Ask Emma: I need a better work-life balance

Create virtual separation for work, personal communication; have conversations with co-workers about what to expect



Finding the right balance between school, work and personal time is hard. Emma tackles this topic by suggesting people to intentionally set certain hours to relax and unwind.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen columnist

Dear Emma, 

I’m really struggling to maintain my work-life boundaries, and I’m not really sure the best way to go about fixing that. It’s pretty much impossible to take a day off from my job, although I keep trying for some reason. I feel bad when I’m not constantly available and able to respond to my coworkers and bosses. I’m not really sure how to turn work “off” during certain hours of the day. 

Normally I would post my schedule somewhere for coworkers to see, but I can’t really do that because I’m working remotely. I also would limit myself to in-person interactions and emails, but now I can be contacted on many different platforms.

I know all people probably struggle with this to some extent, but do you have any tips? 



Dear Unbalanced,

Fortunately (or unfortunately) for you, this is something I struggle with, too. 

It is incredibly important to have a healthy separation of your work and personal life so you can maintain your mental health. You also don’t want your co-workers or bosses to have unreasonable expectations of you that you won’t be able to maintain long-term. However, I suspect you already know these things.

One thing that helps me while working remotely is using a separate platform to communicate with coworkers. For me, that means anything work-related stays on Slack, and anything personal (even with co-workers) is over text. I also try to let my co-workers know when I won’t be responding like when I’m in class or a meeting. 

Even a distinct virtual separation of work and personal life doesn’t feel like enough sometimes. In that case, you may need to have an uncomfortable conversation with your boss or co-workers.

Before asking to discuss boundaries with people, try to think about what exactly you want your boundaries to be. Are you not available after a certain hour in the evening? Should people not reach out to you about picking up extra hours or projects unless it is an emergency? Consider what you ideally want before you ask people to help you make it happen.

When you eventually discuss your boundaries, be understanding if people struggle at first. Your co-workers probably depend on you and will be unsure what to do if they feel like you won’t be accessible to them anymore. Remind them that these boundaries make you more effective during your normal working hours and that you are still a dependable worker. 

Do not be afraid to ask for time off or a break when you need it. I’m not saying to do this constantly, but really be aware of when it is time to prioritize your mental health. If your coworkers aren’t understanding of this, that is a different conversation to have, potentially with someone from human resources (assuming that department is available to you). 

Be clear about what you need and don’t waiver. If you are going to take Wednesdays off, for example, don’t make an exception for a couple of hours, no matter how harmless that may seem. It is just as important for you to respect your boundaries as it is for your coworkers. 

Finally, if you are still struggling and can’t stop thinking about work in your downtime, it may be time to seek professional help. Whether that is a human resources officer or therapist, there are plenty of people who want to help you establish and maintain healthy boundaries. 

Don’t give up on finding the right balance. You got this!



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