Work-life balance is such a common term it can be easy to just take it for granted. If our jobs are only 8 hours of the day, surely we can maintain that balance between work and play? Unfortunately work-life balance can fall out of whack without us even realising it at first. Demands of a job change over time or perhaps our aspirations for promotion grow. Even just relocating where we live can change our experience of work.
Having a healthy work-life balance isn’t just about your own wellbeing – employers also benefit from happier, more engaged staff. In this article, we’ll explore why work life balance is essential for IT professionals, and offer some tips for how you can start to balance the scales.
Happiness before all else
We’ll start with an assumption, but we don’t think it’s a stretch; Happiness is one of the core motivators of our lives. In the pursuit of happiness we may work hard, make life decisions, choose certain jobs, places to live… the list goes on. Sometimes we will pass up fulfilment in the short term with the intention of reaping rewards in the long term. This is totally understandable and sacrifice is part of most of our career journeys.
The problem arises when we fail to become fulfilled or happy over an extended period of time. If we are struggling to enjoy our work, or working too much that we don’t see our friends and family, the question needs to be asked – what is your end goal and does the current situation support or hinder achieving this? Is our work life allowing us to enjoy our time outside of it?
Forgetting to put happiness first may occur gradually. It’s hard to reflect when we’re in the middle of a stressful, intense job. We can start to write off our lack of fulfilment as simply ups and downs. To be the best you can be both personally and professionally, you will need to make happiness your priority #1. In the tech industry, which grows and evolves every single day, there’s so many opportunities and places to work that IT professionals have the ability to find a role that suits them. Many of these roles even offer flexible working arrangements, perfect for maintaining a quality personal life, too.
The lack of work life balance is most commonly apparent in our state of mind. A job that is or seems all-encompassing will drain our mental and emotional energy, leaving us with little to give friends and family – and ourselves.
Without ample time to recharge and be away from the rigours of our jobs, we’re unable to be at our best. Overworked staff will rarely have long tenures with businesses. Instead the workload may create or exacerbate depression and/or anxiety. In a modern, highly-connected world, the access that our workplaces have to us via email or messaging tools can mean we never feel completely free from the demands of our jobs. We must put clear boundaries in place so that outside of work we are not expected to be thinking about work all the time. After all, you’re not being paid for that time!
For IT Professionals with mental illness, it’s essential that you have the appropriate support and medical help, regardless of how well your job is going. When we encounter challenges at work like busy periods, conflicts or restructures, this support system is absolutely crucial. In the case of repeated stresses at work we run a very dangerous risk of ‘burning out’.
Burnout is a very real risk to anyone who isn’t taking care of themselves before the job. After constant stress for a prolonged period, we might burn out mentally, physically and emotionally. This has severe impacts on our ability to work, parent, be a partner or even a friend. It’s not a buzz word but something that everyone working hard should be mindful of. According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout symptoms can include:
- Disinterest in work
- Lack of motivation to come to work
- Difficulty with concentration
- No satisfaction in work achievements
- Poor sleep patterns
- Physical symptoms like headaches or stomach aches.
Sometimes burnout will come from a combination of personal and professional circumstances such as relationship breakdowns and a work restructure. The better care you take of yourself, the less likely you’ll have to encounter this experience.
If you do end up burning out then you must address this quickly with support and life changes. Employers are obliged to monitor and support employees’ work stress levels, and some NZ employers prioritise this by offering as needed support like counselling. Stress leave may be an option, whereby you’re given time off work to recover and get the help you need.
We all know that exercise helps us to feel at our physical best. But the mental health impact of low or no exercise is just as serious. A lack of movement can leave us feeling lethargic and unmotivated. Often a sedentary lifestyle will be coupled with unhealthy eating habits. When work gets tough, ‘stress eating’ can start to play a factor.
Working too hard in our jobs will often manifest in poor dietary choices and a lack of exercise. Often this leads to higher weight gain and lowered energy levels. Without sufficient energy, our jobs can start to become difficult and we struggle to concentrate. That’s when mistakes can be made and stress levels increase even further.
Even more concerning, drained energy levels directly impact our ability to enjoy our loved ones. We can’t run after our kids at the playground or take a bike ride with mates. Rather, we use our weekend to try and recover for the next week – or even catch up on work! This can become a vicious cycle over time.
Too much work can lead to resentment
There’s a difference between being driven and career-focused (we’re right behind you!) and totally consumed by a job. You may wish to achieve your work goals faster than others by working the extra time, answering emails in the evenings or taking on additional responsibility. We’re not here to tell you that you can’t do that, but rather warn that these behaviours, left unchecked, may cease to be a positive and instead will build resentment by you in the job or employer.
Resentment is often very easy to observe by others. It can also spread quite quickly through a business as shared experiences catch on and become part of the office gossip. Employers should understand the dangers that resentful staff present to their business, and often will look to address the issue quickly.
Even the highest paid IT professionals have downtime to recharge, so it doesn’t matter if you’re new to the industry or a veteran. Your career will benefit from work-life balance much more than red-lining for months on end!
Family (and friends)
A poor balance between work and life can be destructive for our family and friendships. If you’ve got a family with young children, you’ll know how difficult it can be to juggle the demands of home and work life.
Common ways that family and friends get affected by poor work-life balance:
- Children not given attention (reading, talking about their day, playing)
- Partners neglected (dinner, support, watching TV, going out).
- Friendships can go cold (only catching up once every 6 months)
- You start missing events like birthdays in favour of catching up on work.
For IT professionals with a family, a large part of our reason for progressing our career is to provide. But providing time is just as important. If you’re finding yourself unable to engage with family and friends outside of work, it might be time to speak with your employer.
Better home life = better work life
A stable, happy personal life is better for you, but it’s also advantageous for businesses. Often staff who have a good work-life balance will find it easier to focus on their work and have a clear head to be at their best in the role. When work challenges arise, a stable support system and life outside of work can help us navigate through these easier.
What’s your reason for working in the first place?
Self-reflection is an integral part of a successful career journey. You should be routinely taking time to review how your work life is going. Why do you work? Often the answer is a combination of things, but living comfortably is often high up on many people’s list. A poor work-life balance might be the opposite of ‘living comfortably’, and therefore changes need to be made.
Here’s some other questions to consider:
- What is your primary goal in the current role? Income? Stepping stone? Experience growth?
- Is your work-life balance in check?
- Do you have time to see friends regularly?
- Are you present and engaged with your family in the evenings and weekends?
- Does your employer respect your personal time?
- Is there another role out there that may better suit your lifestyle?
- When might you be experienced and ready to move into a new position?
- Do you have time for physical exercise and hobbies?
If the above starts to paint a negative picture, you’ll need to put some changes into action. This may not necessarily be moving to a new job, but it also could. Below we explore some options you have to regain this balance.
Tips for a better work life balance
Establish clear boundaries and set expectations clearly
One of the primary reasons that work-life balance can skew so heavily into the work side, is that employees don’t set expectations with their manager, co-workers and clients. A common habit of Kiwi IT professionals is to say yes to everything and show willingness all the time. While hard work and enthusiasm are good qualities, they can be taken advantage of with unrealistic deadlines and huge workloads piled up.
While it may seem difficult at first, and even jarring for others around you, being realistic with what you can and can’t deliver in the work week is critical for protecting your personal time. If you aren’t yet confident about saying ‘no’, seek the help of your manager who can support you with this. Over time, you’ll get better at setting expectations, and those working around you will adapt.
You might need to be prepared for some negotiation or even accept some training if certain workloads are typically expected to be possible within work hours. Otherwise, being clear with what is reasonable will pay dividends in the future and help you be at your best at work and at home.
Work with your manager closely
It’s quite typical for Kiwis to just get on with the job and not ‘trouble’ their manager with issues like unreasonable workload. But one of your manager’s main jobs is to provide you support! They should be checking in with you regularly around your happiness, stress levels and workload. They will have the ability to coach you but also reallocate work or help push back where unreasonable requests pop up.
If you aren’t getting that support, it might be time to raise the issues and get on the front foot. Don’t be afraid to raise your main concern – I don’t have a good work-life balance. A good manager will respond to these challenges in a constructive, positive way. Part of your growth and development as an IT professional will be the ability to manage your workload to protect your personal time – a manager will help you on this journey.
Make family and friends part of the schedule
Sometimes the best way to ensure home life is given full attention is by treating personal commitments with the same level of organisation as our work lives. That means scheduling in specific time and activities with our friends and family. While we’d like to think this will happen automatically, a lack of clear plans in the evening or weekend can be viewed as free time – at which point the phone or laptop will come out to answer emails.
Get structure around the next game of golf, shopping outing or movie. Time, location, who’s invited. Then get it in your calendar! If you can make your work meetings without issue, you can do the same with personal commitments.
Exercise, no matter what type or for how long, will help us feel better. Running, weight lifting, swimming, team sports – take your pick. They all help to release endorphins and stay healthy.
Being too busy for exercise is a common reason you’ll hear, but even just 20 minutes a day of walking can still have a noticeable impact on your physical wellbeing. This might be walking to and from the bus stop, or just taking a lunchtime stroll. Some IT Professionals partake in the gym or team sports outside of work. Fitness rituals can also give us another place away from work or home to reduce stress through high physical exertion – particularly useful for office-based work.
To be active requires discipline outside of work. As with socialising, physical activity sometimes needs to play as much importance in our schedule as work commitments. Otherwise, it’ll be the first thing to be bumped off your calendar.
Losing perspective can happen when we get so immersed in our jobs that everything else just doesn’t seem important. We can become obsessed in every last detail, and develop a significant emotional involvement in every part of our work life. This can manifest as defensiveness, aggressiveness, over-sensitivity and obsessiveness. None of these traits are likely to lead to a positive working experience.
By practicing mindfulness and being ‘in the moment’ at work, we’re able to let go of worrying, fear or pushing agendas. So often our minds are racing about the next project, inter office politics or an upcoming deadline. Make a point to have a routine where you stop and observe yourself and the environment around you. If there is a disagreement at work, consider the different viewpoints as well as your own. Why might this conflict arise? Is there an underlying issue that is causing this disagreement that has nothing to do with the topic? You might even wish to write down your thoughts privately and safely.
Mindfulness is a good way to practice the art of keeping perspective at work. Slowing down can help us get clarity on what’s important vs. what can be deprioritised. Without getting off the hamster wheel, we’ll just run harder and faster until we fall off.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness at work, we’d suggest reading this article.
Protecting home time – Work stays at work
Sometimes, even after setting expectations and learning to say no to unfeasible work requests, we still have bad habits of staying connected to work in our personal lives. Emails, Slack and a work phone are all channels through which we can be contacted. If there’s not established policy or even etiquette around outside work contact, then you can start to get pulled into your job in the evenings and weekend.
It’s time to be self-disciplined. Here’s some ideas:
- Turn notifications off your phone for email and slack. If something’s on fire you’ll be called.
- Take your work emails off your phone entirely, or have separate work and personal phones – and don’t bring your work device with you out and about on the weekend.
- Don’t send emails after a certain time – they’re unlikely to be your best responses late in the day anyway!
- Avoid making unrealistic work commitments that force you into finishing work in the evenings to make deadlines.
- Put formal commitments in place outside of work and block them out in your calendar – e.g. dinner with family, drinks with friends. Commit to non-work events so you don’t have a choice to work all night.
It’s just a job
We love the IT industry and finding jobs to support it is our business. But we also believe that the most important part of this industry is the people. Without happy, motivated people, New Zealand’s evolving tech sector just wouldn’t thrive the way it does.
If you find yourself focusing all your energy on work and nothing else, remember – it’s just a job. There are more out there, perhaps some that are better suited for you. The pace at which the IT sector grows and changes means that the next role may not be far away. Practice mindfulness, start setting boundaries and don’t neglect your free time.
Are you looking for a better work-life balance?
Absolute IT knows that lifestyle is a key part of a job opportunity for many IT professionals. We’ve helped thousands of tech job seekers find work that’s fulfilling and enables them a healthy work-life balance. If you want to explore your options in NZ’s IT job market, get in touch with one of our friendly team for a chat.
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