The Covid-19 pandemic has kickstarted a national conversation about the importance of a healthy work-life balance. The pandemic also triggered an unprecedented shift in our work culture: a global transition from in-office work to a remote work environment that allows for greater flexibility for workers, more time spent with family, and freedom from our exhausting and time-consuming commutes. But as the pandemic wanes and more employers are insisting their employees return to the office full-time, many employees are finding that their work-life balance is suffering, and they are returning to pre-pandemic levels of work-related stress.
If this resonates with you, you are not alone: Mental Health America finds that a whopping 1 in 4 Americans describes themselves as “super stressed.” Work anxiety and poor work-life balance go hand in hand, so if you want to decrease your stress level, a healthy work-life balance is key.
But what is a healthy work-life balance, anyway? Where do you draw the line between work and home when you work from home? And how can a “super stressed” employee find peace amid the hustle and bustle of work and family life? Let’s dive in.
Amid the ongoing discussions about work-life balance, a fascinating digital trend has emerged: “quiet quitting.” Quiet quitting, despite its name, does not actually mean resigning from your job, but instead, refusing to take on additional work or perform duties not in your job description. Like many online trends, it finds its origins on TikTok, and it’s Gen Z’s most recent form of resistance against unjust work cultures. However, it’s definitely not just for young adults; everyone should take a cue from these TikTokkers when it comes to setting healthy boundaries in our professional lives.
The name of this trend, too, is significant. Why call it “quitting” if it’s really just fulfilling your job duties as assigned? That this trend even emerged in the first place speaks to some issues in our work culture: it’s become so normalized for employers to take advantage of employees that healthy boundaries are now seen as akin to quitting. In truth, though, quiet quitting is simply a healthy work-life balance. No one should expect you to do more work than you signed up for.
No Such Thing as Work Life Balance?
There are some people who don’t even believe in work-life balance at all. Kara Longo Korte, director of product management for TetraVX, argues that work-life balance is like “a seesaw” which usually has lots of weight on one side and little on the other. She suggests that the work-life balance paradigm is unrealistic because drawing a hard line between your work time and your personal time is impossible. She feels a “blend” of the two is a better goal.
Korte is not alone in feeling this way; many others, particularly CEOs, have suggested that the work-life balance model is unsustainable given the rise of technology like Slack and Zoom. Mobile workplace apps like these allow us to essentially carry our work environment in our pockets all the time, which often results in people corresponding with colleagues or answering emails even on their off days.
Slack, Zoom, email, and the myriad other workplace apps we use every day are no doubt beneficial to us. But human beings need a break. If you are dedicating too much personal time to your job, you will become exhausted, and you will be unable to fulfill all your responsibilities at work or at home. Work life balance is real, and it matters.
What is a Healthy Work-Life Balance?
Let’s start with the obvious: a healthy work-life balance will look different for everyone.
Some people thrive on watching their business grow, so they receive personal fulfillment from professional success. Others see their job simply as a way to support their families and receive their happiness from their friends and loved ones. Your personal definition of a healthy work-life balance will depend on your circumstances, values, and needs.
However, there are certain attributes of a healthy work-life balance to which we should all aspire:
- A healthy work-life balance means fulfilling all your responsibilities both at work and at home. It means completing work projects while also having time to take the kids to the park. It means showing up for your boss as well as showing up for your spouse or partner. It means doing the best job you can in both realms and not sacrificing time with loved ones to get your work done.
- A healthy work-life balance means working hard while also caring for yourself mentally and physically. If you are eating too much or too little because of work stress, your job is demanding more of you than you can safely give. If you’re too exhausted from work to exercise, your job is taking precedence over your physical wellbeing. If job-related stress causes you to lose sleep, you will be unable to do your best at work or at home. Work is important, but it should never come at the expense of your wellness.
- Above all, a healthy work-life balance means you feel fulfilled, stable, and empowered—not overwhelmed—by the life you live. Work-life balances are rarely 50/50. If you feel comfortable with the amount of energy you devote to each part of your daily life, then your work-life balance is probably fine. However, if you regularly feel exhausted, frustrated, or hopeless after work, it’s probably time to re-evaluate your work-life balance.
Let’s examine some ways you can improve your work-life balance.
First, Determine What You Need
The first step to establishing a healthy work-life balance is to determine what you need to feel fulfilled. What parts of your life require more balance? Maybe you’d like more time to spend with your children or pets. Maybe you’re seeking more time to devote to a favorite hobby, or time to develop a new one. Maybe you’re looking to reduce the amount of responsibility on your shoulders and take a vacation. Spend some time thinking about parts of your routine need improvement.
Next, Set Some Boundaries
One of the major reasons why people experience a poor work-life balance is their work spills over into their personal time. Although it can be challenging, it’s imperative that you draw a hard line between your work hours and your personal hours. One way to start is by setting a “no work after work” rule: Refuse to answer your phone, check your emails, or look at your laptop after 5:00 pm every day.
Another example of boundary setting is learning to say “no.” If your boss is constantly placing too much work on your plate, or if your colleagues frequently ask you to help them out with their workload, try to get in the habit of refusing. Please believe me when I tell you that setting boundaries isn’t rude. It is necessary for your mental health. Work matters, but so does your well-being. Recognizing when you’re at your limits and expecting others to respect those boundaries is essential to your work-life balance.
Above all, remember that your time is yours, and no one—not even a boss—has the right to take it away from you. Take a personal day when you need it, read a book on your lunch break, and trust your body when it tells you that you don’t have the bandwidth to take on more work.
Take Time for What Matters
Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s imperative. Unplug for the weekend and spend your time with your friends and loved ones. Walk the dog, go to the gym, take a hot bath, enjoy a glass of wine, try some yoga—whatever makes you feel happy and at peace, do that. Not only do you deserve it, but you also need it.
Finally, Seek Help When Necessary
Despite what you might have been told, asking for help does not make you weak. In fact, it is one of the smartest, bravest things you can do for yourself.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, ask your boss for some flexibility. Request to work from home this week (if you don’t already) or ask for an extension on the project you’re struggling with. Reach out to coworkers and ask if they can help you with some of your tasks. Ask your partner or family members to help you with the household tasks you’ve been putting off. Instead of trying to shoulder all these burdens yourself, reach out and ask for help—and you’ll be amazed by how many people are willing to assist you.
Another important aspect of a healthy work-life balance is your social life. Finding community with other like minded folks can help you feel less alone when you are stressed. Groups like Serenity Sanctuary, my online support group for professional women of color, can help you form meaningful connections with others who face similar struggles to your own.
Finally, if your distress becomes overwhelming, reach out to a therapist. There is no shame in speaking to a professional when you need it. A therapist can help you pinpoint the root of your anxiety and find solutions
A healthy work-life balance is not frivolous, nor selfish; it’s necessary for your health. No matter how much you love your job, it will never love you back. Only your family and friends will do that. If you expend all your mental energy on your job and don’t save any for your personal life, you will experience burnout. Take the time you need for yourself, unplug after work hours, and allow yourself to take a break from work when you need it. Your health and wellbeing come first—always.