In 1991, Juliet Schor published “The Overworked American,” an academic bestseller that concluded something most people were already feeling — we work too long and too hard and it’s negatively affecting our lives.
More recently, a Harvard Business School survey indicated that 94 percent of working professionals work more than 50 hours per week, and almost half said that they worked more than 65 hours per week. One can conclude that most of us have trouble maintaining a satisfactory work-life balance.
Why is it so hard for many of us to achieve work-life balance? Some of the reasons include job expectations, taking on more responsibilities at work, increased job insecurity and new technology that creates constant accessibility and demand. Leisure and family time become less available and more interrupted, frequently leading to burnout.
People suffering professional burnout often feel a loss of enthusiasm for work, cynicism and a low sense of personal accomplishment. It contributes to broken relationships, substance use, dissatisfaction and isolation.
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There are a number of ways that we can improve our work-life balance. To start, live in the moment, fully focused on whatever activity you’re doing. This skill is not something that comes naturally to us, but can be learned. Exercise and meditation are effective tools to reduce stress and allow us time and space to refuel and take care of ourselves.
Technology, in the form of mobile phones, tablets and laptop computers, has been both a blessing and a curse. It brings vast amounts of information to us and makes communication between individuals immediate and easy. This has helped our lives, but has also created expectations that we should always be accessible. We need to regularly unplug to give time to our spouses, children and friends. We need to unplug to pursue hobbies that bring us pleasure and help us feel renewed.
We need to stay focused on what is important in our lives. Our personal and professional lives do not need to be at odds, but can complement and enrich each other. Individuals who have identified their passions and are in pursuit of them are able to give more and be fully engaged in their personal and professional lives.
Finally, our priorities — relationships, family, career — inevitably change over time. We need to accept this change and successfully adapt to it. Ignoring this aspect of life further destabilizes our work-life balance and leads to dissatisfaction and disillusionment.
If you are having difficulty balancing the demands of your personal and professional life, consider speaking with a medical expert.
Radu V. Saveanu, M.D., is a psychiatrist at the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.