The modern world is more connected than ever before, which can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. People can connect with loved ones while thousands of miles apart with just the click of an app. However, this connectivity comes with a downside as well. Millions of people throughout the world now answer emails or otherwise work even when they have finished their shift. The result is that people are working more than ever, with little separation between their office and their personal space. Could this constant infringement of work on our private lives be taking a toll?
Work-Life Balance: Is It Possible?
If you feel you have achieved (or are at least approaching) work-life balance, you are part of a lucky minority. Around 89 percent of Americans say that they consider work-life balance a problem, with another 38 percent saying this has gotten worse due to recent economic issues in our nation.
Although technology should make it easier for people to find flexible jobs that offer a healthy balance, just the opposite appears to have happened. In fact, several agencies have called on the federal government to pass legislation encouraging employers to help their employees find that middle ground.
This is not merely a sociological issue, but a public health one as well. Having a good work-life balance with flexible hours is actually good for your health, while bringing work home can be physically harmful. With millions of people in the US checking work emails and taking calls even from their own bedroom, our collective health may be suffering.
Can Taking Work Home Interfere with Sleep?
Can taking work home actually make you sicker? According to a recent study, yes! Bringing home work, or even bringing home work stress, leaves people at greater risk of insomnia, with both sleep quality and sleep quantity affected. This trend was particularly noticeable in people who had a psychological tendency to mentally linger on stressful moments and situations throughout the day.
Over time, insomnia can have devastating health effects. Researchers have found that not getting enough sleep can contribute to a diverse range of diseases, from heart disease to cancer. The World Health Organization has gone so far as to call shift work a carcinogen due to its impact on sleep and the circadian rhythm.
Can anything be done to reduce this disease risk? People who had workplaces with high levels of incivility appeared to be especially impacted. Thus, it is important not just to leave work stress at work, but to choose workplaces where coworkers and supervisors place a high priority on mutual respect.
The Benefits of Separating Work and Home
Several studies have found that there are benefits to separating work and home life as much as possible. First, this allows people to completely de-stress and relax, avoiding the insomnia that can be caused by work stress as well as its ill long-term effects. This also can contribute to greater emotional stability and happiness.
Second, leaving your emails in the office can actually have benefits for your physical health. People who have greater work-life balance have a lower chance of heart disease, stroke and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. This may be partially due to the sleep benefits of work-life balance.
Flexible hours have been found to have measurable positive impact on employee health. With the cost of medical care and absenteeism rising constantly, employers may actually benefit from encouraging employees to take the time they need to rest and relax.
Achieving a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Is it possible to get the work-life balance that you need in order to enjoy optimal health? For many people, this can be a huge challenge. However, there are a few small changes that experts claim can make a difference:
- Develop rituals to separate work time and home time. Mr. Rogers changed sweaters and shoes for a reason, to create a dividing line between work and home.
- Use technology to your advantage. Smartphones and other devices can definitely help many people to take a work-at-home day or otherwise make their schedules more flexible.
- Learn when to turn off the devices. It is okay to be unreachable during your off hours in most careers.
- Know your company policies. Many companies have policies that can help you find balance.
- Learn to say no when needed. You cannot have any kind of balance if you are constantly overloading your schedule with optional activities.
- Protect your private time. Everyone deserves breaks and small pockets of personal time to let your brain rest.
As we develop new technologies, achieving the right balance between career and home will likely become more complicated and yet more possible at the same time. It is important to take steps to keep your off-work life as personal and secluded from work as possible. This will allow you to enjoy the good physical and psychological health needed to enjoy both career and home for decades to come.