Work-Life Balance in Doha

Computers off, phones away, it’s time to give yourself a break

Work-Life Balance in Doha

Most people come to Qatar for a job. With a population that’s estimated at approximately 80 per cent expatriate, there’s a large workforce in the country willing to move across the globe for their careers. But when does a good work-ethic turn sour?

‘Modern life runs at a very fast pace and maintaining this pace, while nourishing all aspects of our life, can be a challenge,’ says Nicole van Hattem, Founder of the Art of Abundant Living.

They holds sessions on all sorts of holistic health subjects from diet and exercise to stress management. Van Hattem sees a lot of stressed-out worker bees in her line of work.

‘We are holistic beings. To live healthy, vibrant, sustainable successful lives we need to balance all areas of our lives.

‘If we invest too much of our time and energy over an excessive period of time in only one area of who we are, such as our work life, we will create imbalance in other areas. Sustained imbalance results in ill health.’

A global study by the New York-based Center for Work-Life Policy found that 81 per cent of global respondents thought long working hours were affecting their health, while 46 to 59 per cent thought work pressure and hours were affecting their personal relationships. These results are further confirmed by an American study by the National Life Insurance Company, which found four out of 10 employees thought their jobs were very or extremely stressful. Van Hattem isn’t surprised.

‘I see it as more life balance. Work is part of life, however sometimes we give it far more importance in our lives than is healthy. Everything is interconnected. Lack of balance – if prolonged – in any one area will have a flow-on affect into other areas.’

But what happened? Several decades ago working 9 to 5 was the goal. Before that, the work week was much longer. It wasn’t until the 1900s that working hours started to fall. The five day workweek came into vogue when Henry Ford instituted it on his assembly lines in 1926, but most people worked at least 49 hours a week throughout most of the century, before they finally started to fall for most workers in the latter half of the century.

And yet, despite today’s culture that’s increasingly geared towards leisure and convenience, studies show working hours in the developed world have actually increased; one found that hours worked per capita in the US increased 20 per cent from 1970 to 2002.

Many academics blame technology for this shift. Thanks to email, mobile phones and other ways to stay remotely connected to the office no matter where you are, the idea of the 24/7 workplace has taken hold.

And while Qatar does offer residents generous vacations days when you’re ‘checking in’ while on the beach or on safari, are you really taking a break?

‘It’s good to be pushed to expand yourself and stretch your boundaries. [But] over stretching for a sustained period of time can be detrimental,’ says van Hattem.

While it might, on the surface, seem preferable for employers to have their staff working morning, noon and night, many people find the lack of true downtime leads to exhaustion, burn out and conflict.

So, how do you know when you’ve taken it too far, and your work-life balance has gotten out of whack?

‘Some signs could be physical and mental tension, ill-health, prolonged high levels of stress, difficult relationships, under or overweight, addictions and cravings, loss of joy, depression, anger,’ says van Hattem.

And, she says, if you’ve managed to find the perfect balance, the opposite is true.

‘Some signs could be; joy, creativity, healthy relationships, healthy body weight, release of addictions and cravings, an inner calm and a sense of purpose.’

If you do fall into the category of poor balance, there are some simple things you can do to start addressing the problem. First, van Hattem says you have to stop assigning blame.

‘No one is forcing you to sacrifice your health for this job. You have choices. Stop the blame game. Are you in the right job? Right company? What are your goals – are they right for you? Are you living in alignment with your personal values? Get a coach who can guide you to make changes you are ready for.’

After that, it’s about acknowledging the problem and finding ways to adjust, even if it’s just small steps. She recommends talking with someone outside the situation, whether a friend, relative or a professional, to help get some perspective. In stressful situations, it’s quite possible to lose the forest for the trees: a second opinion can be your own personal lumberjack.

‘Take some time out to step away, assess what is the current state of balance,’ she says.

‘Identify what is really important in life. Get help from a friend, family member or coach to identify where you are out of balance. Celebrate what is already good or great. Let go of what you are not able to control or not ready to change. Make an action plan to make changes in the areas that you have influence or control over.

‘Life balance is a juggling act. There is a time to invest more time, effort or resources in work and a time to take the foot off the fast forward button. You truly can have everything, just not all at the same time. The wisdom, maturity and skill is to know when it’s time to step back, assess and rebalance.’
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