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Nia McCash
Nia McCash

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When Work-Life Balance Goes Out the Window

Work-Life Balance While Working from Home

Earlier this year, many people went into quarantine, abruptly transitioning to working from home. For me it started in mid-March.

In working from home, especially to those of us new to it, there was a danger that the lines between work and life blurred. It became even more important to have boundaries in order to have balance. I started to notice (perhaps because I was paying more attention to them) more articles and comments about work-life balance and preventing burnout on my Twitter feed.

Since I landed a more senior role last year and especially since the lockdown, I had been articles and advice on leadership, many of which encouraged people to model work-life balance behaviours for their team

  • by taking their lunch breaks,
  • taking vacation and time off,
  • allowing kids to show up in video conference meetings.

These felt even more important and emphasized with so many folks suddenly working from home.

So, for a while, I tried to follow the advice, to model good work-life balance for my team. I encouraged my colleagues to wrap up their work at the end of the work day and take their evenings off as they would have if they had been working in the office. I avoided booking meetings during the lunch hours. I refrained from sending emails after hours as much as possible.

For the rare occasion that I did send after-hours emails, I added a new line to my regular email signature which said “My working hours may not be your working hours. Please do not feel obligated to reply outside of your normal work schedule” -- full credit to Chloe Condon for the idea

For a while, I was doing well. Then, the second half of July hit.

Working at a higher education institution, the demands of the September start of the new academic term started to rush in, demands which became greater and more pressing given the unpredictable pandemic. The delicate work-life balance that I’d crafted and meticulously modeled started to fall apart.

Coincidentally, at the same time that my work load started to increase drastically, I came across this Harvard Business Review article - parts of which resonated with me.

I learned that it is ok to have my work-life balance thrown out of whack, at least temporarily.

The article starts:

You’re an accountant deep in tax season, a junior doctor in residency, or an entrepreneur juggling a startup and an actual baby. Many of us go through seasons of life when we have very little personal time.

It reminded me that my crazy work load is seasonal and temporary.

The article continues:

While this kind of overwork is not ideal, there are undoubtedly situations in which it becomes a necessity or makes personal sense… At times like this, when having full weekend off seems like a distant dream, advice on the importance of maintaining work-life balance, reducing the stress, and getting enough sleep can feel like a slap in the face.

I read that and realized that it wasn’t healthy for me to give myself a hard time for not maintaining the ‘ideal’ work-life balance.

I shouldn’t feel bad for working the extra hours that I’ve had to put in. I shouldn’t take the continuous feed of work-life balance posts on social media as a criticism or scolding on my life. That kind of thinking wasn’t helping.

I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I have a job that I really like. So following another Twitter advice, I reframed my thinking.

I get to be busy. And it’s ok because I can handle it. And it will be temporary.

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