Andra Gemmell, RP #11293 is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at MyLife Counselling in Guelph. She works with adults through anxiety, addictions, depression, self-esteem, relationships, boundaries, and work-life balance. Learn more about Andra here.

Work-Life Balance: A Series – Part One

Having a work-life balance is something often talked about as not taking work home with you, not doing work during unpaid time outside of work hours, using your vacation time, and taking breaks. Some professions have always demanded a lot from employees and come with higher risk levels of burnout, job dissatisfaction, and turnover. More recently, other professions have been affected by the shift in working from home that happened during the pandemic which disrupted routines and boundaries. In response to the blurred work boundaries during the pandemic, the Ontario government has implemented a new law in the past year giving employees the right to disconnect from work emails and calls outside of work. In fact, there is so much more to creating a work-life balance than just this.

What is a work-life balance?

As a mental health professional often working with clients on issues related to a work-life balance, I am often asked what exactly it is. I think it is important to clarify that there is no perfect formula to follow for a work-life balance.

Work-life balance is a broad idea that involves having effective boundaries that allow an individual to work effectively while also tending to aspects of their life such as relationships, hobbies, well-being, and home responsibilities such as housework (Putri & Amran, 2021).

This balance can vary based on an individual’s capacity that can fluctuate day-to-day based on their health and mental well-being and the demands of the job that may vary by time of year. For example, an accountant’s demands increase during tax season as does a teacher’s during report card deadlines. The complaints I hear from clients is that if work gets demanding, they are quick to drop their personal life to accommodate work. On the other hand, if things are demanding in their personal life, such as experiencing relationship issues or struggling with their mental health, then they feel guilty making the time to address them if it means being less productive at work. Having a work-life balance means maintaining boundaries so that there is room in the day to get work done while also being self-compassionate enough to prioritize one’s personal needs as they change. Ultimately, work-life balance can vary day-to-day and can appear very different between individuals.

Pandemic Effects on Work-Life Balance

Many people have struggled with maintaining a work-life balance. I have noticed that the pandemic seems to have changed the conversations around this in ways that are outside of an individual’s control. During lockdowns, many were sent home from offices and forced to literally take work home with them and, while this started as a temporary solution, it has now changed to the “new normal.” Clients tell me about the benefits of working from home such as no longer having a commute and saving time and money, being able to sleep in more, getting work done around the house during the day, and being able to watch their children while they work (Putri & Amran, 2021).

However, I have also heard about how working from home is more easily accessible and without the physical separation of being at work versus being at home. This has resulted in work-life boundaries slipping and people finding it even more difficult to disconnect.

Lockdowns made taking vacation time and disconnecting from work seem pointless since people could not travel or do any of the activities they used to be able to enjoy doing. Now, two years later, the habits that have developed to put aside life and instead work more are difficult to break and have taken a toll on many people’s mental health and well-being.

Risks of an Ineffective Work-Life Balance

While the balance between work and life can be fluid there may be times when work is prioritized more than life and vice versa. This kind of prolonged imbalance can affect individuals physically and mentally over time. Burnout is a response to stressors at work that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, loss of enthusiasm and motivation, cynicism, and anxiety for work (Bakker et al., 2014). It can create dread for waking up to go to work, lead to feeling emotionally drained when in contact with coworkers, and an overall negative attitude due to diminished capacity to tolerate the stressors (Bakker et al., 2014).

Burnout increases the prevalence of depressive and anxiety disorders and can impact physical health through sleep disturbances, headaches, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections (Bakker et al., 2014).

If you are recognizing these emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms, you may be experiencing burnout as a result a demanding job or ineffective work-life balance. An effective work-life balance can prevent or manage burnout through engagement in leisure activities that can help you detach from work and relax to recharge your capacity. However, once you reach burnout, it may be difficult to heal on your own and reaching out to a mental health professional can help. A therapist will help you find purpose again in your work and life as you strive for a balance that works for you.

References:

Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Sanz Vergel, A. (2014). Burnout and work engagement: The JD-R approach. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1, 389-411. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-031413-091235

Putri, A., & Amran, A. (2021). Employees work-life balance reviewed from work from home aspect during COVID-19 pandemic. International Journal of Management Science and Information Technology, 1(1), 30–34. https://doi.org/10.35870/ijmsit.v1i1.231

Andra Gemmell, RP #11293 is a Registered Psychotherapist (Qualifying) at MyLife Counselling in Guelph. She works with adults through anxiety, addictions, depression, self-esteem, relationships, boundaries, and work-life balance. Learn more about Andra here.

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