When questioned about what they look for in their career, Millennials often cite work-life balance as one of their priorities when deciding on a job. Are they the only ones that value work-life balance? The answer is a resounding no!

People from all generations crave work-life balance and spend most of their lives chasing after it. Given a choice, we would all want to knock off on time without sacrificing our personal time to look like we care about our job.

research study done by tech company, Kisi, back in August 2019, revealed that Singapore ranked 32nd among a list of 40 cities for an index on work-life balance; and was the second most overworked city in the world, just behind Tokyo.

Based on this report, Singaporeans are already being pushed to their limits at work. Sacrificing personal time for work seems to be more of a norm than the exception. Is it inevitable that entering the working world would require significant sacrifice of personal time? Is work-life balance only possible in a utopian society?

Before we start to sound the alarm bells, we do need to take into perspective that definitions of work-life balance are personal. One person’s balance might be another person’s disharmony. The frequently debated ratio of time allocated to work and leisure would vary between different people at different stages of their lives. It depends largely on individuals themselves, their aptitude and attitude towards work, that would decide for them whether they are achieving a state of balance for their work and leisurely pursuits.

Ultimately, it is in the interest of both employers and employees, that work commitments are fulfilled but not at the expense of one’s health and mental well-being. Your company needs you to make further contributions. Your loved ones are waiting for you to return home safely, and you would be expecting to enjoy some me-time or family time with your loved ones after work.

The recent pandemonium brought about by a certain pandemic has thrown another spanner into the works. Our lives have been disrupted to an extent that was previously unimaginable. No one would have expected that worldwide lockdowns would be necessary to curb the spread of this contagious virus. Covid-19 has been branded as the biggest crisis faced by our generation in decades. 

Many people are now practicing social distancing by working from home and this has led to a whole new set of problems. If you are one of them, are you able to ensure a healthy work-leisure divide when work and life now blends into one another in your new ‘home office’?

For the opportunistic, work-from-home measures presented a unique chance to break away from the daily grind at the office over the years, where eating packed lunches behind desktop screens and submitting transport claims for countless nights of clocked overtime was necessary to get work done. 

Some Singaporeans however speak of a totally different kind of work from home experience.

One Pair of Feet For Many Different Shoes: Luxury or Drudgery?

While some treated work from home arrangements as a means to finally achieving work life balance, working from home presented a new set of challenges to many, especially for parents of young schooling children who also had their enrichment classes based entirely at home.

Instead of enjoying work-life balance, parents were faced with a work-life battle, as they switched between work and helping their children reliant on them to connect to online platforms for their enrichment classes and with their schoolwork. Parents now had multiple pairs of shoes to fill simultaneously, that of an employee, teacher and caregiver.

Working from home had also removed the physical boundaries between work and home. Where the mind-numbing time taken to commute back home may have served as a moment of respite from the pressures of life, work from home parents are now faced with the more daunting prospect of instantaneous transition from work to life, with little to no rest in between.

Gone were the days where they would knock off from work and go home. Work was now constantly knocking them over at home…

Battling cabin fever, grappling with tense situations with family members and juggling work commitments with child-caring duties amidst the uncertain pandemic situation has physically and mentally strained these work from home parents. Work from home may not be the most ideal way to reclaim freedom for work-life balance for these parents.

A Time to Sit Back and Wind Down

Many Singaporean workers silently suffer from burnout at work, a medical condition that was formally recognised in 2019, defined as a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress (from work). 

Since the start of the CB in April, workers who managed to save up to three hours of commuting time daily by working from home, especially those who have no childcare duties at home, could now use this time to indulge in their favourite hobbies, spend more time with their loved ones, or simply catch some extra rest by getting more sleep.

This period gave many individuals time to pause and reflect about life. Many got their mojo back, pressing on the reset button to live healthier lives and start pursuing goals that have eluded them due to work commitments.

Previously shelved new year resolutions were rekindled and worked upon. Many Singaporeans started to embrace the simple joys in life, reading and baking to pass time and pavement pounding to catch some fresh air outdoors. Some discovered new hobbies that they may keep for good.

All these lifestyle changes are good for the soul and would help the overworked to restore their physical and mental health. With the two month respite allowing people to do what they love, those suffering from burnout may also be able to recover from emotional, physical and mental exhaustion accumulated from work stress.

Five Tipping Points of Work-Life Balance

 After recounting the experiences of different groups of Singaporeans during the circuit breaker, it is apparent that level of commitment to work, competency at work, individual perspectives of work life balance, parenting duties or other private matters can collude to either make work life balance a dream come true or mission impossible. We are however urging everyone to stay positive 🙂

We have 5 pointers for you that can help you achieve some semblance of work life balance as you work from home or return to the office as Singapore moves into the next phases of the reopening of her economy: 

1. Limiting ‘Non-Essential’ Activities 

 No, we are not going to eliminate nor throw shade at any industry or career choice as being non-essential as we believe that any occupation in the workforce is valuable in their own way. Non-essential in our context refers to activities that limit the amount of time you have to work on more productive tasks without you even realizing it, such as checking your personal emails, browsing through social media and surfing the internet.

To better prioritize your time at work, write down on a piece of paper the activities that you do throughout the day, Be detailed and specific and break it down into 15 minute blocks of time. After doing so, circle the activities mentioned above and other activities that you consider to be time wasting and unproductive. 

If you have identified your mobile phone as a source of distraction, many of us are guilty of that sometimes, consider setting designated slots of time in the day to use your phone, clear your emails or check your social media notifications.

Set a ‘screen-time limit’ so that you will exercise discipline and go back to your work when time is up. Minimizing the time you spend on these activities will go a long way in improving your productivity and preventing work from bleeding into your personal time. 

2. Setting Boundaries and Knowing When to Disconnect

Modern technology has made it possible for employees to remain connected to their work through their mobile phones and computers. While this allows employers to offer flexible work schedules, it also means that employees are accessible 24/7, often taking work home or checking emails after normal business hours rather than waiting until they get back to work the next day. It is important to establish boundaries on your availability after hours and leave work at the office, or home office during this special season of working from home.

Avoid thinking about upcoming projects, or replying to work emails once you leave your office or work station. One tip we have for you is to use different devices for work and play. You can have a personal phone and work phone to separate personal and work contacts. You should also use two different laptops, one for work and the other for personal usage.

By having a physical separation between your personal and work devices, you will not be able to see email notifications popping up on your screens and feel obliged to click through when you see them. Alternatively, use separate browsers, emails, and filters for your work and personal platforms to achieve some form of separation for work and personal matters. 

3. Calendaring and Scheduling

Perhaps an old-school thought, but the practice of keeping a calendar of your monthly activities, or a schedule of your week’s plans is nonetheless an evergreen technique that lets you plan ahead of time for your tasks and assignments and mentally register their due dates. Not only does this allow you to submit your deliverables and fulfill your work commitments in a timely fashion, it also allows you, more importantly, to control your time and never let time – especially work-time – control you. 

With employers offering employees flexible work arrangements nowadays, or added flexibility arising from the current enforcement of work from home arrangements for many of us, it is even more essential to ensure that this newfound flexibility does not surreptitiously drain away your personal time without you even knowing it.

To prevent time from slipping away without you noticing, block out designated blocks of time for specific tasks outside of work, such as doing the house chores every Monday night, taking the kids out to the park on Friday evenings or a weekend house visit to your grandma’s place. 

Being able to visually see your personal commitments will motivate you to complete your work tasks in the time designated for work so that you will be available for your family outings. Planning even further ahead for the family’s next vacation, to give your family and yourself that well-deserved break would certainly motivate the entire household and give everyone something to work towards.

To start planning for your vacation, check out The Straits Times’ latest compilation of Public Holidays and long weekends in 2021 here.

4. Making Time For Loved Ones and Yourself

This is so important but frequently neglected due to work that we had to make it a point in itself. Allocate time to spend with your family and friends and make time for yourself too. Always try your best to avail yourself for quality time with the people that matter to you, for they are after all your pillars of strength and comfort at times when you need it. Taking the effort and time to maintain healthy relationships does more good than harm for your mental and emotional wellbeing and will help you to prevent burnout.

Spending time with people who matter to you, such as having regular family dinners or occasional outings with your friends during the weekend should not require too much effort on your part as you should already be doing it as an integral part of a healthy social life. If you keep to yourself most of the time in self isolation, try opening up to your families and friends. It will do wonders for your emotional well-being. As the saying goes, no man is an island. Humans are social beings and we need a friend or two who can empathize with us and talk things through when we are feeling down.

Lastly, set aside some me-time for yourself to read, exercise, meditate or simply reflect on the happenings of the past week. Do not underestimate the power of the me-time that you carve out for yourself. Not only does it provide you with the chance to unwind and rejuvenate your senses, you may even discover your calling in life from conscious reflection when your mind is uncluttered. 

5. Pursue Your Passions

Cliche as it may sound, finding a job that allows you to pursue your interests, or allows you to excel at what you know you are good at, may move you beyond the dilemma of work life balance into the realm of work life integration.

If you find yourself in a job that you dislike, it is still possible for you to eventually transition into a job that truly excites you. Do not give up on yourself and sink deeper into the work that gives you little satisfaction and let the sparkle in your eyes dim. Doing what you dislike will only eat into your personal time as you struggle to complete your tasks on time simply because you have no motivation and interest in what you do.

If you are willing to pick up new skills, you can reinvent yourself to eventually land a job role that you have passion in. When you love what you do, the fixation on work life balance will dissipate and give way to work life integration as you find pleasure in your work. You will go about your tasks with a spring in your step, experience high levels of productivity and finish your work with time to spare for leisurely pursuits.

Creating A New Work-Life Normal For Yourself

We hope that you have found our 5 tips useful and feel more confident in achieving work life balance in the hustle and bustle of Singapore city life. Do keep tabs on non-essential activities, set boundaries between your work and personal life, schedule your time ahead of time, and make time for your loved ones and yourself so that you do not burn yourself out from doing what you love.

If you have tried the above tips and are still struggling to deconflict your work and personal time, or have an interest in finding out more ways in which you can strike the fine balance between your work and life, we welcome you to click here to find more information on how you can do so.