The Balancing Act
We live in a world where we are highly connected. It is impossible to go anywhere without our mobile devices. As such, the lines between work and life get increasingly blurred with many professionals working well beyond their standard and stated working hours. We read about how some people work so hard that they die of exhaustion. Japan, for example, has a history of ‘Karoshi’, meaning death by overwork, started as a phenomenon back in the 1970s, and continue to dominate the news in Japan.
Other Asian countries are not spared too. China’s state media reported back in 2014 that 600,000 Chinese die annually from excessive hard work. Dr Teo Swee Guan, Specialist in Cardiology & Consultant, Raffles Heart Centre, shares that heart attack and stroke are common reasons leading to such deaths. Many experience high levels of stress and inadequate nutrition during their long hours of work and push their bodies to extreme levels.
The Case for Work-Life Balance
The human body is not designed to toil indefinitely. According to Dr Alvin Ng Chee Keong, Specialist in Cardiology & Consultant, Raffles Heart Centre, sleep, rest, and replenishment by way of food and other sustenance are essential for us to care for this system to ensure that it does not breakdown and that it is kept at an optimal level. Even machines have regular servicing and maintenance checkpoints to keep them running efficiently. Dr Tan Hwee Sim, Specialist in Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre, pointed out: “Dip in effectiveness and productivity, and errors are often the first signs that persons are not taking appropriate breaks at intervals. This may be accompanied emotionally by a sense of dullness and apathy towards their responsibilities. Negative thoughts and constant complaining is also likely to arise from this state.”
In the long run, “burn-out” may set in to persons who do not take sufficient breaks from their stressful environment. In such situations, the persons will begin to feel extremely lethargic and de-motivated. Clinical depression may set in for some cases, added Dr Tan. Employers also stand to gain with work-life friendly policies. Work-life strategies have been found to benefit organisations in the following ways:
Regain your work-life balance with these practical ways.
Say Yes to Life
When off work, go offline
Take a well-deserved break
The temptation is real. Instead of checking in on your emails over dinner with your loved ones, spend time engaging them and living the moment. Do yourself a favour, get back to work when you are rested and in the right state of mind.
This need not be an expensive holiday across the globe but you do need to make sure you cut off access to work. A holiday can invigorate and give you a fresh perspective. In most instances, you will be happier leading to a cheerful environment and positive social dynamics in the workplace.
Healthy living starts with you
Leading a healthy lifestyle is important for your health. After all the hard work, find time to eat right, exercise and sleep well. By using your non-work hours to engage in activities that help keep you healthy, you can perform better when back at work.
It’s Not Saying No to Work
Multi-tasking is a myth
You may think you are maximising your every moment but do you know that multi-tasking is really task-switching? As your brain switches from task to task, you are actually wasting productivity and you never get into the zone for either activity.
Time is precious. Plan your day and guard your schedule to avoid distractions. Prioritise your work each day and setup to-do lists. Implement these time management tips and get the most out of your day.
More companies are aware of the importance of work-life balance. If you are struggling to balance the stressors of life and work, find out if you can opt for flexible hours, telecommute, compressed work week, job-sharing, or part-time employment.
Technology can be both a boon and a bane, depending on how you use it. Get organised with it by categorising your emails for faster retrieval or letting colleagues know when you are on tasks and unable to talk. And instead of lengthy meetings, conduct discussions over the phone or via group emails. Remember to be respectful of one another’s off-work hours and keep such conversations short.
How do medical professionals strike a balance between saving lives and living their lives?
Dr Joshua Kua, Specialist in Psychiatry & Consultant, Raffles Counselling Centre shares, “Although work has intrinsic value, I avoid letting it be the sole determinant of my identity and purpose. I also try to guard against the trappings of ‘Busy-ism’, hedonism and materialism. I believe in the eudaimonic approach in life which focuses on meaning and self-realisation. I ensure that other aspects of my life such as spending time with my family and friends, doing pro bono work, activities to enhance my well-being such as exercise, reading, and quiet contemplation are also significant part of my life.
Dr Melvyn Wong, Family Physician & Consultant, Raffles Medical shares, “I think we should acknowledge that a clear cut off between work and life does not exist; they are not mutually exclusive entities and once in a while life does encroach into your work and vice versa. Being at peace with that helps you cope better when the two spheres clash.”
Dr Chris Foo, Specialist in Dermatology & Consultant, Raffles Skin & Aesthetics shares, “When not at work I try to find time to indulge in my hobbies, which helps to fill my tank. I enjoy playing the guitar, watching movies and engaging in sports like badminton and soccer with my kids!”
Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, Specialist in Paediatrics & Consultant, Raffles Children’s Centre shares, “There is no clear demarcation between these two aspects. We have to gracefully accept that one aspect may encroach and take precedence over the other from time to time. Having an understanding family makes this process easier.”
Dr Lynette Ngo, Specialist in Medical Oncology & Consultant, Raffles Cancer Centre shares, “I always tell myself that I can’t deliver optimal care to my patients if I don’t first and foremost take care of myself. Creating protected time for myself to rest and exercise without guilt helps me be the best mother, wife and doctor that I can be.”
Dr Sapphire Gan, Dental Surgeon, Raffles Dental shares, “I try to find balance in life by ensuring that I spend my time each day at three levels: personal, social and community. For self-enrichment, I read whenever I have quiet time on the train or before going to bed. Socially, I stay connected to my family and friends through activities such as chatting over coffee or sending a photo to them when I’m overseas. At the community level, I am fortunate to be able to contribute to the overall well-being of the society through my work.”
Dr Stephen Lee, Specialist in ENT Surgery & Consultant, Raffles ENT Centre shares, “Work-life balance differs at different stages of life. A junior staff with a young family should look at work-life balance differently from a matured individual with grown up children. For short periods of time, it may be inevitable that attention to work or life dominates but in the longer time frame, be satisfied that you are able to avoid getting stuck in either extreme.”
Dr N V Ramani, Specialist in Neurology & Consultant, Raffles Neuroscience Centre shares, “It is never easy to find the perfect balance. Both spheres of activity are equally important. Whenever we do one, remember the other exists too. Let our conscience guide us.”