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How to Create a Healthy Relationship with Work

We have an opportunity to create a healthy relationship with work. We desire better control of our time and mind space, while still embracing work as a piece of our story.

Did you know the average person spends over 90,000 hours at work? We often think of work as one-third of our day. But in reality, if you combine prep time, commute time, and the time you spend thinking and/or stressing about work outside the office, it quickly becomes more than a third of your day. While there is significant literature and calls for a cultural shift to increase work-life balance, work will undoubtedly remain a critical part of our day throughout most of our lives.

Creating a healthy relationship with work at times can be a struggle because, like most other relationships, it takes continual effort and intention. Yet, a life without a healthy relationship with work is known to be a factor in poor health, and deteriorating relationships and self-confidence. To start creating your healthy relationship with work, begin with self-reflection in these key areas: identity, purpose, and integration.

Understanding and Defining Your Identity

When meeting someone new, the “Hi, my name is…” introduction is quickly followed by “What do you do?” While we all have many identities (i.e. wife, mom, husband, dad, friend, caretaker, volunteer), we often allow what we do to define our identity. To ensure you have a healthy relationship with work, it is necessary to reflect on how you identify yourself on a regular basis inside and outside of your place of employment. Asking yourself the following questions may aid in discovering your perceived and desired identities:

  • If something changed and you no longer held your job, how would you describe yourself?
  • When you are outside of the office, how do you identify?
  • Do you feel judged when you respond to the “What do you do?” question? If so, why?

Allow yourself to reflect on how much of your identity is tied to your job. You can start to craft an identity independent of one or two significant life roles. Remember, everyone does something, but more importantly, everyone is someone.

Consider the Purpose behind your Work

Similar to Simon Sinek’s popular book, “Start with Why,” understanding why you do what you do for a living is critical in developing a healthy relationship with work. For some, the act of working is transactional. “I do this job to ensure I can do what I want outside of work.” Their “why” is tied to our freedom. Others see the act of working as an opportunity to follow their passions. Their “why” is tied to growth or impact. There is an unlimited number of “whys” when it comes to working. There is no better or worse why; just the importance of matching your “why” with your job. By maximizing this alignment, your relationship with your job will improve and can create positive energy for the days in which work gets tough. You can always use your why in those moments.

Finding Boundaries through Integration rather than “Balance”

Establishing boundaries is a critical component of creating a healthy relationship with work.

Create or find a better work-life balance to establish those boundaries. Yet, while “work-life balance” is one of the hottest trends in organizational development and industrial psychology, there has been an increasing number of critics claiming that balance isn’t achievable and we are suggesting a standard well beyond our capabilities. Balance suggests equality and it is very unlikely that work and life can exist in complete equality throughout the phases of adulthood. A more appropriate way of imagining the combination of work and life is “work-life integration.” Integration allows for fluctuation.

Some periods may call for greater flexibility for personal endeavors. Other periods may call for a more intense commitment to our job. To aid in the establishment of boundaries, try integrating the many facets of your life into a flexible and intentional way of living and working.

So as you head to a job that will consume one-third of your day, coalesce these areas of self-reflection. As you continue to countdown those 90,000 hours, tell yourself this statement. “My identity encompasses more than just what I do.”

And as you (re)discover your why, know that you can have a role that supports integration with your other passions, responsibilities, and ambitions.

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