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How to maintain a work-life balance in an entry-level job

Maintain work life balance
Here are some ways you can equally prioritise office work and personal life. Illustration: Zarif Faiaz

In the modern 'always-on' work culture, many employees cannot afford to maintain a work-life balance when juggling the responsibilities of office work and personal life. This is truer for employees in entry-level jobs, which are usually fresh graduates who hustle beyond regular hours in hopes of accelerating their careers. With the mass layoffs going on around the world, closely linked with the bleak economic condition, employees are now willing to do whatever it takes to not lose their jobs even at the expense of personal goals and well-being. As a result, problems arise in their personal relationships which in turn hamper their work performance, and gradually employees lose motivation and feel discontent in their job. In this article, we cover steps that employees can take to equally prioritise their office work and personal life.

Review the company culture before starting a new job

The best way to ensure a work-life balance is to join a company that has a great organisational culture, where such policies are reflected by beliefs, values, and norms from the top-level management to staff members. Since you are supposed to spend a major part of your life at work day after week after month after year, you should be mindful of who you choose to work for. Pointing out her company's flexible rules for employees, especially working mothers, Farhana Preeti, Deputy General Manager and Head of Business Development at retail chain cosmetics shop Shajgoj, said, "Company culture, over brand names or salary amounts, should be given the most priority when evaluating an employer. If you are surrounded by cooperative and empathetic people at your workplace, it makes balance much easier to achieve."

Ashraf Uz Zaman, a recent Dhaka University graduate currently working in the finance and banking sector, agreed, "I believe if your line manager and team members are supportive, it will make everything a lot more manageable." However, he warns that it may not always be possible for you to understand the workplace culture before joining the company. You can do your research by using online resources like LinkedIn or Glassdoor, but according to him, the best way is to contact an acquaintance, a peer or an alumnus to find out about the real scenario without sugar-coated facts.

Understand your work demands

Ideally, employees should spend no more than 8 hours at work every day. In reality, however, you may find yourself working for 9 to 10 hours or more, depending on the role that you are in and the tasks that you are working on. You have to understand what you are signing up for and what is expected of you. Once you have taken stock of your workload, it is time for you to start planning and executing. Ashraf advised, "You have to break down your projects into small daily activities so that the tasks do not pile up and stress you out." You must be proactive in your work hours and collaborate with your team to prevent work from creeping into your personal time with family and friends.

Ashraf also added, "No matter whether you are working in a local organisation or a multinational organisation, you have to understand that it will require a huge sacrifice in the beginning stage." So, it is important that you are honest and adequately prepared. For example, if you are pursuing a Master's degree while doing a full-time job, you should outline your goals weekly based on your professional duties, like spending 10 hours in total per week on studies rather than unrealistically hoping to study for 2 hours every weekday.

Be honest with your family and friends

In order to maintain a work-life balance, you have to communicate with your family and friends so that they understand your perspective. Ashraf added that it is important to be honest with loved ones about your schedule, and that you may miss out on family programs or important gatherings. However, just because work keeps you busy does not mean that you should ignore personal relationships. Spend time with your loved ones as often as possible and remind them that you care about them.

If you are trying to manage a full-time job and take care of your children or elderly parents, you may want to have someone at your house to lend a helping hand. "I am blessed to have family members who help me a lot in raising my child," Farhana said, noting that "their contributions make it possible for me to successfully manage my professional work."

Prioritise your well-being

As an entry-level jobholder who is attending to a lot of responsibilities and working for 9 to 10 hours at the office, it may be difficult to find time for physical exercise or meditation. Maybe you will not have the time or the energy after the long hours and the lengthy commutes. Farhana recommended, "In view of this situation, it is best to do little things that go a long way. Take the staircase instead of the elevator. Go out with colleagues to have lunch during office breaks and get some fresh air."Ashraf added, "When you get time off, truly unplug and enjoy those moments instead of seeing them as an unproductive barrier to your work." Most importantly, you should not take on more projects — just for the sake of monetary or nonmonetary incentives — than you can practically complete.

Keep in mind, however, that some days you may have to work on a project even on a weekend and not have any spare time for your family or friends. Sometimes, conversely, you may miss a deadline because you have to tend to a sick family member. In that regard, Farhana emphasised, "Do not put too much pressure on yourself to follow your daily schedule to a tee. Instead, measure your work-life balance over the long haul."

When nothing seems to work

No matter how stressed out you are, usually, you would not want to talk to the management team. Because in the entry-level stage, asking for adjustments may be considered a weakness or lack of commitment to the organisation on your part unless the organisation has a culture that encourages work-life balance. However, if things are getting out of control, consider having an open discussion with your superior and let them know about your issues. 

"If you cannot find a solution that will work great both for you and your company, you may want to consider the option of trying a new workplace, a new industry, or a completely new career path where you will be able to cope with your work and personal responsibilities healthily," Farhana advised. Because if it ever comes to a situation where you can no longer balance work and life, rather you have to choose between the two, always choose the latter!

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