MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: Life-work balance – It’s a thing now

By Andrea Mory
Special to the Herald Democrat

Work-life balance. What a wonderful concept, we think. This idea first started appearing in the 1980’s, as some women’s liberation movements advocated for flexible schedules and maternity leave for working women. In the last 15 years or so, it came to be more about stress management, time management and avoiding burnout and mental health issues for all workers, not just women. Some tools were introduced such as flexible schedules, but as technology advanced, the advantages of having a flexed schedule almost disappeared as employees began staying connected well after the ‘work day’ via cell phones and other technology. This was a new way to ‘bring work home’. The difference between ‘work’ and ‘life’ used to mean when you left the workplace, then, it meant when you turned off your cell phone. Now, in 2021, the lines are increasingly blurred between this thing we call ‘work and this thing we call life’.

Enter stage left: Bad actor, COVID-19. More than a year after this bad actor entered the global stage, many of us have been sent home to work permanently. Striped of face-to-face work families, stripped of the friendly pot-luck lunches and … striped of that nice, ‘daily divide’. You probably know this welcome daily divide, we get it coming and going. You experience it when you leave work … the happy hour phase…your get to stop staring at your computer, stop solving other people’s problems, stop hearing your co-worker complain, customer concerns and end of your shift, ready to head back to cozy home and get in your jammies and be with people you love. The next daily divide, occurs when you leave the house and get to spend eight or so hours so at work, not having to look at the dishes, the laundry, the yard work …you get the idea. Most of us have always, at some level appreciated that ‘daily divide’.

So now many of us have, in fact, been sent home to work and work-life balance has never been more important than now, when you are working from home, all the time. It may feel even more accurate now to call it “life-work balance,” instead. Many of us are now we are doing “work” in a place where “life” typically happens, so we find we have to balance ourselves, balance our time and balance our attention, so that life does not get in the way of work. This doesn’t mean work is now more important. It just means that the balance can be harder to find with “life” surrounding you while you try to do “work”.

It can be very difficult to create an effective, productive workspace at home, let alone to create one that effectively supports your mental health when you have lost the work-family connections. It is easier said than accomplished, but here are a few ideas that can be helpful to help you work better from home and support your own mental health: 1) Set a routine for sleep, work, breaks and stopping work. 2) Give yourself regular breaks and lunchtimes, occasionally leave home for lunch. 3) Stay connected with co-workers via regular phone or video meetings, even schedule a once a week ‘coffee-break’ meeting to chat and support each other. 4) Set boundaries with family about your work times and work area. Discuss what you need to be able to focus while working. 5) Think long term about ways to improve and perfect your home work space and home work habits. 6) Practice self-compassion by realizing that you might not work as smoothly and quickly as you did at a regular workplace. It takes time to establish new routines and work habits. Be realistic, open to new ideas and discuss with your supervisor what’s possible to achieve during these circumstances. Then, when work is done …. go in the next room and let life begin.

Andrea Mory

Andrea Mory is a human resources and management professional and a certified Trust Based Relational Intervention Practitioner. She has collaborated over the last 20 years with the private practice MoryTherapy to develop training and education programs related to behavioral health. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.