If you’re a recent graduate who has landed their first job out of university, then there have certainly been better times to have entered the world of work. That said, you should take solace in the fact that, right now, everyone is going through the same thing as you are.
With working from home the norm for many people across the country, the whole work/life thing is a little, well, blurred at the minute. And that means you might have a tendency to be doing more work than is good for you.
“Your personal time is exactly that – yours,” says Dal Bamford, Chief Customer Officer at talent creators Revolent Group. “Unfortunately, most of us feel like we need permission to have a healthy balance between home life and work.”
With that in mind, and with the help of Dal and Sara Teiger, Executive Coach and Founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts, we’ll look at some ways in which you can maintain a healthy work/life balance during these difficult times.
With work and home under one roof, the boundaries between the two aren’t quite so distinct right now. As Dal says, it’s important to give ourselves permission to thrive both professionally and personally: “It’s not healthy for anyone to stare at a screen and grind non-stop for 8-10 hours a day. In fact, you’ll probably find that a bit of downtime will make you more productive and will, ultimately, benefit your team and the wider organisation.”
To this end, we need to be flexible in our approaches to boundaries, even if some days we have heavier workloads than others. If you’re finding yourself tied to your work, then Dal suggests the following: “A few days a week, mark out a hard stop in your diary and down tools at that time, no matter what. Go out for a walk, call a loved one for a catch-up, listen to music or simply sit with that new book you’ve been meaning to crack open. Give your brain time to rest.”
“From conversations I’ve had with the people I coach,” says Sara, “it’s not uncommon for them to have two if not three times their previous workload. Such an unsustainable situation means that people need to start pushing back on their bosses.
“This is the time to be really assertive and if you have found yourself with an impossible workload, then say so. Because so many people are working from home, your boss is probably not even aware how overloaded you are. Tell them.”
So, how can employees ease the pressure of these stacked workloads? On this, Sara suggests: “Keep a log of the hours you are putting in and share this with your boss. Ask them to help you prioritise your to-do list. What is really urgent, what can wait and what can be put on the back burner for now? Getting a steer on priorities will help to make things feel more manageable.”
Far too often, we take on more than we should, afraid to disrupt the status quo of the workplace. Sara, on the other hand, is a firm believer in delegating duties to others: “Is there anyone else in the business who can take on some of your tasks or projects? It is possible that the business now needs to restructure to take into account the changed landscape.”
Sara states that this is another reason you really need to let your boss know if you are overloaded: “Old roles and responsibilities may need to be updated if the organisation is to continue to succeed. It’s not selfish to say you have too much on. This information could help your boss to start planning a vital restructure that could transform working life for everyone.”
Part of maintaining the boundaries between work and life is having a workspace that you can physically or symbolically “leave” once the working day is done. “Even if it’s a desk in the corner of your bedroom”, notes Sara, “it needs to be somewhere you can walk away from and close the door.”
The situation may not be ideal right now, but we can still take pleasure in the little things. Make sure you’re giving yourself things to look forward to throughout the day, however small they may be.
“Take breaks. Wander around the block. Eat lunch away from your workspace. Chat to a neighbour. Read a chapter of a book. They’re such simple things, but it’s so easy to forget to incorporate them when you’re busy,” says Sara. Even the biggest workaholics can kid themselves if they think they can be productive for hours on end, without a bit of rest and recuperation.