tips for employees, Dr Milan Balakrishnan, Consultant Psychiatrist at Masina Hospital, advised, “Maintain a regular work schedule. Schedule in family time. Be prepared to say No to work beyond work hours. Restrict amount of unnecessary meetings. Make sure self care is maintained as below.” As for the employers and HRs, he shared, “Show empathy and be available. Understand that employees are likely to feel overwhelmed and anxious about circumstances related to the virus. Make yourself available to your staff to talk about fears, to answer questions and to reassure them about work and other issues that might come up. Stay connected with communication and meeting tools. Use virtual meeting options with video, like Zoom or for regular check-ins and to allow teams to connect with one another face-to-face."
Asserting to recognise the impact of isolation and loneliness, the psychiatrist added, "Working remotely can cause people to feel isolated, making it more important to routinely check in with your team, not only about their work but also to see how they are doing. Loneliness can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Be aware of significant changes you may see in your team member's personality or work output, because it may be a sign that a person is suffering from a mental health issue. Encourage online training This is a great time to encourage employees to sharpen their skills with online training. It is also a good distraction to focus on learning rather than worrying about other issues. If a company has an Employee Assistant Program, remind employees about it. If you don't make sure resources are provided to employees for physical and mental health checks.”
Self-care play an important role:
Clinical Psychologist Mehezabin Dordi highlights, “We often think of self-care rituals as little luxuries in our lives but in reality, so many of the things we do to take care of ourselves are essential for our physical and mental well-being and should be seen as essentials in our day to day routines. We know that “self-care” is not something that can be generalised and we cannot have a “one size fits all” approach to it. Self-care can mean different things to different people. It can look like doing something new, rediscovering something old, changing it up or continuing as is, or simply being. It is important for us to understand that not feeling productive is OKAY.”
Stressing that self-care serves as an important protective factor against burnout, exhaustion and many psychological issues, the psychologist said, “When you practice self-care, you develop better relationships with yourself, as well as your co-workers. It is an important contributor in improving your overall attitude, reducing your stress levels, improving your overall health, and increasing engagement and focus.”
Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Jalpa Bhuta stated, “You cannot pour from an empty cup. So, it is important to look after your own emotional and physical health. The time you save from commuting can be used for reading, exercise. A daily walk or jog is essential for sunshine and fresh air. Do catch up with friends and relatives. Get engaged in a distressing hobby. Work on your personal relationships so you feel more fulfilled.”
Adding to the list of self-care tips, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Milan Balakrishnan advised, “Meet basic needs. Eat on time, hydrate well and sleep regularly to optimize your ability to provide care for yourself and others. Take breaks regularly. Stay connected. Giving and receiving support from family, friends and colleagues can reduce feelings of isolation even if online. Stay updated. Rely on trusted sources of information. Participate in work meetings where relevant information is provided. Try to reduce the number of meetings. Self check-ins i.e. monitor yourself for signs of increased stress. Talk to a family member, friend, peer or therapist if needed. Remind yourself (and others) of the important work you are doing. Recognize colleagues for their service whenever possible.”
Is guilt associated with overworking?
Revealing that working at home makes it difficult to assess the passage of time and leads to difficulty in understanding extent of work put in, Dr Milan Balakrishnan quipped, “This may lead to feelings of guilt. Also other co-workers being ill may increase the amount of work on an individual and make an individual feel responsible for others too leading to further guilt, overwork and burnout.”
However, Dr Jalpa Bhuta advised, “Do not compensate for your emotional distress by overworking. Your value and identity are not defined by work alone. It also means having a fulfilling life apart from work. So, it is a worthwhile investment to make in friendships, relationships.”
Elaborating the same, Mehezabin Dordi said, “Under any situation, guilt can be a terrible burden to bear. Most of us humans are overly optimistic—we start the day with an expectation and plan of getting all sorts of things done which might at times not be possible. Your shame for not having accomplished what you set out to is often the result of unrealistic expectations. Many times our guilt is disproportionate, misplaced and irrational. The pattern of over-working out of guilt is perhaps an old one and more often than not it comes from our irrational thoughts such as: “I can’t take a break”, “it’s bad to ask for help”, “I need to do better than my colleague”, “vacations are for the weak” etc.”
She added, “The cyclic nature of guilt and overwork can be difficult to break through. The key factor here is to realign our focus on things that are actually under our control, avoid pleasing people and stop overpromising. It would also be beneficial to recognise your own capacity and limitations, gain perspective on your productivity and most importantly- to practice self-empathy. At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that you’re not a cog in the wheel but a human being.”