Lego man looking stressed out.

On work-life balance in a time of self-isolation

Work

I’m noticing a concerning trend lately amongst many of my peers and colleagues. With remote working increasingly standard across many sectors and industries, the normal rhythm of a professional life spent in an office has flown out the window, and many people are starting to grapple with finding a new equilibrium. In my observation (and experience) this can very easily include not knowing when to stop working for the day.

Particularly for sectors where demands for skills and services have ramped up in the wake of COVID-19, when working from home the events or triggers that mark the slow down and end of the day frequently don’t happen; or they do happen and are ignored because there is too much to do. In either case, the result is similar.

Case in point: This morning I awoke to a flurry of emails from a wonderful colleague of mine that extended virtually continuously from the point where I clocked off (after working late myself) and didn’t stop until midnight. Her tireless efforts are greatly appreciated by everyone, but I worry for her physical and mental health if she continues this pace up for long.

Still recuperating from a week-long cold, I’m more conscious than normal of the need to look after myself, but even I am working faster, harder, and longer hours than I normally do. There are times when this is absolutely necessary, and helping the university sector make a sudden shift from blended learning to fully online in order to enable students to continue their studies is arguably one of those times. But we must be very mindful of the line in the sand that distinguishes an extenuating circumstance from the new normal.

In certain industries, such as academia, that line in the sand is faint indeed, and working longer and longer hours can become a badge of honour rather than an occasionally necessary unpleasantry. As colleagues and friends, it’s crucial that we look out for each other and raise concerns with others when we feel they are pushing themselves too much. We live in challenging times at the moment. Peer support is essential now, more than ever.