If you’re like most people, you get home from work, slip your shoes off, put your coat down, and then immediately rush to your phone to check your emails. Does this sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone– 81 percent of employees check their email outside of work, with 40 percent of all respondents saying that they check their email several times a day outside of work hours. In an information economy where you can find whatever you want, whenever you want it, it has been increasingly important for employees to check their emails outside of work regularly. And while 90 percent of all respondents decided email is a blessing rather than a curse, here’s why the regular checking of your email, among other factors, is contributing to a decline in the work-life balance in the United States– and why that should worry you.
The work-life balance isn’t scheduling equal amounts of time to everything in your life, not at all. What the work-life balance is to many people is the balance between two concepts– achievement and enjoyment in the four broad categories of work, family, friends, and self. As easy as that can sound, it can be challenging to balance the achievement of that stunning financial report that you delivered last week with the enjoyment of the all-nighter that you pulled to write it.
In reality, the work-life balance can be as simple as finding one thing in each category that you enjoy and one achievement in each that brings you pride, every single day. Setting small mental goals is a great way to make this a priority– say when you get home, you vow to take fifteen minutes for yourself. Or, you set aside a few minutes, a few hours, or even a day to relax and enjoy the company of friends and family. You can also make a goal as simple as just putting in fifteen minutes to plan or work on an upcoming assignment. If you manage to balance your achievement and enjoyment in every single day, rather than thinking of it as a long-term goal, you’re more likely to enjoy a better work-life balance.
Also crucial to the work-life balance is taking advantage of every day. Instead of being someone who lets their happiness rely on “as soon as,” the weekend, the summer or retirement, you’re taking charge and finding joy in every day. Maybe that means not checking emails after 8 pm or trying to make it to every one of your son’s soccer games. Whatever it is, make sure to treat it as necessary– because your family and friends are essential to your health and your performance at work. Each category relies on all the others– keeping all four in check will help mitigate work stress or panic about the in-laws or any other struggle of the work-life balance.
Why the Work-Life Balance is Essential
Stress is reportedly a factor in almost 80 to 90 percent of medical visits– and pressure is a significant factor in overworking. Some of these medical visits are a direct result of stress– heart attacks, cardiovascular diseases, all types of cancers, ulcers, and lower functioning immune system. People who worked 55 hours or more per week are almost 20 percent more likely to have a heart attack than people who worked only 45 hours per week. Working late, overtime, or on weekends puts a massive strain on your physical health as well as your mental health.
Your Mental Health and You
Your mental health is also directly affected by your stress and poor work-life balance. If you never feel achievement at work, you are liable to develop or exacerbate any mood disorders, like depression or bipolar disorder. If you are working long hours, being responsible for essential company projects, or are involved continuously in work matters outside of work, you are liable to develop anxiety disorders. If you have a better work-life balance, you are more likely to protect yourself from the worst of these mental illnesses.
Healthy at Work
There are steps that you can take to minimize or even wholly mitigate the harmful impacts of stress, while also optimizing your work-life balance. Many of these revolve around setting goals for your daily activities, like leaving your laptop at work. Other ways to get your work and your life in balance involve staying focused at work and avoiding distractions, taking breaks when you need to, and making a conscious effort to find humor and joy in your life.
Many employers also offer programs to help stressed-out employees. You can check to your employer’s website to see if they offer a program, called the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP,) which provides referrals for services that you can use, like mental health providers or elderly care facilities, if you want to mitigate some of your stress at home. If your employer doesn’t offer this service, don’t fret– you can google the US Office of Personnel Management to find an EAP contact. Other companies provide services like massages, gyms, and free snacks to help keep you healthy at the office.
Healthy at Home
Being healthy doesn’t stop when you leave the office– taking care of yourself at home is just as important as taking care of yourself at home. To help balance some of your time at home, leave your laptop at work, stop checking your emails at 8 pm, or download an app, like Offtime, (available on iOS and Android,) which blocks distracting apps from your phone. The app also features usage tracking and tailored modes, so you won’t get distracted by Facebook while at work. Cutting down on screen time will also have a positive effect on your sleep, and therefore your general health.
Taking care of yourself physically by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and getting help when you need it are also great ways to contribute to the work-life balance. After all, the self is one of the four categories that you must balance in your life, and you can’t have meaningful relationships with family and friends or a good work life without being healthy and alert. Even something as simple as a meal can lead to the delicate balance in this category.
What Can Happen When You Go Off-Balance
Can you die from working too hard? Although the adage would have you say no, the story of a 31-year old woman in Japan, among the other stories coming out of the island nation, should make you say yes. The woman, who worked as a journalist, took a mere two days off before her untimely death in 2013. Doctors across the country and around the world have been advocating for a better balance between work and life for years. One Stanford professor wrote a book that came out in March 2018 about the phenomenon, calling it “Dying for a Paycheck.” In an interview with Quartz, the professor, Jeffery Pfeffer, maintains that he would like to see his book be “…the ‘Silent Spring’ of healthcare.” In short, you entirely can work yourself to death, but you shouldn’t have to. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can keep you healthy and, on your feet, even if it does take some effort to manage.