The Science Behind Great Work: Work-Life Balance
Welcome back to class! We’re here with the fourth installment in our five-part series on the science behind great work. Here, we’re exploring a) what is going on in your brain during the processes that prime you for focus and creativity b) how to use that feedback to ultimately create meaningful work that makes you happier, more productive, and successful in your job.
Missed parts 1, 2, & 3? Catch up here!
Part 4: Work-Life Balance
Balancing work and life isn’t always easy, but it’s as important as it gets. When the pendulum swings too far one way, your health suffers, and so does your work. Learn what cues to look for and how to get back on track.
You don’t need to be on the verge of a breakdown to deserve a break.
Go ahead, read that sentence again.
Did that feel cathartic? If your answer was yes, you’re likely not alone. The fact is that 77% of Americans who work full-time experience burnout at their jobs. If that’s not you, how about this: 60% of workers feel that the pressures and responsibilities of the workplace lack boundaries with home life. Are we preaching to the choir yet?
Can’t stop, won’t stop
Employees and employers alike struggle to acknowledge the harmful effects of working long hours, despite the resounding evidence that research shows. Overcoming these deeply ingrained habits is even harder.
To one extreme are le français. In 2017, France implemented a new law establishing workers’ “right to disconnect.” The law requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails. Barring work emails after hours seems like a far cry from the American work hard, play hard mentality in which living your best life has turned into weekend-long parties after countless 12 hour days. Where’s the balance?
Born this way
Many workers compensate for the self-inflicted demands of success and career advancement by either working more or indulging in recreation. To explain this psychological tendency, scientists point to our own mortality. One study performed by biology professor Lonnie Aarssen, suggests that humans experience a “legacy drive” (the desire to leave a mark on the world) and a “leisure drive” (the impulse to distract the mind from perceived “impermanence”) to help cope with their own mortality. But burying yourself in work or fighting off rest leads to unhealthy patterns that can impair job performance and incentivize poor mental and physical health, otherwise known as burnout.
Research shows that the brain “reboots” itself during downtime, improving a person’s memory and learning abilities. Even if you can’t take long, leisurely vacations as often as you’d like, try taking more breaks at work. Research has revealed that the brain often problem-solves during the cognitive process known as daydreaming. When external stimuli decrease, the default region of your brain (medial prefrontal cortex) becomes more active, which supports memory retrieval and decision-making.
Go easy on yourself
It’s easy to put your personal needs last when it comes to meeting deadlines and checking off boxes. And when taken to extremes, your work not only suffers, but so does your physical health, cognitive performance, and many other areas of your life. Work-life balance does not necessarily mean an equal balance either. Periodically examine your priorities — and make changes, if necessary — to establish a more sustainable and rewarding balance for your personal and professional life.
Liv Huntley is a Content Writer at Surprise.com. Born in the Midwest, raised on NFL and Miles Davis, and lives on Google Drive. A serious journalist, a not-so-serious copywriter, and a social psychology nerd, she formerly wrote for a women’s magazine and always enjoys a bit of storytelling tomfoolery. You can catch her skiing in the winter and chasing cold climates year-round.