Work-life Balance: Ask and You Shall Receive

 The author telecommuting to YUI+Co. from her desk in Philadelphia.

The author telecommuting to YUI+Co. from her desk in Philadelphia.

You’ve seen it on social media. Inspirational quotes about the hustle and staying on your grind superimposed over men in yachts or women is beautiful outfits. All this could be yours if you just worked harder.

Sometimes it’s your friend you never see anymore because they work 50-hour weeks and then take on additional freelance work. It’s not about the money…it’s about the work, they say. We’re living in a culture where people are burning themselves out for the bragging right of being exhausted from working so hard. In Japan, this has become all too real. International news outlets have long reported on karōshi, which translates to “overwork death,” with results from heart failure, stroke or starvation.

The United States is not this extreme, but we do work hard. More of us are telecommuting than ever before. While convenient in many ways, telecommuting can make it even harder to draw a clear boundary between work life and home life. It can be as simple as checking your email during dinner or taking a call at 9pm.

Millennials (my generation) can find it hard to cultivate work-life balance when facing down student loans and wanting to start a family. They are the largest generation in the US labor force. As of 2017 – the most recent year for which data are available – 56 million millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor force. And it was well ahead of the 41 million baby boomers, who represented a quarter of the total. Millennials surpassed Gen Xers in 2016.[i] With Generation Z starting to enter the workforce, the workplace is poised for change.

According to a 2016 survey from Project: Time Off, nearly half (48%) of millennials think it is a good thing to be seen as a work martyr by the boss, far outpacing the average (39%), Gen Xers (39%), and Boomers (32%).[ii] We graduated from college in one of the worst job markets of all time, and that has directly affected how we feel about taking off work. All this comes at a time when caring for one’s self has never been more talked about, especially by millennials. Self-care is everyone’s favorite buzzword, from Goop to GQ. Apps to help with this are booming. 

How do we bridge the gap between working 60-hour weeks and moving to a cabin in the woods? It can start as simply as making it clear you will not respond to emails past 6pm or taking the time to eat lunch away from your desk, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. Pick up a hobby, and treat it like one; don’t treat it like a side hustle. Reveling in the simple joy of knitting a hat or cooking a meal can give respite in a tumultuous world.

Three years ago, I moved to Philadelphia and now telecommute to work every day. I wanted to be in a more affordable city and live with my partner, so YUI+Company made that possible. I am better able to serve clients in northern New Jersey, something that would not have been possible had I remained in DC. It was an unanticipated benefit that has worked in YUI+Co.’s favor multiple times, especially since my boss often divides her time between NYC and DC. My proximity to the client has allowed me to drive up to run shoots and interviews on short notice. My daily commute time has been reduced from 2.5 hours every day to 2 minutes. The time saved is something I use to cultivate a life outside of work. The mental benefits of not being stuck in DC rush hour traffic are immeasurable.

Talking to your boss can help too. Make sure they know you prioritize work-life balance and encourage them to create a culture where this is valued. If you have a need, you should ask for it to be met. When I broached the subject of moving to Philadelphia, I didn’t expect to be able to telecommute, but because Ellen valued my work and I had proven myself to be a hard worker, she made an exception. It made me a more devoted employee. I’ve stayed with YUI+Co. for three years. They have made it clear that they are about work-life balance. Work outside of office hours isn’t usually required; my schedule is a regular 9-5, which is important to me. My advice is to speak with your boss if you feel as though your work-life balance is out of whack. The worst they can say is no…but you might spark an important conversation that changes company culture like I did.

[i] Fry, Richard. "Millennials are the largest generation in the U.S. labor force." April 11 2018. Pew Research Center. August 17 2018.
[ii] Project: Time Off. The Work Martyr's Cautinary Tale: How the Millennial Experience Will Define America's Vacation Culture. Washington DC: Project: Time Off, 2016.

Molly Devlin