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84,365 hours working. Is it working for you?

life balance mental health well-being work working mum workplace health Nov 23, 2021

Asking people what they do for a living, and if they enjoy it – are two frequent questions I ask within 1:1 therapy sessions. In fact, it’s a popular question outwith the therapy room. It is often one of the first things you ask when you meet new people. For most people, our job is part of our identity.

Here are some scary stats! We spend on average 3,515 full days at work over your working lifetime, and 188 overtime days. Based on the UK average working hours, that is 84,365 hours over a working lifetime! This is based on working a 35-hour week… and you take a lunch break... and you don’t do more in the evenings, and a few emails here and there, and write that report on Sunday night to clear it off your desk, AND pre covid when most of us left home to work! Working from home has removed any trace of the already vague boundary between home and work. So yeah, let’s presume the total amount of hours is a fair bit higher...

What does work mean to you?

Is it a career you love? A vocation? A way of life? Is it somewhere you feel comfortable and feel you belong? A means to an end?  Do you work because you’re kind of fond of being able to eat and have a roof over your head?

 
Interviewer: “ Why do you want this job? 
Me: “I have always been passionate about being able to afford food”

We spend so much time at work that it has a huge impact on our life. It is more than just the type of work we do – it is the culture of the workplace, whether there are supportive relationships or toxic ones, how effective (or not) the leadership is. Our employment has a significant impact on how we view and interact with the world, how we conduct ourselves, who we socialise with and of course on our mental health.

Throughout my career I had a pattern of flipping between two extremes. Firstly, to feel like I was focused on work, giving it my all, doing all the extra tasks asked of me. Then secondly, flipping to a sense of drowning at work, hating everything about it and talking with great passion (and at great length) about giving it all up, selling everything, moving to a remote piece of land, living off grid, growing my own food and never talking to anyone again! (Perhaps a little extreme, considering I haven’t ever grown anything edible, and I have a severe dislike for being cold and uncomfortable, hmmm). 

For me, I had to find a middle ground in there somewhere… maybe not so much middle from living off grid… let’s say ¾….

How does your work affect your mental health?

It is such a huge part of our lives, that we would be daft to ignore it when thinking about how to improve your well-being. We have all seen the meme’s flying around – you know the one’s – “No-one ever lay on their death bed and wished they worked one more day!” or “Your replaceable at work but not at home”. Alright Sherlock, most of us know this - however, in the moment, pay-cheque to pay-cheque, when you speak to your colleagues more than your own partner, it can be hard to maintain those boundaries, to keep priorities in order.

Now I get it, you might not be loving your job, but as we said earlier, you are partial to a hot meal, wearing clothes and you like to pay the rent, so you suck it up and just wait for the weekends… is there another way? Can you challenge how you think about work - so that you can separate the job you enjoy from the difficult relationship, or the structure and routine it provides from the brain numbing tasks it involves.

 Or perhaps you love your career, it has become your identity, your passion, and it is eating more and more in to time to spend with friends, family, time doing nothing! You have no idea where work stops, and you begin. But, when the kids are down to bed, the guilt creeps in that you were doing emails while they were playing, or you know you feel more confident in your team role than you do in your parenting role, and how do you voice that to someone! (This is so ridiculously common by the way – we should talk more about this! Just because you gave birth to them, doesn’t mean you feel confident about what the hell to do with them! But I digress.)

Work. It is A LOT of hours of your life. As an Occupational Therapist, I also believe our vocation is important, it provides many other benefits other than just financial, when it works for you.

This is not a post about jacking it all in and working in something that is your passion, great if you do! But not always realistic, I mean someone has got to be an accountant, right? (No offence meant! I still use my fingers to count… I am more of a talking kinda gal). It is also not about working harder, faster, earning more so you can enjoy life after all those hours – because from my experience, there is never an ‘end point’ when you follow that path.

My husband was telling me today about some super speed hyper loop shuttle thingy… I was zoning out if I am honest, so the detail is lacking – however essentially, he was saying that this super speedy shuttle can get you to a destination 30 minutes faster! What do you think the human race will use this extra 30 minutes for? I am going to take a guess it won’t be extra time on hobbies, or in the park with our children, or walking along a beach with bare feet…. Right?? We are becoming more and more efficient, to spend more time working!!!

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself about your career/job/where you spend your annual 1,795 (+) hours….

Is your work working for you?

Do you have the balance you want?

What is really important to you? (Think about this one for more than a nano second… and don’t just say family… there is more to you than that!)

How does your work help you reach what is important to you? In other words, how can you make it work for you!

 If you need help to work through this – get in touch! Let’s work out your values together, align how you treat work with those values in mind.

 

Don’t be so busy working to live, that you forget to live that life.

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