Tips and resources for maintaining work-life balance in a pandemic
Author: Eva Guérin, PhD, Defence Scientist, Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis (DGMPRA)
In March 2020, all Canadian Armed Forces members and Department of National Defence civilian personnel who could perform their duties from home were instructed to work remotely, prompting thousands of Defence Team members to alter how they work, and how they meet their personal and family responsibilities.
Studies have shown that telework has the potential to positively impact people and their work productivity. Research in the early days of COVID-19 suggested that Canadians were generally adjusting well to working from home. In August, the majority of personnel who started working remotely when the crisis began were still working from home, shifting the initial period of “survival” and adaptation to one of maintenance and sustainability.
However, despite the added flexibility and apparent comforts experienced by many (think sweat pants and slippers!), a substantial proportion of Canadians that were new to telework with COVID-19 are likely to report experiencing some challenges with work-life balance. In particular, parents have faced months of unprecedented caregiving demands, and the stresses of balancing the provision of informal care with professional demands may exert a higher toll on women.
As we transition into fall, many of us may still be grappling with a number of evolving challenges in relation to working from home, including productivity pressures; video conference fatigue and a sense of being perpetually plugged-in; anticipating COVID-19 outbreaks in daycares and schools and juggling homeschooling demands; physical and social separation (or lack thereof); and the overall mental strain and spill-over from work to home, and vice versa.
So how, then, do we maintain the elusive “balance” between our personal and professional roles? This may depend on how we define it. The term “balance" involves competition, therefore some individuals will strive to distribute themselves (and their time) equally between areas of their lives. Others might look for work-life integration, which involves not thinking of work and home as separate blocks, but finding ways of blending these entities. Overall, finding the right fit is about creating the physical and mental space needed to fully engage in what matters most to each of us.
There are tips and resources that can help us achieve this. Some recommendations and strategies include:
- Limiting distractions by maintaining a schedule and preserving a dedicated and personalized work space.
- Maintaining an active lifestyle, and planning individual and family physical activities, such as bike rides, hikes, and PSP virtual fitness training.
- Substituting commuting time with self-care activities, which can include reading, cooking, or going for a walk.
- Considering a mindfulness practice (attending to what’s happening now) and relaxation strategies to help cope with daily struggles.
- Recognizing stress and signs of burnout, and seeking assistance if needed (e.g., CFMAP for military members and EAP for civilian employees).
- Canadian Perspectives Survey Series 1: COVID-19 and working from home, 2020 (Statistics Canada)
- Labour Force Survey, August 2020 (Statistics Canada)
- Tips for setting up a home office during COVID-19
- National PSP Virtual Fitness Schedule (CAF Connection)
- Mindfulness (Canadian Mental Health Association)
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