What's the worst that could happen?
by Mei Ling Yeow, managing consultant, Text 100 Kuala Lumpur
While technology means that it is easier than ever to work remotely, it also makes it extremely hard to switch off. Today, many of us no longer look at work and life as two disparate blocks which we balance on a scale. For many of us it’s become a blend of both. It is a challenge to blend without letting work seemingly take over a bigger share and leaving you feeling stressed and unfulfilled.
Different people have different work styles and principles. Some are perfectly comfortable blending work and family time, while others find taking calls or answering emails from home a strain. Rather than trying to find a “right” way to manage work and life balance, focus on your own personal values and how you can feel in control.
A search on Wikipedia yielded the snippet that in anthropology, a definition of happiness is to have as little separation as possible “between your work and your play.” So to achieve happiness, perhaps it’s not so much of separating work and life but more about harmoniously blending the two – in the ratio that best suits each individual at each stage of their lives.
In his book Managing Work Life Balance, the author David Clutterback defines work life balance as “being aware of different demands on time and energy, having the ability to make choices in the allocation of time and energy, knowing what values to apply to choices and making choices.”
We all have a choice. We want to work for a company that promotes balance and allows for flexibility in choosing how we wish to achieve this balance. Our lives and priorities are all different and everyone needs different things in terms of how to integrate the various pieces. In other words, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all work-life blending policy.
Having a child changes your priorities, so does committing to a wellness regime or a personal improvement plan. When I had my first child two years ago, I was honest with myself and realised that work was important to me and I didn’t really want to cut back. I wanted to do it all – be super mum, continue working at the pace I had before and still have time for myself. I struggled at first and then did the following which helped me come to terms with what I wanted:
- Find out about and take advantage of work/life policies that are a fit for you
Don’t to be afraid to ask about possibilities and precedents. For example at Text 100, we can work from home on preset days or just when the need arises (e.g. when the pest control man is coming over or you have to be home to receive a delivery), explore flexible work week options or even maximise holiday time by working out of other offices in the country we are visiting.
Talking to your managers openly can solve the problems that cause stress and may be the best way to reduce work-life conflict. Talking about your situation and seeking solutions to challenges may yield unexpected results. An example would be removing roadblocks to you embarking on a wellness programme – not scheduling meetings on the mornings you have a personal training session and coming in a bit later on those days. Not every problem is solvable, but many may be resolved in you actively search for resolution.
- Take care of yourself
Make time to rest and reenergise. Come up with an annual leave plan and discuss this early with you managers to set expectations. Agree with yourself what the boundaries will while you are on holiday. It could be a no laptop, no email policy or if you are like me – emails for 30 minutes a day and only replying to the absolutely super urgent stuff that no one else can decide on (which you will soon realise is not many things at all!).
- Moderate Expectations
I find that hard black and white lines in my working and personal life don’t really work and often lead to unnecessary stress and the need to justify to family and myself when I cross the virtual boundary. Be fair to yourself – the line with shift. Also, whether you want time off, shorter work hours or greater flexibility, it’s important to be realistic in what you expect to be able to achieve in your job and the commensurate returns or rewards. Oftentimes, you may have to compromise somewhere.
I like the word blend as it suggests greater flexibility and is more dynamic. In agency life and indeed in many careers, a strict 9am to 6pm work regime is near impossible to stick to. As such, blending is important to achieve a balance that we can live with. It’s also key to accept that every day is going to be different – there will be busy times where we can barely breathe and others where we have the luxury of time. The point is to take advantage of the less hectic periods to work in some flexibility and squeeze in some additional ‘me’ time.
Photo credit: flickr user w00dy.