The Cambridge dictionary defines work-life balance as "the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy."

Achieving a work-life balance has been a long-standing issue all over the globe and a survey from the Society of Human Resource Management revealed that around 89% of employees in the United States consider work-life balance to be a problem.

With longer working hours and increasing job demands, it is no surprise that dissatisfaction, depression, and burnout are common in physicians and this is alarming.

Is integrating work and life the solution for healthcare providers?

When a person dives into the healthcare field, whether as a nurse, doctor, or medical assistant, they pretty much expect a life with long working hours and spending half of their lives in the hospital.

With most doctors working between 40 to 60 hours per week, and nearly 20% reported that they work 61 to 80 hours per week, is there time to do anything else outside of medicine?

Dr Andreas Schwingshackl, an assistant professor in Paediatrics at the University of California feels that the pursuit of work-life balance can actually worsen a physician's quality of life by adding additional, often unrealistic, expectations to their already stressful lives.

Can there be a healthy integration between work and personal life?
Can there be a healthy integration between work and personal life?

To him, this separation means that there is always a conflict, and suggested that seeking work-life balance implies that "life only occurs whenever we are not at work" and assumes that "life is good and work is bad."

He shared his views in an opinion article published in Frontiers in Paediatrics and suggested a different approach to the balance by merging life and work and define it as something else altogether.

"Once I was able to integrate rather than separate all my daily activities, (and) harmonise rather than divide my time – not only between work and life, but also between clinical care and research – the pursuit of balance shifted from work-life to life-nature-universe. The result was an overwhelming daily feeling of balance," he said.

Choosing to separate between work and personal life

While some healthcare providers find solace in merging the work and life aspects of their existence, researchers from the University of Zurich in Switzerland found that employees who allow their work to seep into their personal lives, feel more emotionally exhausted and have a lower sense of well-being, comparing with those who maintain a clear separation between work and their personal lives.

Employees who did not draw the line between work and personal lives, were less likely to participate in hobbies and other activities that may help them recover from work stresses.

Nearly 8,000 women participated in another study conducted by the Studer Group in 2008, including nurses (23%), administrators (22%), physicians (2%), and other healthcare professionals such as therapists and lab personnel (53%).

It was reported that only 9% of women who work in the healthcare industry are very satisfied with their work-life balance, and 46% of the women reported that they attended to their own needs only a few times per year.

On average, "women said one time per week that they have to make a decision where they feel they are deciding between their family and their job," reported the study.

Only 9% of women who work in the healthcare industry are satisfied with their work-life balance.
Only 9% of women who work in the healthcare industry are satisfied with their work-life balance.

Healthcare is a nonstop 24-hour industry that holds people's lives in balance. While workers in many sectors of the economy can leave their desks if an emergency arises, such as a sick or injured child, the same cannot be said for an ICU nurse who knows that she is leaving the unit short staffed.

This guilt-trip is a driving force for healthcare workers to come in to work during their off days, covering for their friends who have a more pressing emergency and even clock in while they are sick.

Not a one-way route

"At the end of the day we need to look at our lives and our priorities," says Grissel Hernandez, director of clinical education at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Centre in the US.

"Work is just one aspect. We have to have a social life. We need to have interests – books we like to read, music we like to listen to, and movies we like to watch," she said.

Dr Siva Raja from Cleveland Clinic Foundation in United States advices that it is all about finding a purpose in life, both at work and at home, and striving to achieve it. MIMS

Read more:
Addressing burnout among doctors
5 doctors with unusual hobbies
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