We’ve been hearing for months that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and it is absolutely true. Women are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis – in both the workplace and at home, as one study after another has shown. So where does the seemingly ever-elusive work/life balance come into play?
For all people, but especially for women, it is essential that it become a priority in our lives. While maintaining work/life balance has always been challenging, it’s been made even more difficult during the past 15 months of living through a pandemic and we increasingly put our health and wellbeing at risk if we don’t make room for it.
The uneven burden of physical work and emotional labor that women often carry in the workplace makes it nearly impossible for them to have anything left for themselves at the end of the day. In many cases, they then go home and find themselves in the same situation. All of this means that when the most impactful global health crisis of our generation hit, disparities increased, as did women’s stress and anxiety. When the pandemic forced Americans home to work and learn, what this looked like for women was taking on a greater share of responsibilities, including facilitating online learning for their children, and taking care of household duties all while trying to complete work from the office.
During the pandemic, women were most likely to feel pressure to work more, and to consistently feel burnout and exhaustion. (McKinsey, 2020)
It all comes back to balance. What choice do we have but to try to achieve it? The alternative leads to overstress, burnout and an undermining of our physical and emotional health. The goal is not to achieve perfect balance. Trying to achieve perfection leads to frustration and sets us up for failure. What we want is healthy work-life balance, and to attain it, we must be intentional, and actively and continually cultivate it. It is always a work in progress.
Achieving work/life balance begins with figuring out what will work best for you, but there are a few steps that should be essential to the process of maintaining your health and wellbeing, which is the ultimate goal of work-life balance.
Determine what you can and can’t do, will and won’t do. Establishing boundaries and sticking to them lessens the possibility of becoming overburdened.
SHARE THE WORKLOAD.
You can’t do everything and be all things to everyone. Ask for help and share the workload.
MAKE ROOM FOR FLEXIBILITY.
When creating your schedule or ordering your tasks by priority, give yourself room for flexibility. Structure doesn’t negate flexibility.
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET.
Recognize that no one is perfect, and be okay with doing your best with your given resurces. Know that if you always think you’re not being productive enough, you’re likely underestimating your level of productivity. Finally, when you make mistakes, don’t belabor them. Forgive yourself.
ENGAGE IN SELF-CARE.
Be intentional and do things that are just for you, or that relax you or take you away from your responsibilities.
Prior to the pandemic, many women in the workforce often felt they worked two shifts – one at work, and one at home. There was still a need to create work-life balance then, and the need only became more urgent during the crisis. The reality is that the challenges faced by women and exacerbated by the pandemic will still be there when lockdown is over. As we fast approach that time, continuing to do what kept us balanced during these tough times, or implementing a plan for balance, will contribute to our productivity. More importantly, it will contribute to our overall health and wellbeing.
Dr. Michelle Nealon is president of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.