The verdict is in. According to a report by tech company Kisi, Singapore is one of the most overworked nations in the world, coming in at number 32 out of 40 countries for healthy work-life balance. What gives? For one thing, office norms against leaving work on time deserve at least some of the blame. Even then, though, it doesn’t paint a full picture of the situation.
So often, work-life imbalances come down to both employees and employers holding on to outdated notions of what work-life balance means and how to achieve it. As with ineffective employee motivation strategies and performance reviews, though, traditional understandings of work don’t always float the boat.
In this case, harbouring misunderstandings and misperceptions about work-life balance can be very detrimental to employee well-being, job satisfaction, turnover rates, and long-term productivity. Here are six of the most common and harmful misperceptions about work-life balance.
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Expectations are the root of disappointment, and work-life imbalances often work the same way. When people expect that they can only be happy when they achieve the perfect balance, it is often a recipe for disaster.
For one thing, perfection itself does not exist. In any case, there is no such thing as a perfect balance between work and life. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be happy even if you do achieve it, either. Expecting to have work and life neatly divided into two equal portions is setting yourself up for disappointment.
If you’re a single person just starting in your career, for instance, work might understandably take up a more sizable portion of your life since you have fewer responsibilities and need to prioritise learning and advancement as much as possible.
So much work-life imbalance stems from the cult of overwork. This, in turn, rests primarily on the idea that the more time you visibly spend at work, the more productive you are. Numerous studies, though, have debunked this. For instance, research has shown that people can only stay in high-focus, super-productive mode for at most 4 hours.
One Stanford study, in particular, found that productivity begins to decline more and more rapidly after 50 hours of work a week. In other words, most people who work more than 50 hours in a week are less productive, and the longer hours they spend at work, the lower their productivity.
People often think that having a good work-life balance is piling everything and anything onto your plate all at once. This can be especially detrimental for female employees; as it is, they are already held back with more burdensome expectations than their male counterparts both at home and at work.
The key is to stop tiring yourself by trying to pack your schedule as much as possible with equal amounts of “work” and “life.” Instead, prioritising is vital. Take a good, hard, look at your life, and decide which aspects of your work and which aspects of your life you’d like to give more attention to. Then, set about coming up with a plan for making it an achievable reality by putting action plans in place.
Approaching work-life balance in a more systematic and focused way in this regard can do wonders to help you feel less frazzled at work and at home.
Research on effective work-life balance practices generally differentiates between two main approaches that people take: “segmenting,” and “integrating.”
The former regulate their work stress by having neat, clear delineations between work and life. Conversely, the latter treats this delineation more like a porous membrane or coffee filter of sorts which leaves room for intermixing and blurred lines between the two. Studies on both approaches have found evidence for the effectiveness of each, which makes things more complicated for companies hoping to institute evidence-based work-life policies for the benefit of employees.
Google’s re:work research, for instance, found that segmentors reported significantly higher well-being than integrators. This implies that traditional approaches to work-life balance might still be the best way to go about doing things.
On the other hand, other studies have indicated that what matters the most is having a fit between an employee’s preferred approach and her real-life experience of it. In this case, it appears that managers have a crucial role to play in helping each employee to achieve good work-life balance or integration, depending on individual preferences.
Having more pool tables at the office or more free massages for employees isn’t a proxy for effective work-life policies. Job perks like these have less to do with facilitating work-life balance. All the free food and nap pods in the world aren’t going to help people achieve work-life harmony if the problem is that they have too much to work to do or too little time for non-work responsibilities.
Instead of job perks like these, by far, flexible work arrangements are much more vital in ensuring that people have a way to juggle their work and non-work commitments more effectively.
Sometimes, the problem is treating work as the be-all and end-all of your existence. Seeing it this way will push you more easily towards workaholism. At the same time, it’ll have you thinking that the “life” portion of your work-life equation must consist of inactivity to balance out being overworked.
The problem is, when you’re a workaholic, you’ll probably find it difficult to plug out from work. You’ll probably get restless just at the thought of having nothing to do. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of overwork, chronic stress, and restless inactivity.
Research has found that people who use their time outside of work to dedicate themselves to self-improvement, such as through taking classes or playing a sport, are much more well-adjusted than those who use this time to (quite frankly) vegetate on the sofa.