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Balancing Work and Well-Being

Tina Lj.8 min readSep 25, 2023Culture
Balancing Work and Well-Being
Tina Lj.8 min read
Contents:
Understanding the impact of mental health
Battling the feeling of isolation in remote work
The famous work-life balance
Significance of green ribbons

When you Google “what does life balance mean,” images featuring circles illustrating concepts like family, career, health, and friends will pop up. If you include the word “work,” you’ll find pictures depicting work-life balance, which includes even more aspects: social life, emails, career, future aspirations, your boss, deadlines, life itself, health, and family, among others. Just reading about it can be overwhelming.

Balancing all these elements without feeling like you’re constantly one step behind is a challenge that many adults struggle with. As the band Queen used to sing, “I want it all, and I want it now.”

We desire both extraordinary success and personal time, a vibrant social life, and moments of uninterrupted quality time. Eventually, our to-do lists end up overflowing with everything.

If there's one thing our agile team has taught us, it's that when everything becomes a priority, nothing truly is. In this blog post, let’s see how our relationship with mental health influences our work and personal experience.

Understanding the impact of mental health

Mental health is an integral part of our daily lives; it’s intertwined with our social, psychological, and emotional well-being. Its impact extends into both our personal and professional spheres, shaping the way we navigate our world.

In short, mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. According to Royce Lee, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, mental health can be defined as follows:

The state you are in when your body and mind are collectively working together. A helpful way to think of it is that your brain works in a way that serves you well. The brain is always doing as much as it can with very few resources. And there is a limit. When your mental health is doing poorly, you can begin to feel as if you’re spiraling or experiencing some type of disconnection in your world. That can ultimately lead to mental illnesses and leave an individual feeling stuck. I think it’s easy to remember that, just as your car will need a tune-up, your brain will need to restore its resources as well.

As Dr. Lee emphasizes, it’s crucial to maintain a harmonious state where your body and mind are working in sync; you can’t have good mental health without the other. He continues:

For all of us, our mental health changes to help us adapt to the world around us. We can think of mental health as the sum total of mental, emotional and social resources available to meet the challenges the world throws at us. When our resources run low, we start to have symptoms or difficulties. Thus, the state of our mental health is always changing depending on the balance of resources and challenges.

In terms of mental well-being, it’s essential to differentiate between various terms like mental health, mental distress, and mental illness. These terms often get intertwined, leaving many people unsure of their true meanings.

Let’s start with mental distress - something we all encounter in our everyday lives. It’s those common worries that plague us, such as looming work projects, tight deadlines, or conflicts with colleagues or superiors. Faced with such challenges, our brains respond with stress response. However, as we tackle these issues and develop the necessary coping skills, the stress gradually diminishes. These moments highlight the value of some stress in our lives; it’s the kind that builds resilience, shaping us into highly functional individuals.

While mindfulness is something we should all practice more, not all problems can be resolved with mindful breaths. Enter mental health problems - significant life changes that can turn your world upside down, like the loss of a loved one. Coping with these situations often requires seeking support from friends, family, or professionals. Remember that asking for help is completely normal. Embracing this and understanding it can lead to a more compassionate and informed perspective on mental well-being. Depression doesn't merely involve feeling sad, and ADHD isn't solely about being hyperactive. It's crucial to distinguish between these conditions. Moreover, it’s crucial to grasp that mental disorders are vastly different from mental health problems. There are a lot of different terms and concepts in the realm of mental health literacy.

Recognizing these differences and fostering a compassionate understanding of mental well-being can profoundly impact our work, as a healthy mind is essential for productivity and overall job satisfaction. Moreover, our work environment and stressors can also influence our mental health, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach to both aspects of life.

Battling the feeling of isolation in remote work

Technology has brought numerous positive changes to our lives; in regard to work, it has completely revolutionized the way we operate. Today, in the IT industry and many other industries, remote work has become the norm. While it has brought several advantages, it has also introduced a challenge that can impact our mental well-being: the feeling of isolation.

Ensuring mental well-being

This year, when we designed our new careers page and surveyed some of our developers about what they value most in a job ad, remote work stood out as the second most crucial factor, following compensation. After all, what could be better than starting your workweek from the comfort of your own home? The concept of remote work is not something new; as far back as the 1970s, a Washington Post article titled "Working at Home Can Save Gasoline" highlighted the financial advantages of remote work, particularly the savings on commuting expenses.

Research conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research across 27 countries between 2021 and 2022 found that remote work saved an average of two hours per week per employee. Moreover, it allowed for more relaxed mornings, eliminating the need to catch a train or battle traffic at 8 AM.

However, the perks of remote work come with their own set of challenges. Disconnecting from work can be challenging when your workspace doubles as your living area. Without the cues provided by colleagues in a traditional office, you might find yourself working longer hours, convincing yourself it's okay to finish just one more task. The freedom and lack of structure can sometimes lead to decreased productivity.

Extended periods of remote work can also take a toll on mental health. While introverts initially embraced remote work as a relief, psychologist Lynn Holdsworth's research shows that full-time remote work increased loneliness by 67%. It's crucial to maintain connections, not only with friends and family but also with your team, even when you're not physically present in the office. These connections don't have to be strictly work-related; using the first few minutes of a meeting to engage in casual conversation can help foster a sense of connection.

Our colleagues from Devōt, who usually work remotely, had a few things to say about this:

If you are new and don’t have that much experience, tracking how well you are developing and growing as an employee is more challenging when you are separated from the rest of your team. You need people to push you in the right direction.

The most important thing to stay motivated while you are working from home is to have discipline. Discipline and a healthy work-life balance.

How to overcome feelings of isolation when working from home?

There are several factors that can help people who work remotely all the time. Here are some of them:

  • Regular virtual team meetings - remember, employees aren't robots; engaging in casual conversations is entirely normal and a part of creating a healthy work environment. For example, at Devōt, our retrospectives include a lot of fun. It's a safe space to share concerns, assess your performance, and offer recognition, creating a welcoming meeting atmosphere. What's more, each retrospective features a unique theme to keep things engaging and entertaining. For instance, our Agile coach, Nikola, once hosted a Harry Potter-themed retrospective, where Dementors symbolized questions related to mental health and hope. It's a great way to inject some fun into our meetings, especially for us Potterheads.

  • Stay connected - just as you would chat with colleagues in the office, make an effort to connect with them from your home workspace. Use tools like Slack and other communication channels to maintain connections and social interactions. Remember, it's a two-way street; if you notice a colleague facing challenges or on the verge of burnout, extend your support and reach out to them.

  • Take a break - whether you're working from home or in the office, there is importance in taking a break. The lack of structure in a home office can make it tempting to eat lunch at your desk, but it's important to step away. Eating away from your workspace can improve productivity and safeguard your health.

  • Unplug from technology - working from home doesn't mean you're available 24/7. Start your day by setting work hours and, when your work is done, silence notifications to unwind and disconnect.

  • Ask for help without hesitation - there's no shame in seeking assistance. HR departments exist for a reason, and your company should be a transparent place. If you're feeling overwhelmed or lonely, reach out to colleagues or schedule a meeting with HR. It could be a sign that you're still adjusting to this way of working.

The famous work-life balance

We are often so focused on succeeding in our professional careers, meeting deadlines, and reaching out for better job positions just to lose sight of the famous work-life balance. I would even say it’s the most crucial career benefit of all. So, what does work-life balance mean? According to the Cambridge Dictionary:

“The amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.”

It's important to break free from defining your identity solely through your work and tasks. Work will always be an important part of your life, but remember that it does not define who you are as a person. Don’t let a job consume your entire identity.

The key to achieving work-life balance lies in setting clear priorities, mastering time management, and learning to say no. Recognize those moments when your schedule is stretched to its limits, and you simply cannot take on more work. Striking the right balance reduces stress and acts as a preventive shield against burnout, ultimately enhancing your mental well-being.

Excessive, prolonged stress can lead to heightened anxiety, depression, and even interpersonal conflicts within your team. Admittedly, it's easier said than done when it comes to refusing tasks at work, especially for those who fear the consequences of potentially being fired. However, if you're in a position to do so, engage in a conversation with your superiors to explore ways to boost both your productivity and mental health. A study conducted by Mental Health America and FlexJobs found that a staggering 76% of respondents acknowledged that workplace stress had a significant impact on their mental health.

Mental health

Significance of green ribbons

Awareness ribbons have been a symbol of various causes worldwide, each carrying its own significance. These symbols of awareness have been in existence since the Middle Ages, and perhaps one of the most recognizable ones is the pink ribbon, symbolizing breast cancer awareness. Many of us want to make a positive impact on the world, yet few of us are certain of how to achieve it. Perhaps it's not about creating a massive impact, but rather about raising awareness regarding the significance of mental health in both our personal and professional lives—a mission we can all embrace and contribute to.

The green ribbon stands as a symbol representing mental health, and our team will wear it on World Mental Health Day, which falls on the 10th of October, during the Las Vegas Health conference.

Author's Note: Updated - October 11, 2023

Martin, Tisa and Sandro at the HLTH23

Martin, Tisa, and Sandro represented Devōt and wore green ribbons at the HLTH23 conference on World Mental Health Day

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