When everything becomes blurry – Why it is important to distinguish between work, voluntary work and private life

In the middle of a company meeting, your mobile phone suddenly lights up. The football club has sent a Whatsapp message to all members. Then comes an e-mail from the volunteers agency, which urgently needs support in the evening. The daughter is texting me if she can go to a friend after school. At the latest when the boss asks what can be added to the risk analysis just presented, it should be clear: Job, private and volunteer work at the same time at the same place overwhelm in every area and leave us for none the concentration and energy needed.

How modern technology and working from home complicates our lives

Quickly write another mail, being able to reply directly to “Whatsapps”, be mobile at any time. Work in the home office without leaving the house. What sounds like a huge advantage and progress of our time in the modern term work-life blending (borders disappear) can also quickly become a trap. If messages from the private area are constantly distracting during work, this is just as hindering as if the boss writes another email at 9 pm that certain papers must be prepared for tomorrow’s meeting. Anyone who can be reached by everyone at all times is and will be hogged around the clock. Due to that, there will be no more time for structure, retreat and peace. So, you always take the children to work in your mind, you try to organize the volunteer work quickly during lunch break and when having dinner with friends you let out the stress and annoyance from work. Working from home is blurring the boundaries between work and private life more and more – you often don’t get to either one good or the other and hang unpleasantly like a balancing act between two chairs. However, the term work-life balance refers to clearly separating these areas. This is possible, for example, if there is a clearly defined workplace at home from which one is not distracted by children, household, garden, etc.

Differentiation against stress for more quality of life

Numerous studies show that constant accessibility (also through voluntary work) does more harm than good. Respondents complained more frequently about stress, sleep disorders, burn-out-like conditions, were sick more often on average, had more conflicts and disputes with the family.

However, those who manage to separate work, private life and voluntary work are happier with their lives, show less psychological stress symptoms and sometimes even do more at work and in voluntary work. Some company bosses have long recognized this and give clear instructions that company mobile phones must be switched off on vacation and e-mails may only be processed after returning to the workplace.

Of course, a strict separation of job, private and voluntary work does not mean that one cannot also discuss private matters with colleagues or even develop friendships in the job. But clear rules must be defined here: Working hours are for work, breaks and after-work beer for private use.

Being allowed to say no – Setting and implementing priorities

“Can you send it today?” “Can you help me move?” “Can you do the training for me today?” ” Can you still quickly edit the minutes of our last meeting?” How often are we asked for favors that do not fit into our own schedule. And although the cosy evening for two is already planned, we say yes, not to annoy the boss, not to let down the best friend or because others would be disappointed otherwise. The most important realization here is: A NO does not mean the end of the world, but helps us to protect our own needs and interests. You are not the last person on earth, others can be asked. Your boss can take his letters to the post office on his own. It is also important that saying no to one thing also means saying yes to something else that is more important to us or makes us feel better. When we know what we really want and what is good for us, it is easier to position ourselves clearly for or against something.

It doesn’t always have to be a hard NO if you really want something, but just can’t get it done. In the sense of my own demarcation and structuring, the answer could be: “Yes, I’ll do it first thing in the morning, then the mail will still arrive on time” or “I have something on your moving day, but I can help you pack the days before”. This way you don’t bend, keep your own structure and can still help others.


Further Information

Helpful tips for those who find it difficult to say no:

Melanie Hassler a.o.: iga.Report 23. „Auswirkungen von ständiger Erreichbarkeit und Präventionsmöglichkeiten“, Part 2. Dresden 2016 URL:  http://www.iga-info.de/fileadmin/redakteur/Veroeffentlichungen/iga_Reporte/Dokumente/iga-Report_23_Teil2_Auswirkungen_staendiger_Erreichbarkeit.pdf

Sabine Sonnentag: Psychological Detachement From Work During Leisure Time. The Benefits of Mentally Disengaging From Work, in: Current Directions in Psychological Science, Bd. 21, S.114-118, 2012