Be honest: when was the last time you went out to eat with your spouse or best friend and didn’t take a look at your work email? If you had to think about it, chances are you’re not alone. Our iPhones have made us accessible 24/7, making a peaceful dinner with good conversation feel like a thing of the past.
The 40-hour workweek and vacations seem to be becoming antiquated in America too. Studies show that Americans take fewer vacations, work longer hours and retire later than any country in the industrialized world. We’re struggling to find work-life balance, but it’s something worth fighting for.
“If both [your career and life outside work] are important, you need to find a way to combine them in your daily life so you feel satisfied in your productivity but also feel pleasure,” said Laurie Hollman, P.D., a Cold Spring Harbor-based psychoanalyst who authored Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior.
The perfect work-life balance will be different for everyone, but if you’re nodding your head while reading these six signs you might be off-kilter. Luckily, Hollman provided some fixes.
When Hollman says exhaustion, she isn’t referring to feeling a little groggy before you have your obligatory cup of morning Joe or having one tiresome day at work. You can tell you’re exhausted if you’re tired all the time, not concentrating, feeling nervous and forgetting things. If the symptoms last longer than a week, it’s cause for pause. Consider talking to your employer about changing your hours or the ability to work from home once a week or month, depending on what the workplace culture is. “There’s a broad range of jobs that this can work very well with. Engineers, lawyers and writers can often work from home,” Hollman said.
Hollman suggests waiting until you’ve built up a good rapport with your boss and have been working for the company for at least six months so they know you’re a constant contributor. During the meeting, emphasize how much you enjoy and appreciate your job, but have reasons why you feel you would be more productive if you could work from home, such as the lack of commute time. Offer to stay in touch via phone and e-mail throughout the day at your own expense and to send a summary of what you accomplished so your employer recognizes you are getting the work done.
If a child suddenly starts acting out around the same time your hours have been upped, it could be a cry for attention–it’s not a sign that you’re a bad parent. “Having a job and taking care of kids is a two-person job that you’re putting into one person,” Hollman stressed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a parent, partner or by hiring a babysitter, but also make sure when you and your child spend time together you’re really talking. Ask them what they did that day and share what you did at work, too. “Kids love to hear about what a mother or father is doing during the day.” In an interview with 10 mothers, all 10 women said they believed their children were inspired by their work accomplishments. See if your employer will let you take your kids to work with you for a day, show them around the office and let them see what you do. “[It shows] everyone in this family works. Their job is going to school, your job is being an engineer.”
Marital or Couple Difficulties
Sometimes it feels like you and your main squeeze are on double dates with your iPhones. “You really have to make an effort to make [your relationship] work because you’re pulled by your wish for career success,” Hollman said. “It’s a strong pull and if you have children you have to take care of them as well and you sort of forget each other. Plus, you’re not having fun.” Talk about how you’re feeling with each other and if the problem persists consider couples therapy. Try keeping phones away from the dinner table so you can really focus on each other. Remember, your career isn’t going to buy you a cake when you get promoted, but your spouse just might.
“Some jobs are very validating; when people do well, they’re praised and it gives them a great deal of satisfaction,” Hollman said. “Other jobs are much more competitive and you don’t get that and you never quite know how you’re doing until the raise comes or doesn’t come and that leaves you in suspense.” That suspense can lead to anxiety, something no one should have to feel. Though you may not want to tell your employer or co-workers about your anxiety, you can certainly speak up and ask for feedback. Hollman suggests saying, “I appreciate your knowledge and expertise. Can you please tell me how I am doing? I want to be evaluated.” You can also try meditation, which doesn’t have to include a 15-minute commute to an hour-long yoga class you don’t have time for. “You can just sit at your desk and calm down. Take some deep breaths.”
Lack of Pleasure
Even when you are being complimented and productive, you still may feel like you’re in a rut, whether it’s in work, life or both. In this case, Hollman recommends re-assessing your priorities. “Think about what you can skip and what you want to add so that you enjoy what you’re doing.” Your friend’s kid’s dance recital might just not be something you want to do on a Friday night after a busy week at work, but happy hour with your SO might be fun. If you can’t shake the feeling at work, it may be time to think about a career switch or getting a certification so you can move up the ladder. A mentor can help you sort things out.
Excessive Guilt and Self-Doubt
Trying to do everything perfectly is self-defeating and can even make you feel more flustered. “You may get to a place where you have trouble organizing because you don’t have time to do it all and do it to your standards.” To fix it, recognize you’re not perfect. “Choose what’s most important to you, follow up on that and see if there are things you can let go.”
Tell us: How did you find work-life balance? Share your stories in the comments.