In this three-part series we will look at work-life balance during the pandemic and beyond. In part 1 we’ll look at how to create boundaries where there are none. In Part 2 we’ll explore 5 steps for creating work-life balance. And in part 3 we’ll look at how to provide employees a sense of balance after they return to work.
When the pandemic began and people started working from home, I checked in with a client who worked in the HR department for a large corporation. Prior to the pandemic she spent 2 hours each day commuting to work. Now that she was working from home, I asked her if she was using any of that commuting time for self-care?
This is what she told me: “No I don’t. I start work an hour earlier now and I work late just about every day.” While her answer surprised me, her experience was not unique. According to a recent article in the NY Times: “By April of 2020, during the first big Covid spike, homebound working Americans were logging three more hours on the job each day.” As worker’s commutes disappeared, they simply exchanged those extra hours for more work time.
For lots of different reasons, during the pandemic, self-care went right out the window. I personally think it’s because stress FOOLS us into believing that we don’t have time for self-care. I have seen it in my own life and in that of many others. Just the other day, a Wellness expert and Fitness instructor told me, “The pandemic has taught me why people make so many lame excuses for not exercising and eating well because now I’m making those same lame excuses myself. It seems the pandemic has added a layer of stress that sucks the motivation right out of me.”
Then there’s maladaptive coping. When stressed, people tend to manage it in ways that often lead to more stress and more problems: Smoking, drinking and recreational drug use increased dramatically during the pandemic. In addition to feeling out of balance for these reasons, we felt out of balance by being deprived of many of our usual routines: Gone were people’s gym routines, the desire to even leave home, but most importantly, gone were the important boundaries that existed before the pandemic where children actually WENT to school and the rest of us actually WENT to work.
Maintaining work life balance has always been about creating boundaries between work life and home life. But now there are no boundaries. Our technology has made it possible to work from anywhere and working remotely has turned our bedrooms into offices!
When I was in graduate school, I worked as a night watchman at a factory in Cincinnati Ohio. While the factory operated 24/7 the office building attached to it, was only occupied a little bit beyond 9 to 5. By the time I got there in the early evening, people working in the offices were long gone. The admins, whose large metal desks were all clumped in the middle of a big open space, each had their own in and out basket. Those in-baskets were always empty when I walked through.
The boundaries between work life and home life were obvious and easily maintainable back then. This is what I call the era of work life balance 1.0. You worked 8 hours (you knew you were done when your in-basket was empty), you went home for 8 hours, and you slept 8 hours. You took two weeks of vacation, maybe three or four if you had been working for your employer long enough. There was even time to practice stress management if you wanted to, and there was time to be with your family. But that just isn’t the case anymore. Nowadays, in order to maintain balance, we have to take a whole different approach.
This approach is what I call work life balance 2.0. It includes:
In next week’s installment we will examine each one of these 5 steps in detail and show you how to set boundaries where there aren’t any.