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WORK-LIFE BALANCE IN A COVID-19 WORLD

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It is the year 2020, the beginning of a new millennium filled with many hopes and promises for most people around the world. Ka-Boom! The very distant “Chinese virus” seems to be on a rampage and it’s suddenly on every continent in the world. Schools shut down, places of worship shut down, organisations begin to look for alternative ways to work and work-life balance is thrown out the window. The world is hyperactively virtual and organisations take the lead in this virtual space.

The Coronavirus pandemic has pushed many organisations and corporations around the world to resort to new ways of working and corresponding within their teams. This need is mainly driven by the desire to keep businesses running, to ensure that organisations are not forced to close down due to the harsh economic conditions created by the pandemic. Remote working is the norm for work. Remote working provides employees with the opportunity to work from whatever space they are in without commuting to their offices. Thus, allowing them to stay safe. Again, it has played a major role in limiting the spread of the virus among employees.  However, remote working in recent times seems to pose a threat to work-life balance and the well-being of employees.

Work-life balance refers to the presence of harmony in employees’ roles at work and their roles at home or in their families. This balance exists when the discharge of one’s roles in a domain, that is, work or family does not conflict with the discharge of roles in the other domain. Unlike working in a physical space which comes with a shutdown time, employees who work remotely tend to work around the clock. In fact, findings of Owl Labs indicate that employees who work remotely are more likely to work over 40 hours a week than those who work from their office space. Remote working comes with the pressure to perform without any disappointments. In some contexts, the opportunity to work remotely has been presented with the threats of assessment of its effectiveness. Employees hold on the unseen fear of losing the opportunity to work remotely. To escape any such punishment, they become increasingly responsive, sometimes more than smart devices and platforms (interestingly).

The result is a high imbalance of work roles and family roles. Thus, although physically present, there may be lags in discharging roles at home due to work pressures, stress and burnout. Work-life conflict is associated with low productivity, burnout, depression and stress in employees. The importance of work-life balance in ensuring good mental health and productivity cannot be overlooked. These pointers may prove helpful in maintaining or establishing work-life balance in this season.

Establish and Maintain Working Hours

The temptation to work around the clock is high because in this period, work can be done anywhere at any point in time. However, non-stop work may lead to stress, burnout and even information overload. There is the need to establish working and closing hours, of course, in line with your organization’s operating times. Keeping a start and a close time in mind would contribute to increasing your productivity.  It will also provide ample time and space to connect with family. With family members at home, this season is also one for connecting with children, siblings, spouses, parents. Maintaining working hours brings the benefit of functioning in whatever capacity one is needed to in the home space.

Set targets.

Virtual working comes with the temptation of being lax in executing tasks and the high probability of missing deadlines because tasks may be left undone and then eventually lead to being swamped with a lot of work. Setting weekly and daily tasks to be completed will help in the execution of tasks and promote high productivity. On the other hand, setting these targets will ensure that work time is not spent on family duties. While work may hinder the discharge of one’s duties in the family space, the reverse is also true, in that family duties may pose a challenge to the discharge of work roles.

Rest. Rest. Rest.

As much as it is important to work hard, it is also important to take breaks between work and then log off at your closing time. Ensure that you do not procrastinate in executing tasks. Procrastination is indeed the thief of time. Remember, you will definitely have to pay off working hours which have been used for other activities instead of completing tasks. This may result in sleep debt as you lose some hours of sleep by working late to meet deadlines. It would be helpful to take your regular lunch break while working remotely to cool off, grab a snack or lunch. Sleep is known to affect psychological wellbeing. Colicos et al (2001) highlight the importance of sleep in the synthesis of new nerve structures, a key part of learning and memory consolidation. Sleep and rest contribute greatly to functioning and productivity. Fatigue, stress and burnout are associated with low productivity, high irritability and low motivation to work. This may affect relationship with the family and affect the performance of roles in the family. Rest will also enable one regain lost energy and ensure proper discharge of duties at home.

Reference

Colicos, M. A., Collins, B. E., Sailor, M. J., & Goda, Y. (2001). Remodeling of synaptic actin induced by photoconductive stimulation. Cell, 107(5), 605–616. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0092-8674(01)00579-7

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