People Working In OfficeAfter a long time of blurred work-life balance comes the time of the present — a little stepping out, alternate days of office, and fatigue. How do you reset the work-leisure boundary? Employers, employees, and mental healthcare providers weigh in.

“I lost my job during the pandemic and had to join a very young start-up. It was the most grueling and exhausting period of my life. I was so triggered all the time, pushing myself to work late into the night — I had no time off work. All I thought was work. Leisure meant a few hours on weekends as I worked over the weekend, too,” says Treena Mukherjee, a content professional at Licious, when we ask her about her work-life balance during the pandemic. 

Bengaluru-based Mukherjee pushed herself initially, but soon decided to move on. “I’m in a much better work environment now. I get time to read, paint, and travel a bit as my organisation gives me space to have a work-life balance. I have managed to teach myself that I need to shut down at some point in the day,” she says. 

Terms like “work-life balance”, “mental health”, “work from home”, and “burnout” are spoken in the same breath as Covid-19 today, and have challenged employees, employers, and psychologists alike. As we gradually adopt hybridised work models, it’s time to turn the spotlight on steps that could help reset the once disrupted work-life balance. 

Mumbai-based Samarpita Das, (name changed), now a content manager with a tech start-up, says there wasn’t a crazy workload on her plate, but work coming in at odd hours played havoc with the work-life balance. 

“I used to work for a different company when the pandemic struck. We began working from home, but the work-life balance didn’t get too impacted and that’s because the company was on its way to shutting down, though we didn’t know it then,” she says. 

She is working from her office now, and says, “I have experienced working from home in my current company as well, and work-life balance is quite skewed. You are expected to work longer hours because there’s no commute time taken into account, and have to be available all the time.” 

Das says to reset the work-life balance, the key is to set some boundaries for yourself, even though it might be impossible to honour them in many instances. “I used to mute work messaging groups over the weekend, and try to not check mails/ messages that came in late in the evening or at night. But it’s difficult to sustain as there is constant pressure of someone else doing it and you are not,” she quips. On the other hand, Aman Singh, a senior infrastructure engineer with American Express in Gurgaon, acknowledges that his work-life balance has been a mix of both pros and cons. 

“I’ve been working from home since the start of the great pandemic. While it was amazing to be with family at home, with time, a state of isolation resulting from a lack of socially active life in the office, which I was used to pre-pandemic, began getting to me,” he says. 

Singh has created his workspace in his bedroom and says he saves on a lot of commute time, which he has utilised to develop hobbies — something that was not possible earlier. This, he says, is the best part of his work-from-home life. 

When we question clinical psychologist Ashita Mahendru on how to manage these overlapping boundaries and restore work-life balance, she says there’s no prescription that will fit everyone. 

“You have to decide what works best for you. The best way to determine this is by learning to check in with your inner compass, and the results you get. Start small. If your goal, for example, is to reduce screen time, trying to restrict yourself to a certain number of hours will probably just frustrate you. You’re more likely to stick with a new habit if you start with a smaller target. Begin with taking a five-minute tech-free break a day.”Daily Routine

However, Mahendru adds, it takes time and consistent efforts to increase productivity, and to keep oneself sane in such chaotic situations. It is important to speak up and communicate the challenges that one is facing to their employers, peers, or even family and friends. “This will provide an outlet, and also make superiors and managers aware of the hardships faced by the employees,” she says. 

According to Peyush Bhatia, therapist and professional coach to TV stars and corporate honchos, work-life balance means different to different people. “It doesn’t mean you have to split your time into equal halves between work and leisure. Rather, you have to ensure you feel fulfilled and content in both areas of your life, where you are meeting your deadlines at work while still having time for friends and hobbies, you are eating and sleeping properly, and not worrying about work constantly,” she explains.

Bhatia shares some practical tips like starting to delegate effectively at work and home, to avoid being overburdened. “Define things that are non-negotiable and prioritise what you can let go. One of the best ways when there is transition is to be open about your needs. Talk to your manager and look for solutions together, or your family might not know if you are working on something crucial, so be upfront with them,” recommends Bhatia. 

And what if one has an unrealistic deadline that cannot be avoided, I ask. “Stop resisting it, and be in the flow. Take a deep breath, command your brain to meet the unrealistic deadline without any resistance —when there is no resistance, it’ll become easy and you will be able to give your 100 per cent to it,” she smiles.

In organisations, HR policies, too, are evolving to suit the constantly changing needs of employees and employers. Mrinali Kharbanda, Senior HR Business Partner, Infoedge (Naukri.com) says, “We released organisation-wide communications on WFH ethics for managers on how they should not reach out on teams beyond office hours; should be clear in communication about urgent and non-urgent emails, encouraged employees to go offline beyond office hours. We also encouraged employees to utilise their annual leaves, even if it meant staying at home, and also conducted a survey to recognise areas of concerns and took remedial actions accordingly.” Daily Routine

Sarah Vasishtha, human resources manager, acknowledges that during the initial phase of the pandemic, everything was chaotic, and the primary aim of HR was to enable WFH mode of working, so that day-to-day business doesn’t get affected. “However, once proper WFH processes were rolled out and communicated to all by senior management and HR, the work-life balance for employees was restored to a large extent,” she says. “

The role of HR and admin in every organisation was extremely crucial as employee queries were at an all-time high. Now with a new hybrid working model, where  are both working from office as well as home during the week and are still adjusting to, is not a totally unfamiliar territory. Because of the flexibility in working locations, employees have been able to better manage work and home,” adds Vashishtha.