Published on 24 March 2022

    Finding the right balance between work and general living is proving to be a burgeoning challenge with many employees feeling snowed under by the demands and stressors of modern living. We explore how this phenomenon might affect you. Know someone who is struggling? You can help.Convey your full presence by listening attentively and without judgment Let the person know they are safe in sharing their emotions Allow them to ventilate and express their emotions Check in on them from time to time Encourage them What is work-life balance? Longer working hours and increasing personal and familial commitments have taken a toll on the well-being of many people today. Furthermore, with technology blurring the boundaries between work hours and downtime, many are struggling to find that elusive sweet spot and are paying the price for it. Today’s nation of workaholics are known to neglect fundamental needs such as sleep, enjoyment, and interpersonal relationships at the behest of their workload. This tipping of the scales is what we’ve come to know as a poor work-life balance, resulting in a spectrum of physical and mental repercussions for the individual. A 2019 study ranked Singapore a low 32 out of 40 countries in terms of population work-life balance. This study also corresponded with another second place ranking that assessed Singapore to be one of the most overworked cities in the world. On the surface, maintaining a healthy work-life balance seems to be just about striking an equal tension between work and non-work aspects of life. However, Dr Chan Hui Minn, Senior Clinical Neuropsychologist, Psychological Medicine at the National University Hospital (NUH), postulated that it is more profound than it appears. “Diving into it more deeply, we can think of good work-life balance as a state of harmony in the various areas of human living, and us deriving enjoyment from our functions in each one of these areas, such that the resultant blend empowers us to attain our life goals in a personally meaningful manner,” she explained. A 2008 research 1 study on work-life balance defined the concept as deeply individualistic and intrinsically connected to our personal objectives, describing it as ‘the individual perception that work and non-work activities are compatible and promote growth in accordance with an individual’s current life priorities.’ 1 Kalliath, T., & Brough, P. (2008). Work–life balance: A review of the meaning of the balance construct. Journal of Management & Organization, 14(3), 323-327. The cost of work-life imbalance With personal care and leisure taking a backseat in the face of urgent and ever-present work, many are experiencing a phenomenon known as burn-out. According to the World Health Organisation, burn-out is an occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic work stress that has not been successfully managed. The effects of burn-out are usually typified by the following behaviours: - Feeling of energy depletion or exhaustion - Increased mental distance from one’s job - Feelings of negativity or cynicism to one’s job - Reduced professional efficacy Outside of work, not possessing a healthy work-life balance can also affect you psychologically. “The adverse effects of a poor work-life balance bleed into areas beyond work and leave us unable to achieve satisfaction from the pleasures that life offers, whether in terms of our interpersonal relationships or leisurely activities that we usually engage in,” said Dr Chan. The long-term effects of poor work-life balance are not just limited to a decrease in our professional capacities – it can also significantly affect our physical well-being. “The chronic stress that comes from not having a healthy work-life balance can lead to lasting structural and functional damages to our brain,” Dr Chan said. “These include changes in the anatomy of brain structures involved in stress modulation, as well as in the connectivity between brain regions involved in emotion processing and regulation.” Prolonged periods of not being able to manage stress levels and to find personal fulfilment can even take a toll on our immune system. “An important consequence of not having a good work-life balance over an extended period of time is the dysregulation of our neuroendocrine system, involving the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the production of cortisol, commonly known as the ‘stress hormone’,” she explained. “Over time, this can lead to low-grade inflammation that can create longer-term health issues.” Tell-tale signs and symptoms Not having a healthy balance can result in the deterioration of our physical, emotional and professional functions. So what are some of the tell-tale signs that you are not experiencing a healthy work-life balance? Dr Chan advised individuals to ask themselves the following questions: Physically: - Do you feel tired even before getting to work? - Are you more worn out than usual at the end of a work day? Emotionally: Do you feel emotionally drained most of the time? Are you less empathetic towards others? Do you feel guilty for not spending enough time with loved ones (and even yourself)? Are you easily emotional (e.g. crying, getting angry and irritable) for no apparent reason? Professionally: Do you feel resentful about work? Do you find it difficult to see the meaning and value of what you do? Do you feel a loss of a sense of achievement? Do you find yourself disconnected from your colleagues and work tasks? Tell-tale signs and symptoms Not having a healthy balance can result in the deterioration of our physical, emotional and professional functions. Tiredeven before getting to work? Worn outmore than usual at the end of a work day? Emotionally drainedmost of the time? Guiltyfor not spending enough time with loved ones and yourself? Easily emotional(crying, getting angry and irritable) for no apparent reason? Resentfulabout work? Difficultseeing meaning and value of what you do? Losing senseof achievement? Disconnectedfrom colleagues and work tasks? Strive towards a better balance Dedicatea workspace free from distractions Workwithin your stipulated hours Developa schedule with breaks and work Maintainconnection with colleagues Schedulein physical activities Practice the 3Rs How to improve your work-life balance? RecognitionRecognisethat you need a change ReversalTake actions to reversebad WLB effects ResilienceDevelop resilience in the face of stressors for work-lifebalance 32/40 most overworked city in the world Second Singapore ranked