This article is the most vulnerable piece I’ve written thus far with Workr Beeing. I am writing about a topic today that was inspired by my own personal life. I’ve been feeling some strain due to work-life conflict even though I’m a single, childless woman! Unfortunately, some people still carry the stereotype that single employees without dependent children do not have to deal with work-life conflict. Luckily, I have incredibly supportive work environments but that isn’t the case for everyone.
Over the last few weeks, I have been dealing with a lot of personal life issues. My cat was diagnosed with cancer and my wedding venue canceled on us (3 months before the wedding). I know these are minor things given the plight of many others but it has felt incredibly stressful to me. Today, I highlight some research on work-life conflict for single, dependent-less employees and share my current situation so you know you aren’t alone if you are facing these types of emotions.
Life Looks Different for Everyone
Katina wrote about work-life balance research trends previously. Importantly, researchers are focusing more on the diversity in families. One area that has received less research is the way single employees without dependent children face work-life conflict. This includes employees that that are unmarried, widowed, or divorced and either have no children or adult children. These employees experience work-life conflict at the same rate when compared to employees with traditional families.
One major misconception is that those without dependent children do not have family obligations. However, many of these employees have close relationships with parents and siblings, might take care of sick elders, and maintain a strong community with close friends. In fact, they tend to spend more time with family and friends that do not live in their household than their married with children counterparts.
Single workers without dependent children often face discrimination in the workplace. They generally are asked to work more weekends, travel more frequently, and cover for their married counterparts. Married employees often receive better work prospects and married men even make more money. In addition, many work-life policies are geared specifically to employees with traditional families and can make single, childless, or other non-traditional employees feel excluded and undervalued. When employees don’t feel supported in their work-life issues, they can become resentful and less satisfied in their jobs. Thus, it’s important for organizations to think broadly about work-life policies and understand that ‘one-size’ does not fit all!
Life is Always Changing
Work-life conflict also looks different at different life stages. Employees in different phases of their lives have different needs and value ‘balance’ differently. Makes sense, right? Employees with no children, newborns, and teenagers all have different types of conflicts that may occur. They need to balance their life differently.
Balance doesn’t necessarily mean a perfect balance between work and life. Sometimes, employees want work to be a larger part of their life. Other times, the same employees may need their personal life to be a bigger focus. This ebb and flow is normal and leaders need to be supportive of these shifts. These phases can last years or they can fluctuate every few months. For example, I value my work – both my entrepreneurial endeavors and my full-time job. I would say work is a pretty big focus in my life. However, the past few weeks, my balance has shifted. I’ve had to handle the fall-out of the wedding venue issue and take care of Nittany, my cat. Over the next several weeks, she will be receiving radiation therapy so I will have to spend a lot of time taking her to and from appointments.
This shift in balance doesn’t mean you slack at work or don’t get your tasks done. It means you may spend less time on work than normal or have to do work around a more flexible schedule. You may not work extra hours or take on extra projects and tasks above and beyond your job. Employers should be supportive of employees’ need for balance but employees obviously need to continue to do their jobs as required.
Managing Shifts in Balance
Now that we know that work-life conflict can look different for different types of employees and can change over time, I wanted to talk a bit about how I’ve been managing my current stressful personal life with my work life. We’ve talked about some research on managing work-life balance before but, today, I want to share what I’m learning right now in my personal experience!
If you are lucky, like me, to have a supportive group of coworkers and leaders, I encourage you to communicate what is going on with you. Of course, some things may be too personal to share in detail. However, sharing your needs and that you are dealing with some personal issues can help. My leadership has been very supportive- checking in to see how I am doing and offering to help if needed. Because they know what I’m dealing with, I feel like I can take the time I need to handle what’s going on while getting my work done around that. Again, shifting the balance to personal life doesn’t mean not getting work done, but it can mean having additional flexibility to take care of what’s going on.
Take the Time You Need
I have been feeling a lot of stress and anxiety lately. It’s made it hard to focus and be productive. I knew I needed to take care of myself and my emotions in order to get back to handling the personal issues plus my work. Thus, I believe it’s incredibly important to take the time you need to cope with what you are going through. It might not always be possible to take time off but you can still take time for yourself on weekends or after work. Don’t ignore how you are feeling. Take time to process those feelings and then figure out ways to take care of yourself. What will make you feel better?
The day I found out that Nittany has cancer, I cried and let myself cry for as long as I needed to. After, I let myself do something mindless to help me calm down. I binged a funny tv show (I’ve been catching up on “Brooklyn 99”) and did a fancy face mask. The next day, I took a long walk along the water. I took a little time for myself that I normally would have spent on one of my many projects. And that’s ok. I needed to cope with my feelings and do something for myself. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t at your normal productivity right after dealing with a life issue.
I know I’m not the only one to be in this type of situation. It’s been hard and I’ve felt a lot of guilt about not being as productive or focused as I normally am. I’m learning that it’s ok. It’s ok to not be at 100% all the time. And it’s ok to need more life balance even if you aren’t a parent or dealing with something extreme. Life is messy and your needs change and shift.
Have any of you struggled with work-life conflict that is not traditional? How have you coped? Did you find the support you needed at work? Were you able to take time for yourself? I’d love to hear your stories!