Andra Gemmell, RP #11293 is a Registered Psychotherapist 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 Two

In the first part of this work-life balance series, which you can read here, I discussed what work-life balance is, the pandemic’s impact on that balance, and the risks of long-term imbalance. In this second part, I will be sharing techniques to develop a work-life balance for different situations specifically boundaries, lack of separation from work, or lack of fulfillment.

Permeable Boundaries

Boundaries are a way to organize your work and life domains to balance demands and expectations from others and yourself (Mellner, Aronsson, & Kecklund, 2014). When it comes to work-life boundaries, sometimes they may be placed onto you, such as your work’s expectations for business hours, or you may set them yourself, such as taking your entitled breaks from work. Some people may choose to use an integration strategy for their work-life balance, which may involve more flexibility to be able to answer a personal call while at work or respond to a work email in the evening (Adisa et al., 2022). Others may choose to use a segmentation strategy for work-life balance, which may involve strong, inflexible boundaries that keep each domain separate and reduce any potential overlap (Adisa et al., 2022). Segmentation boundaries would mean only doing your work during work hours, and only focusing on personal domains when off the clock.

Boundaries could be considered too permeable when you notice that your time is being taken advantage of and you are being flexible to others’ needs more than your own. You might find yourself frustrated with boundary crossings if you have not set firm boundaries.

An example of a permeable boundary could be skipping lunch for a meeting, or staying late to finish the extra projects you picked up on top of your already busy workload. There are many reasons that your boundaries may not be as impermeable as you may wish them to be. Some people have a hard time saying no and some may struggle with guilt from not engaging in people-pleasing actions. Others may have gotten caught up in habits at work that they find difficult to change once it has become a standard, they feel expected to maintain. Whatever the reason may be, a mental health professional can help you identify what is leading you to having a lack of boundaries, and can work with you on building assertiveness, letting go of that guilt, and setting the right boundaries for you.

Separation From Work

One of the most common things I hear from clients, especially those working from home, is that they do not have enough of a separation from their work life and home life. This can often lead to blurred boundary lines where you may be thinking about your grocery shopping list during a work meeting. Perhaps you are second guessing your reply to a work email while cooking dinner. While these scenarios are technically examples of balancing work and life through integration, it is not what is considered as effective since it usually means you are dividing your ability to stay present and entirely engaged in your task at hand (Adisa et al., 2022). Instead, I would recommend considering separation to balance an equal division of each work and life domain.

So how do I do it?

One of my favourite ways to separate work time from home time is to create a routine that clearly signals to you when it is time to check in and check out of work. An example of this is using your drive home to allow yourself to reflect on your workday’s tasks, stressors, and accomplishments, but when you arrive home closing that part of your mind off as signalled by you hanging up your work lanyard or tucking away your work lunch bag, or whatever is a symbol of work for you. Then the next time you allow yourself to let your mind wander about work is the next morning when you pick up that symbol of work and start the drive to the office. A routine like this can be a physical reminder cue to engage in the appropriate area of your life, while also giving you a designated time to process your work worries without dismissing them. A time and place for everything.

If you are working from home, ideally you would have a space that is designated for work and separate from where you may sleep or relax so that you are easily able to close the door at the end of your shift, but I recognize that is not always possible. Your work-from-home checkout routine could involve closing your laptop and putting it away in a desk drawer or closet and giving yourself 15 minutes in your office chair to reflect on your workday in lieu of a commute where you could do that. Tucking away your workstation also helps to make it inconvenient to easily access a quick sneak peek at emails during off-shift hours. What could be part of your checkout routine to help you signal the end of your workday?

Fulfilling Your Life Domain

Having a fulfilling life that you thoroughly enjoy and are excited to return to after work is an integral part of work-life balance. This could include multiple different subcategories such as:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Romantic Partner(s)
  • Health
  • Spiritual
  • Hobbies

Learning what your subcategories and values are can help prioritize what is important to you and can help you lead a fulfilling life by engaging in activities that are aligned with your values.

Especially during the pandemic, our routines drastically changed. It is so important to reintroduce those routines back in your life to have a fulfilling life that is worth balancing with work so that work is not the most interesting part of your day. This will give you something to look forward to and motivate you to turn off your computer and leave your office in a timely manner. Since there is no perfect formula to follow for a work-life balance, it may take some time to experiment and see what kind of boundaries work best for you and start implementing a routine that fulfills your life.

References:

Adisa, T. A., Antonacopoulou, E., Beauregard, T. A., Dickmann, M., & Adekoya, O. D. (2022). Exploring the impact of COVID‐19 on employees’ boundary management and work–life balance. British Journal of Management, 33(4), 1694–1709. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8551.12643

Mellner, C., Aronsson, G., & Kecklund, G. (2014). Boundary management preferences, boundary control, and work-life balance among full-time employed professionals in knowledge-intensive, flexible work. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, 4, 7-23. https://doi.org/10.19154/njwls.v4i4.4705

Andra Gemmell, RP #11293 is a Registered Psychotherapist 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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