Work-Life Balance: Are You Doing It Right?

Faculty from the Psychology Program at the School of Arts and Sciences highlight the application of psychology in the professional world, its benefits and ways to address common workplace challenges.

By Luther J. Kanso

Since childhood, before we even get the chance to think for ourselves, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. These aspirations may subconsciously become inseparable from our identity. Instead of wanting to work as something, we grow up believing that we must be our profession.

In the work environment, as the lines between professional and personal life often blur, navigating the demands of career and personal wellbeing is necessary to achieving harmony between work and life. But how easy can that balance be found in today’s fast-paced world?

This was the catalyst for debate in a workshop titled The Art Of Living: Strategies For Work-Life Harmony held on September 1 at the Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury Health Sciences Center, LAU Byblos campus.

Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology Pia Tohme and Assistant Professor of Psychology Myriam El Khoury-Malhame took center stage to clarify several misconceptions related to the professional realm, mostly those associated with the myth of maintaining an unbending and constant work-life equilibrium.

What are the challenges of maintaining a work-life balance?

There is no concrete or straightforward answer to this question, as multiple factors come into play. Based on a poll conducted during the workshop, faculty, staff and medical doctors indicated that understaffing, poor time management and a heavy workload, to name a few, make it difficult for individuals to achieve equilibrium between their professional and personal lives.

“We’ve glamorized business to make it seem as if it’s what defines us,” said Dr. El-Khoury Malhame. Being busy, nonetheless, leads us to develop multiple identities varying from breadwinners to caregivers, with each having to prioritize a host of things at once.

This situation was exacerbated by our dependence on online mediums during the COVID-19 era, which effectively erased the demarcation between our personal and office lives. Consequently, work-related expectations became such that we were expected to be available at all times.

“This also affects our relationships,” said Dr. Tohme, given that it raises questions related to “how well we are managing ourselves as people, as partners, as parents and also as employees.”

These factors create a real hurdle where individuals feel pushed not just to aim for a balance between work and home life, but also to consider dealing with each part separately when managing personal relationships. Instead of trying to find one-size-fits-all solutions to merge work and home life, employees may need to figure out how to adjust their priorities for each area in order to recharge and effectively manage their commitments and time.

How does this impact us as individuals?

Most days, we bring the weight of our professional responsibilities into our personal lives and vice versa, which disrupts this delicate equilibrium. Excessive demands in the workplace tend to foster a heightened sense of tension and unease in our personal lives, impacting the quality of our relationships at home.

This, in turn, can cultivate a sense of guilt for reacting excessively, which further obstructs our ability to find solace and tranquility in our homes. The audience gave the example of having to work on weekends or check emails after hours.

Given these intricate dynamics, it is not surprising that we find ourselves caught “in a vicious cycle,” as Dr. Tohme called it, where the demands at work encroach upon our personal lives, and the demands in our personal lives affect our work. This cycle, if left unchecked, can ultimately lead to burnout.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that we are the same individuals navigating both spheres in this narrative. When we compartmentalize work as the medium of reason and life as the domain of emotion, we set ourselves on a course where the efficacy of our work diminishes. Consequently, we compromise our ability to process information cohesively and holistically.

“To improve this work-life balance is to reintegrate both mediums,” noted Dr. El Khoury-Malhame.

What can be done to achieve a work-life balance?

“There’s no magical solution,” stated the assistant professors. According to them, an employee often gets lost in trying to achieve this balance, but it’s not a one-person job. The effort has to come from both ends of the spectrum: the employer and the employee.

A few strategies for doing so, as suggested by Dr. Tohme and Dr. El Khoury-Malhame, revolve around perceiving the faculty and staff as individuals rather than commodities, promoting and setting boundaries and increasing self-reflection at work. According to the audience, this is done by fostering a supportive working environment in which conversations around mental health and consideration of basic needs are appraised, such as investing in healthcare, transportation, flexible/hybrid schedules, training, childcare areas, and showing appreciation, among others.

Assessing how one processes information is also essential among colleagues. Employers model their boundaries to their employees; thus, seeing how the latter is receiving certain types of tasks and instructions helps them implement such boundaries constructively.

“Our predictors of happiness mostly fall within the relationships we have with others,” said Dr. Tohme and Dr. El Khoury-Malhame. “Being aware of our boundaries and reflecting upon them allows us to control, influence and accept our dynamics with each other.”

At the end of the workshop, focus was placed on self-reflection, and taking the time to consider how one’s personal attitudes, actions and emotional reactions might help identify one’s difficulties and capacities as well as influence individuals’ experiences in their professional lives. By reflecting on and understanding their behaviors and reactions, both employees and employers can better navigate and manage the challenges and demands of their work.

“Always remember that behind every title, there’s a person, and behind every person, there’s also a journey,” said Dr. Tohme. “There’s everything that you have gone through in order to become who you are.”