A shift in working habits affecting work-life balance since the start of the pandemic could be contributing to greater risk of burnout. But, reassessing how we manage demands in our daily routines can make a significant difference.
Sticking to a fixed schedule has become more difficult than ever, perhaps even more so for working parents and people working from home. A 24-hour weekday should ideally be made up of roughly eight hours each for working, sleeping and private time, which would include family responsibilities, rest, and leisure. This ideal balance isn’t always possible, and at times we need to be flexible with a few hours of overtime for urgent work priorities. This should be the exception, however, not the rule.
In the last two years a pattern has emerged where productivity expectations seem to be higher than ever, and this shows no sign of abating. While work demands may be intense, it’s very often the pressure employees put on themselves that may alter work-life balance.
This has given rise to an ‘always on’ trend, which is persisting in many workplaces even among those not working from home. The technology and online platforms many people use for work can be convenient for keeping in touch with colleagues and cutting down on travel time, allowing us to pack more meetings into the day, but this can be intrusive after working hours and set a pace that is unrealistic and unsustainable.
Work demands are intense, and often we place further pressure on ourselves by trying to meet every expectation. If you feel you can’t even find time for a quick tea break, bear in mind that it’s simply not humanly possible to maintain good concentration solidly for eight or nine hours without a rest. Taking a short mental health break will help to keep you more productive throughout the day.
When the workday has ended, people often tend to take their work home both physically and emotionally. Actively working overtime, as well as time spent processing the demands of the day, worrying about tomorrow, and anxieties about our work can intrude on personal time.
Set boundaries for yourself on how you manage your time, and define a cut off point for work because there will always be priorities no matter how much extra time you put in. If a healthy work-life balance is not restored in time and a person is unable to replenish themselves sufficiently, it can have consequences for mental and physical health.
The need to decompress
Although working from home has allowed employees some flexibility and has squeezed a little extra time into our schedules, one advantage of commuting is that it offers a clear divide between work and home, and the time to decompress and evaluate the day.
After a full day’s work, it’s common to experience depleted emotional energy levels. After logging off work, we would all like to start relaxing but usually there are domestic tasks to be attended to first, such as preparing meals.
Taking a little time, if possible after work when you aren’t expected to be busy with anything else, to refresh your mind before transitioning into domestic life. Taking a breather to shrug off the stress of the workday can be helpful for fulfilling the need to put some distance between our work and home lives and help us transition into private family time.
Parents face extra demands
Parents often face additional demands, as parenting is a full-time job in itself. Working parents may feel worn out by the time they get home, but this is often when parenting time begins. There may be homework to oversee, preparations for school the next day, and bath time, and while you might be physically present for your family, it’s just as important to be emotionally present too.
By the time there is a chance to relax, parents may be so exhausted that they have no resources left for nurturing their personal lives and making the most of any spare time left before going to bed.
We are not meant to only work and sleep
When a person is approaching burnout, often the first thing to fall away is a sense of enjoyment. As human beings, we aren’t meant to only work and sleep. Don’t forget, we need to enjoy ourselves and invest time in our relationships.
Couples may sit together watching a series or scrolling through their phones but lead very separate lives. Spending time together should be about sharing and relating to each other, but often people at risk of burnout feel too exhausted to be fully present, and this could be a sign that it’s time to reassess your work-life balance.
Leisure time is vital for recharging our emotional energy and is therefore necessary to be at our best for both work and family. All too often, it’s only when people are burnt out to the point where they are no longer able to function in their working or home lives, that they reach out for professional support.
Often, we place so much value on the time we spend being productive, but not nearly as much as we should on replenishing our own mental and physical health. If you find you are starting to feel overwhelmed or demotivated, reach out for professional mental health support.
For information about mental health and services, and accessing care, or for help in an emotional crisis, Netcare Akeso is here to help. In the event of a psychological crisis, individuals can phone the Netcare Akeso crisis helpline on 0861 435 787, 24 hours a day, to talk to an experienced counsellor.
MEET THE EXPERT
Lauren Leyman is an occupational therapist practising at Akeso Crescent Clinic. She has a passion for assisting individuals in their return to a fulfilling and meaningful life. Her experience includes working in general psychiatry, with adolescents, and with addiction. Her approach focuses on the person’s leisure pursuits, hobbies and interests, which are often pushed to the side when work demands, family commitments and life’s responsibilities take priority.
Header image by Adobe Stock