Work and Money
Battling Work-Life Balance While Working from Home
You set your alarm. If your day starts at 9 a.m., you can wake up at 8 and get ready at a leisurely pace to walk to the other room and sit down at your laptop — your pandemic work from home office. At 8:15, you receive an email. “Zoom meeting at 8:30 a.m.,” the subject header reads. No biggie — it’s not exactly like you won’t be available now that you don’t have to commute to work. What’s a half hour’s difference anyway?
You finish your day at your usual 5 p.m. end time and walk away from the computer when the ding of an instant message stops you in your tracks. It’s an urgent note from your boss. “Hey, I really need a proposal for this new project done by tomorrow morning. Do you mind jumping on it right now?” You do mind, but you have no excuse to say no. After all, your bosses know that you’re stuck at home without any solid plans beyond video chats with friends. Sure, you wanted to have dinner with your spouse and do your laundry, but you can’t say no. With so many people unemployed because of the pandemic, you’re lucky to even have a job, right? Not to mention there’s a line of people out the door desperate to replace you if you rub your boss the wrong way.
"The eight-hour workday has no meaning anymore, sometimes ballooning up to 12 to 15 hours of nonstop work."
Sound familiar? Now that a larger portion of Americans are working from home than ever before, many of us are in a period of adjustment. And, unfortunately for many of us, what seemed like a gateway to more free time has actually opened the door for unlimited overtime. The idea of not having to commute to work was actually novel at first. Many of us were excited that we were about to get around two extra hours each day handed back to us. But, for many, that never happened.
Nowadays, our bosses know that on nights and even weekends, not only can they reach us, but chances are we won’t be doing anything that they can’t interrupt. The eight-hour workday has no meaning anymore, sometimes ballooning up to 12-to-15 hours of nonstop work. And this is despite the fact that we are only paid for eight hours a day, 40 hours a week. An entertainment lawyer once told me that, according to New York State law, even if you are contracted at a weekly rate, your bosses are only entitled to 40 hours of your time before they have to pay overtime. But, in a work from home world, how many of us are actually being paid overtime?
At a time when you’re bombarded with articles and listicles about "How to Keep Up Self-Care During the Pandemic" and "Maintaining Your Mental Well-Being During Quarantine," it can feel especially aggravating to lose all access to your free time. Many of us, if not all, are struggling to maintain our mental health after losing access to pretty much all of the things that help us through our days.
Keeping Your Head Down
For months, I went without my weekly hangouts with friends, doctors appointments, physical therapy, and even haircuts and pedicures when I needed a little extra pampering — all things that helped me maintain my well-being and mental health. Add to that the fact that we are all living in a constant state of fear about getting coronavirus or someone we love getting coronavirus and the lasting effects the virus will have on our economy and world as a whole. Some of us have even lost people to the virus or lost people in other ways and have been unable to attend funerals to mourn them properly with our surviving loved ones. You would think basic human compassion would be at an all-time high, but for many of us, the situation has been taken advantage of, without a single thought for the mental well-being of employees during such a trying time.
Many of us have seen our colleagues fired or furloughed and fear the same fate every day. And these fellow employees are not being replaced. Instead, their respective workloads are typically being dumped on the remaining workers, asking them to do the work of two or three people, without a raise, and sometimes with even a cut in pay. But when you’re working from home, your employers don’t even have to deal with the blow to office morale.
Of course, there will be many people out there who will give you advice on how to handle this issue. “You have to establish boundaries,” they’ll say. “Your bosses need to respect your end time.” That’s all well and good when you’re someone with some kind of safety net. But for those of us who are living paycheck to paycheck, have children, or have a significant other who is dependent on our employer-provided health insurance, risking our employment even a little bit by raising complaints just doesn’t feel like an option — especially during a pandemic.
At the end of the day, whether in the office or working from home, if you have been doing your job to the best of your ability and your workload cannot be finished within the allotted hours that you are paid for, it is management’s fault, not the employee’s. It is up to the managers to make sure work is distributed in a way that it can be completed during the employee’s actual workday, or offer overtime pay if this is not possible. However, many of us are shamed into working more, typically unpaid hours, or are too afraid to hold our employers up to this standard.
Sadly, I don’t really have a solution for how to fight against this problem in your life. Advocate for yourself whenever you feel safe to do so, but do not feel ashamed when you have to back off in order to keep your job. Hopefully, things will not always be like this and more job opportunities will present themselves as the world returns to normal — hopefully some time soon in 2021. But for now, no one will blame you if you keep your head down and do whatever you need to in order to pay your bills and keep your household afloat. Just make sure to cut yourself some slack, even if the world around you isn’t ready to do so. You’re doing the best you can, and even if no one else sees it, I do.