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Does it Really Need to Feel Like Work vs. Life?

Man's headshot with blurred background By Todd Gebski January 8, 2016

Categories: Company Culture Technology

How have you been recently? Busy? I thought so.

You are not alone: Americans from New York to North Dakota feel their lives are more hectic than ever. It’s easy to see why. All our technology, social media connections, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi have enabled us to always be “on,” even when it might be better to unplug.

Because of this, establishing a healthy work-life balance is more important than ever. It seems this is a particularly American problem, too: among advanced nations, we rank just above Mexico at 28th in pulling off the work-life balancing act (9th from the bottom of the list). Although it might make us feel good to be productive in professional lives that favor competitive environments and working long hours, it can become hazardous to our health.

You might be “killing it” at work, but your work might also be killing you.

Working More

You might want to check that iPhone buzzing in your pocket right now. Chances are, it’s alerting you to something related to work. A recent survey of workers found that the majority who believe they suffer from a poor work-life balance hold technology responsible.

As we’ve seen, technology has enabled workers to stay effective while working remotely, which leads to huge benefits for both employees and employers. This is thanks mainly to email, our preferred method of personal and professional communication. Over half of all Americans check emails before and after work, as an article in TIME recently noted, but only 21% of companies have policies about online communication outside of work. So what’s happening?

Without clear rules, we never turn off, not at the dinner table, in bed, or on vacation. In fact, some employers expect their workers to check emails hourly—no matter what.

Health Risks

The benefits of a good work-life balance go far beyond more relaxing evenings and weekends. A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 60% of Americans report work as a major cause of stress.

When we increase the time we spend working by answering off-hours emails, messages, and texts, we increase one of our largest causes of stress, too. This can lead to missed time at work—a recent study of 2,000 small business owners, who are chronically over-worked, found 25% have “fallen ill due to stress and overwork.” Being overworked with a poor work-life balance leads to lower performance in “thinking, planning, decision making, learning and remembering.” What’s more, increased work stress is directly linked to heart disease.

We might want to think twice about answering that late-night email or checking our phones one last time before going to bed: the added stress might be taking years from our lives (hypocritical advice from someone who’s guilty of all of the above).

Finding a Better Balance

All, however, is not lost. Although our many Wi-Fi-enabled devices have led to an erosion of healthy work-life, many professionals have begun to fight back. Health professionals at WebMD recommend making downtime a priority along with work.

Technology is the main source of work-life imbalances, so unplugging once in a while is not a bad way to start. Others have noticed that a little daily exercise can go a long way to combatting the side effects that are derailing your health (especially if you don’t take your cell phone on the treadmill).

Most important, though, is setting boundaries. It is easy to stay “on” after work now that we all have access to email and work documents wherever we go. But, the side effects can be severe. Creating solid boundaries between our “work” and our “life” will help compartmentalize professional and personal obligations. This last step might be easier said than done…

The Bottom Line

Regaining work-life balance is a priority among most workers in today’s modern mobile workforce. The temptation to stay productive outside of the office has only been escalated by our 24-hour access to emails, text messages, and work documents.

Giving in to this pressure can backfire very easily if we aren’t careful. Ironically, working too much can actually harm our professional lives. This isn’t new news. A study by Men’s Health (10 years ago!) found that 71% of male workers felt their poor work-life balance was detrimental to their professional performance, and it’s only getting worse.

Turning off our cell phones, exercising, and creating effective professional and personal boundaries can go a long way toward regaining a better work-life balance. This will not only make our free time less stressful, it will improve our professional lives because we’ll be sharper and more engaged at work when we do take a break from the constant “on.”

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