Can you imagine walking into your boss’s office and going, “Hey, so I’ve been thinking. I’d like to be closer to my family, so I’m going to work from home from now on. See you at the Christmas party!”
Yeah, no. That would be met with at least an eyeroll and a “Sure you are. Get back to work.”
Some people think that since young people are likely lower down on corporate ladder, the lack of huge responsibilities would make work/life balance easier. We may not have as much responsibility as the CEO, but we also have less control over our own career.
The workplace is changing, so some millennial employees do have a lot of freedom and flexibility. But some of us don’t. And when we’re low on the totem pole, there are a lot of people with the ability to tell us what to do.
If you’re feeling weighed down by the amount of hours you’re spending in a cubicle, consider this:
You Deserve Balance
You know that stereotype about millennials being entitled? You may worry that bringing up work/life balance in the office will make you seem ungrateful or entitled. I mean, hey, you’re just lucky to have a job, right?
Wrong. It’s in your employer’s best interest to make sure you’re not overworked and overstressed. Most overworked and stressed-out employees tend to resemble zombies. Zombies are probably not qualified to do whatever it is that you do.
Stress is bad for you. You know that. But do you know how? Here are a few things that it can cause:
- Poor focus
- Increased mistakes
- Inability to process information quickly
- Time management problems
- Decreased motivation
Not exactly qualities of a high-performing and engaged employee. Stress can actually make you worse at your job. Your boss wants you to be good at your job. It makes the company look good, and it will make them look good when their employees outperform those on other teams. This should be reason enough for them to care about your work/life balance.
It Won’t Always Be Perfect
All industries have their busy seasons. All companies have moments where things aren’t running normally. If you’re an accountant who handles taxes, there is no way you’re working forty hour weeks leading up to the end of tax season. But it’s what you sign up for when you decide to become an accountant.
You can’t expect to never, ever have to respond to an email at home or stay a few minutes late. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have a semblance of balance.
Here’s how Jessica Lawlor (PR pro, writer, and young professional wonder woman) puts it:
“When it comes to work/life balance, for me, the main point I try to remember is that everything is not always going to be perfect. I’m not going to have a perfect balance where I spend 50% of my time on work and 50% of my time on “life.” I think accepting that these things ebb and flow helps to create some peace and reminds us to stop striving for a perfect balance (because I don’t think that exists).”
So if you have a period of non-stop craziness, there will probably be a calm after the storm. I know of an accounting firm that gives its employees a week of bonus paid vacation to take right after they turn in taxes. The office basically shuts down. The ebb to the busy season flow.
Talking to Your Boss About It
Just because a boss should care about their team’s work/life balance, doesn’t mean they all do. It might take some convincing for them to believe that you shouldn’t be working 14-hour days 52 weeks a year.
Yes, there will be busy times. I’m sure you don’t mind putting in extra hours now and then. But working so much that you’re not sleeping isn’t a sustainable schedule.
So, how do you broach the subject?
It can definitely be scary and nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve realized that you’re essentially talking to them about working less. But like all communication, it’s all about the delivery.
Go back and reread the end of the “You Deserve Balance” section. The last paragraph. I’ll wait.
See that part about your boss wanting to look good? If you’re feeling unbalanced to a point that it’s affecting your performance, it’s in their best interest to help you as much as they can. It’s quite possible that working less hours will improve your focus and motivation enough that you get the same amount work done, if not more.
Frame your argument to focus on that, instead of more negative perspectives. By focusing the conversation on how to improve your team, it makes it harder for your boss to disagree.
Lauren Gray, another really successful young professional, made it clear to her boss before she even got the job:
“When I worked in NYC, I had an hour and a half commute home (3 hours round trip) and it was the worst. I often got to work at about 8 am every single day and I left right at 5 p.m. Everyone else who worked in the city and closer usually got in around 9-9:30 and left around 6-7.
When I interviewed and when I had my first conversations with my boss, I explicitly stated my home life is extremely important to me and I would be leaving right at 5 every day to get home. She understood and was awesome about it. Did I have to stay some days to get work done? Yes. But I didn’t stay just for the sake of staying every day. I was more efficient during the day so I could leave.
The same still applies to my job now. I come in at 9 and I leave at 6. There’s always more work to be done, but most of it can wait. It’s important to decompress and spend time at home or with friends away from work so you don’t grow resentful and so you don’t get burnt out spending too much time at work when you’re younger.”
Remember: You Don’t Always Need to Be Connected
Does anyone else feel like people didn’t really talk about work/life balance as much until it became really, really easy to do work-related tasks from anywhere?
Technology can make things better, but it can also make things worse. It’s completely changed our mentality. Because we can work, we feel like we should.
I’ve been guilty of this. Going home and continuing to constantly check my work email account. “But what if it’s something important?” I eventually figured it out: if it were really, really important, no one would just email me.
We’re so connected to email, texting, and social media, there are moments we forget our iPhones can make calls. The phone is definitely the least-used feature on my iPhone. But if there was a fire that I needed to be involved in fighting, you can bet it would be ringing.
One of my resolutions this year was to make more of an effort to leave work at work. Do I slip up? Of course. But I have taken measures to unplug more.
I also don’t keep my remote login software easily accessible on my laptop anymore. I didn’t delete it,but it’s no longer as easy to look at my desktop and go, “Why don’t I just check on things real quick?”
It will be a process. And it won’t be a 50/50 split. But it will feel good in the long run. Remember that work is a part of life. You may find that you’re happiest when you don’t try to keep the two separate.