A worker in the United States puts in the equivalent of a 13-month work year in comparison to the rest of the world. In a nation celebrated for its freedom, perhaps the most suffocating confines are that of the office cubicle. We have all heard and many of us have vigorously strived to achieve the idealized “work-life balance.” In our individualistic, competitive society, it seems that no one truly enjoys this glorified equilibrium, however. Perhaps the key to achieving the balance is to change the way we think about it.
According to ABC News, last year more than 25 million Americans, roughly 20.5 percent of the total workforce, reported that they worked a minimum of 49 hours per week, the equivalent to nearly 10 hours a day. It is estimated that the average productivity of an American worker has surged by 400% since 1950.
When did we start sacrificing our free time for office time? And what aspects of our lives are we compromising as workplace overachievers?
The Forbes article, “Overcoming the Destructive Myth of Work-Life Balance” discusses how we experience shame when we feel that we are abandoning our lives for our careers, and vice versa. We reason by saying “oh, this is just a temporary thing, as soon as crunch time is over, I’ll spend more time with my spouse/ at the gym/ with my kids to make up for it.” The issue is, that in our country, “crunch time” persists from January until the last two weeks of December.
The secret to career (and life) contentment is in reframing the yin yang outlook to be an integrated blend between free time and job time. In seeking balance, we categorize our daily activities to reflect how much time we spend on work and on life. When we avoid sending emails and answering phone calls to go out to dinner, we experience job-based guilt. When we nix the gym and order take-out to the office to finish up late night work, our health suffers.
It is no secret that the happiest people are those who love what they do. They do not define boundaries between work and life because both impact and are part of one another. They spend a few extra hours in the office without realizing it because they are not completing tasks, but enjoying a hobby.
While it is unrealistic to believe that every employee makes a living spending time on his or her passion, viewing your job less as just work does promote a more positive outlook. Successful people understand that taking time for their lives enhances their work. Mix life with work by hanging out with coworkers outside of the office. Take a midday break to go to the gym. If you take the time to enjoy the week, you will be far less annoyed when an emergency work call rings on a Saturday.
In the long-term, not taking care of physical and mental health is more detrimental to your professional life than enjoying an hour lunch break. Once you stop defining life as what you enjoy and work as your duty, everything appears to be in balance and both are more pleasant. After all, life is too short to only enjoy two days of the week.