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3 Things No One Says About Work-Life Balance

By Mitchell Tillwick:

It goes without saying that maintaining a strong work-life balance is important. There are plenty of things associated with work-life balance:

  • Exercise
  • Yoga/meditation
  • Eating healthy
  • Taking meaningful breaks
  • Maintaining a consistent schedule/routine
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Taking time to disconnect (i.e. vacations)

While these are all great ideas, everyone has their own way of balancing their working life with their personal life. The basic premise is that you have to understand what you can do in one part of your life to feel re-energized in others.

It’s crucial that you know if a routine or tactic is actually working for you. When you’ve achieved work-life balance, you feel just as fulfilled in your professional career as you do your personal life and hobbies. You cultivate and maintain meaningful relationships. Again, this looks different to different people.

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However, there are tons of ways people can experience an imbalance in either or both parts of their lives. The effects are damaging and often disrupt a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to stop these causes rather than repeatedly treating the effects. The list above is not a checklist and it can be easy to mistake them as long-term solutions that should just work to solve the problem. Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard of an employee using paid vacation time only to quickly burn out after two days back in the office?

Three often overlooked work-life balance factors include emotional intelligence, recognizing mental health factors and poor workplace environments. More than 300 million people already suffer from depression, leading to a loss of $1 trillion each year. A poor work environment can lead to these physical and mental health problems.

Understand Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others while forming the right reactions to both. Compared to institutions with long-existing classes on science, anthropology, algebra, etc, teachings on emotions are just now becoming commonplace.

The slow adoption is probably because EI sounds intuitive, natural and downright obvious. However, while some do have an innately high EI, that doesn’t mean it cannot be developed in those who have a lower EI.

Being aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others, understanding what these emotions are and creating a plan to deal with these feelings are powerful tools in the workplace. Knowing the factors which affect you the most means tasks can be delegated to others who excel in those areas. Leveraging your strengths and weaknesses with other employees can boost productivity and create a strong team.

Ask yourself these questions to improve your EI:

  • What emotion am I (actually) feeling?
  • What are the causes of this?
  • What have my recent behaviors been?
  • How have those made me feel or what feelings have made me behave in that way?
  • Am I taking good care of myself? (Poor health and behavior is probably an indicator that you’re not practicing effective self-care.)

Poor Balance Affects Mental Health

There’s always been a stigma around mental illness in the workplace. Employees don’t disclose it due to a fear of losing jobs, and employers don’t ask due to policies and legal reasons. Among this, there’s always been the social stigma that those with poor mental health are incapable of being productive.

Mental health affects job performance, rational thinking and decision-making, relationships with others and (of course) mood. If emotional intelligence isn’t kept in check and your work-life balance gets out of hand, it can become a mental illness. It goes against talking about the stigma, but mental illness is prevalent in the workforce, and it costs in revenue, productivity and performance.

It’s becoming more acceptable to disclose feelings to supervisors for assistance, but it’s a poor decision to bear poor emotional health. Be aware of your emotions, identify what they are and create a plan to improve them. It’s necessary to hash things out with employers early. This way, they don’t count these mistakes against you.

This is a tough situation. Nonetheless, mental health awareness is an emerging dialogue and people are learning how prevalent it is. Employees have different accommodations and experiences. It can be scary to talk to HR and/or your supervisor. However, if your performance has continuously been affected by your mental health without your supervisor knowing, then it counts against you and not the mental illness. Many employers are understanding, so it is critical to inform them early on. It’s better for you to be happy and perform well, than unhappy and continuously underperforming.

Other things to maintain a healthy state of mind and prevent overloaded stress can include:

  • Delegation – give tasks you hate to others and take tasks you can bear better.
  • SMART Goals – create a list of tasks you can achieve each day. Divide and conquer your workload and implement a rewards system
  • Pomodoro – set a timer and focus on completing a task until the time runs out. Parkinson’s Law states the adage that “work expands so as to fill the time available to complete it.” In other words, no matter the amount of time, we will use the entire allotment whether we have a couple small projects or many large ones. Setting a timer lets us work fast and save on time.

Sometimes working smarter and tactically can change our daily processes. Thus, our days are better streamlined and we aren’t overwhelmed each day.

Escape “The Cage”

Your emotions and mental health are heavily correlated with your environment or your “cage.” Your home, workplace and general situation play a huge role in how you feel. People typically look for a single cause or treat an effect, but our environment plays a larger role than we’ve historically realized.

It’s important to recognize your values and the company’s values to see if they align. Aligning values creates a better sense of purpose and value. Having a culture where you can thrive is also vital because it’s the environment you’re working in. To feel well and be in a place you can perform well is key. If your environment is constantly crushing your emotions and affecting your performance (which can be cyclical), then you can try to change how it looks and feels.

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Changes you can make include:

  • Develop a support network to change how you interact with people
  • Establish boundaries when you’re off work
  • Create a workspace with intent – a homey feel, a focused feel, add color, add personal photos, change up the color, etc.
  • Talk with your manager about your current status and set goals/plans to ease your process

Making changes to your environment can better your work-life health. If you don’t have a social life and need one, you need to change that. If the colors and decor of your home make you feel imprisoned, paint the walls and make it look like someone else’s house. With a work environment, if your cubicle sucks, ask your boss for the option to work outside, change floors or get a window desk.

If you don’t change the areas of your cage in the places it affects you the worst, it’s going to be hard to improve. Improving factors in our environment plays a larger role in how we feel and behave. Revising our cage and where we live can have positive effects on our mood and performance. If it comes down to it, start looking for other positions and change to a different cage.

Get to Work

Your emotional intelligence, making accommodations for any mental illnesses and fixing your “cage” are essential to shaping a work-life balance on a strategic level. It’s better to tackle the causes of a poor work-life balance than remedy the effects. Once you’ve explored your own EI, the work tactics that help you best and defined your “cage”, you can have a more thoughtful conversation with your employer about a supportive work environment.

What work-life balance techniques do you use in your own career? Tell us on Twitter @RedBranch!