Work life balance, how to find a balance between work and free time (even on vacation)

In our lifetime – according to Glickon – each of us spends over 90,000 hours working. Of these, every year he spends 200 dreaming of a vacation. And yet, when the longed-for moment finally arrives, hardly anyone can completely pull their heads off. But why does this happen? We asked Monica Bormetti, an occupational psychologist who helped us build a guide to rediscover a healthy balance between office and private life

“Do you ever think about leaving everything and changing your life?”. “Constantly, but I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to do it”

Luca isn’t even 30 years old, but like many of his peers when he talks about work, he’s not afraid to admit that every now and then he would like to drop everything and leave. Like him also Giada, Monica, Martina and Beatrice. A sentiment that is told and also materializes in a fact: according to the Ministry of Labor in 2022 there are almost 2.2 million people in Italy who have decided to resign. We are talking about the so-called Great Resignation phenomenon, often due precisely to the hope of finding a more satisfactory balance between private life and work.

It is therefore not surprising to know that 46% of people say – according to Glickon, a leading company in the HR-tech software market – that they are willing to change their job, in the name of happiness, even if this means giving up something in terms of financial or benefit. And precisely for this reason it is even less surprising that 65% admitted that they experienced their resignation or dismissal “with happiness”.

Work even on vacation

During our lifetime – as Glickon pointed out in his Observatory – each of us spends more than 90,000 hours working. Of these, every year he spends 200 dreaming of a vacation. Yet when the longed-for moment finally arrives, hardly anyone manages to completely detach themselves from work. On vacation, over 40% of workers check their e-mails, while 20% say they feel the need to be contactable and available. So much so that in addition to your swimsuit, you can also bring your company PC or telephone in your suitcase. In short, when you are in the office you dream of the beach and vice versa on the beach you keep thinking about the office. But why does this happen? How come we can’t completely detach the head? We asked Monica Bormetti, an occupational psychologist who deals with training and coaching on work-life balance and digital well-being.

“The causes can be various, but there is one which, from my point of view, characterizes our historical period and which it is useful to pay attention to: the ennobling of tiredness – explains Bormetti. – I am referring to that phenomenon that the South Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han describes in his book The Society of Tiredness: the tendency to feel satisfied because one is tired and too busy. Here’s this feeling accomplished because we’re tired and busy, I don’t think it gets us anywhere. In this scenario, laziness has no place, and instead perhaps we should make it more.”

Added to all this is the digital society, which through smartphones, e-mails, smart working and online meetings has erased the physical boundary between the working and private context, mixing the identity of the person with that of the worker. “Digital technology, as we have been using it up to now – adds Bormetti – is very much oriented towards making work more efficient and speeding up. Online meetings, constant emails and now artificial intelligence are driven by the idea of ​​increasing productivity, not people’s well-being.”

“We human beings find it hard to limit ourselves in what we do when there is no limit set from the outside. This has been proven in psychology, even beyond our digital habits. However, the digital world reinforces our tendency, it has brought down all those structural boundaries which until a few years ago maintained a clear separation between the moment of work and that of free time – says Bormetti. – Having the possibility to read e-mails from the beach bed blurs the boundary between work and private life. And the point is that when we start reading emails from the cot, we keep going until we feel like we’ve finished, that we’ve unmarked them all. Which happens for a few minutes, maybe a few hours, and then the flow of communications resumes inexorably.

Stories of ordinary workers

The lack of a well-defined border between the two lives often generates reactions such as stress, burnout, quiet quitting and finally great resignation. “Life in Milan is stressful and is fundamentally based on living to work – tells us Martina, who has lived in Milan for years and who has decided to change company precisely because of the unsustainable rhythms. – In the job I had before, I happened to think that work had the upper hand. My private life practically didn’t exist. And my health was also partially compromised for a while due to overwork. Work should be one of many parts of the day and not nearly all of it. But unfortunately that’s how it is.”

“I happened to be stressed because of work. And so I realized that that place and that job were no longer for me – Giada, a professional in the world of communication, tells us. – I was no longer willing to accept those conditions and with a little bitterness knowing that the situation, after having faced it several times, could never change, I decided to change. I rolled up my sleeves and reacted by looking for a new job.”

“Private life and work are interdependent: I often end up managing the second based on work commitments” explains Beatrice, who juggles two jobs to make ends meet. Just like Monica does, always in a hurry to catch a train or a flight, to pursue a passion that has become her profession, but which is not always easy to manage: “most of the time my work affects my private life and consequently my mood and relationships with other people.”

The problem, therefore, for many is not that they dislike the work they do, but that of not being able to let go of it, not even on vacation, at home or with the family. “I often feel stressed – Manar tells us, in charge of the personnel office, but also a mother. – I sometimes skip lunch due to too much work and sometimes I’m so stressed that I can’t eat anything for the whole day. A sort of tightness in the stomach. I sometimes realize that my day is 80% dedicated to work, the remaining small part to home and family. I often think back on priorities and wonder if it’s really necessary to have to work so much.”

“As regards the repercussions on private life, I have sometimes felt the effects of too many things to do at certain times of the year, especially during the Christmas or Easter holidays – explains Valentina, a very young journalist who, in order to try to break through in the sector, does three different jobs. – I have a job that unfortunately does not have great flexibility and I have often been forced to give up my family so as not to miss shifts on holidays.”

“In recent months I have not spoken to a single person who is satisfied with their working life for one reason or another, often precisely because of the workload – says Vittoria, humanitarian aid worker. – When I’m on vacation, I check my phone if I get work messages, because I know there might be emergencies. There are some activities that I just can’t get away from. I don’t know if it’s healthy, but it doesn’t bother me, because I’m calmer knowing what’s going on.”

“Knowing that we spend 90,000 hours of our lives working has a great effect on me – comments Omar, an aerospace engineer – and makes me want to find a way out of this system. I don’t think that leaving everything is the right way to change your life, because somehow you still have to earn a living. But I definitely think about changing my life and pursuing financial independence.”

Finding a balance

So how can we do to find a balance between work and private life? According to Monica Bormetti, a psychologist who dedicates her profession to helping workers regain serenity, balance is a state of constant movement. “It is therefore not a question of a static condition which, once conquered, will never abandon us. The human being lives on cyclicity. In this cycle there are different phases: that of doing, of work, of industriousness, of productivity and then the phase of being, of contemplation, of introspection. The phase of doing and working exists because its opposite exists, that is, the phase of being and the private.”

“The first step – advises Bormetti – is to learn to carve out small moments in everyday life to be and not to do, in which our private sphere is not engulfed day after day. I’m talking about small moments because there is often the idea of ​​having to completely switch off on vacation, for example, and then immerse yourself in work 100% the rest of the year. On the other hand, we find balance with daily micro-actions: taking the time to eat a meal calmly, taking a walk leaving the office to relax, having a chat with a friend.”

Change together

However, in order for individual equilibrium to be achieved, it is also important to create a collective one, which concerns the corporate macro-sphere and not just that of the individual employee. “Another important thing that can be done – continues Bormetti – is to promote psychological safety, or that sense of serenity in expressing ideas and concerns, without the fear of being silenced or not listened to. Creating a workplace with a good level of psychological safety significantly affects the combination of productivity and well-being.”

But that’s not all, because it’s also essential to learn how to organize time on and off collectively, recommends Bormetti. “In the West we are very used to thinking of time management as an individual element, for example taking one day a week to do certain activities. In reality, it makes us much more serene to organize time in agreement with colleagues or the company, for example by establishing for everyone that one day a week there are no meetings, or that e-mails are not answered after a certain time. This all works when it’s a collective action.”

Another solution that various states and companies are experimenting with and which is proving to be useful in terms of productivity and well-being is that of the so-called short working week, i.e. a model where work is organized in 4 days instead of the canonical 5, to which we are accustomed. . “Our mind cannot be focused and productive for long, – explains Bormetti – therefore concentrating the same work in less time optimizes that time and allows us to dedicate more space in life to ourselves.”

The key, therefore, is to rethink our way of working, also considering our private sphere and our serenity in the formula. In short, in five short pieces of advice, concludes Bormetti, we must: learn to welcome laziness when needed, without denigrating “doing nothing”, find and cultivate pleasure in something we are passionate about, set sustainable limits when we work, delegate and learn to say no, and above all practice self-care, putting your physical and mental health first.

*all workers’ names are fictitious names