By Nancy Collamer, Next Avenue
Are you ready to take control of your work/life balance in 2022? I ask because, despite the dramatic rise in working from home during the pandemic, many employees and self-employed people report feeling more stressed than ever.
Workplace consultant Lindsay Pollak writes that she’s “hearing from employees and leaders at all levels across all industries about how they’re experiencing higher burnout, anxiety and depression, as well as how employers are receiving more and more requests from employees for mental health breaks.” Pollak thinks mental health in the workplace will be the HR headline for 2022.
And in a recent McKinsey & Co. look at trends for 2022, one CEO said “Prioritizing work-life balance across all industries including those that have typically been hostile or predatory to their workforce will impact the economy in fundamental ways.”
For Some, Work/Life Balance Is a Fantasy
Of course, for many low-level and essential workers who labor at more than one job and rarely have the luxury of working from home, achieving work/life balance is a near impossible feat. Low pay remains the top driver of workplace stress, followed by long hours and a lack of advancement opportunities, according to the latest American Psychological Association well-being survey.
Yet for some, the pandemic has improved their work/life balance. A recent survey of 1,010 U.S. employees from the invoicing company Skynova found that a whopping 83% of people believe they currently have a positive work/life balance.
“We were surprised to learn that this percentage is as high as it is,” said Jennifer Graham, a web developer at Skynova. “But many companies have implemented new policies to help combat resignations and employee turnover. These new incentives have contributed to the work-life balance we see in our study.”
Reason for Optimism
Clearly, work/life balance during the pandemic has varied widely, depending upon the job, personal circumstances and a host of other factors. To quote Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Yet despite the ongoing challenges, as a coach who specializes in helping people with second-act careers and reinvention, I think there’s reason for optimism moving forward.
More companies have embraced flexibility due to the pandemic. And with employers desperate to fill job vacancies and retain workers — a record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs in September — you’ll likely have stronger negotiating power for better work/life balance than you’ve had in quite some time.
3 Steps to Improve Work/Life Balance in 2022
So, whether you’re looking to switch jobs or make your current position or entrepreneurial endeavor less stressful, here are three steps to help improve your work/life balance next year:
1. Define your work/life priorities. While you’ll never achieve the perfect balance, the first step is to get clear about your list of wants and needs. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it reflects your priorities.
Typically, there’s a range of components that influence work/life balance. Among the factors referenced in the Skynova study: securing a flexible schedule, having more time for family and hobbies, not having to work overtime, being able to take breaks during the workday and having the ability to take sufficient vacation time without being made to feel guilty for taking it.
As you reflect on your priorities, you might notice that they’ve changed as you’ve aged.
In the Skynova survey, 67% of boomers rated having time with family as the most crucial aspect of a healthy work/life balance, as opposed to 61% of Gen Xers and 59% of millennials. But when it came to the ability to take vacation time, only 48% of boomers rated that as important, versus 58% of Gen Xers and 56% of millennials.
So, ask yourself what’s most important to you now: Do I need to work from home full-time? Do I want more vacation time? Would I be happier if I could take time for exercise during the workday? Only after you acknowledge your specific drivers, can you be clear about the best solutions.
2. Focus on what you control. It’s easy to blame your employer or demanding clients for your work/life challenges. But, in reality, you may have more control over your work/life balance than you realize.
Do you really need to respond to work emails at night or spend time working on a holiday? Over time, those behaviors can become self-destructive habits. And yet, according to a survey from the global staffing company Robert Half, 68% of professionals who transitioned to a remote setup during the pandemic said they work on the weekend.
“A quick fix for greater work/life ease is to account for how you spend your time, zero in on priorities and cut out the fluff,” says Wilton, Conn.-based career adviser and founder of The 4 Jobs Club, Kathryn Sollmann (the four jobs to nurture, Sollman says, are careers, children, aging parents and households).
“Our to-do lists tend to be filled with tasks that might be nice to do in a perfect world, but don’t fit our imperfect lives,” notes Sollmann. “It’s better to focus on two or three achievable things within your control.”
3. Before moving on, explore ways to improve your current situation. Given the hot job market, it’s understandable if you’re ready to go find a new job or launch a business. But first, you might want to try improving your current situation.
And here, you may be in the driver’s seat. Right now, many employers are looking for ways to retain their staff. A recent LinkedIn study found that the U.S. job promotion rate is on the rise, trending 9% higher than the same period last year.
You also might be surprised by other benefits your employer might offer if you ask about better work/life balance.
One new study from the human resources trade group SHRM found that 42% of organizations it surveyed have implemented new or additional remote work or flexibility options to reduce turnover.
So, think about which components of your job you’d like to see changed and go have a talk with your manager. Then, if your employer refuses to budge, 2022 just might be your moment to jump on the Great Resignation bandwagon.