Do we have a work-life balance?

I read an interesting article in New York Times a few months ago, which stuck with me because it gave voice to something that had been at the back of my mind for a while.

The article discussed the modern obsession with work- not just long work hours, but the idea that people should love their work and be vocal about it. The article called it ‘hustle culture’.

Although the main focus of the piece was on entrepreneurs (and the people who work for them) I see so many parallels in our society today with regard to our general working environment ( I am focusing here on formal employment not house work).

Working long hours and on weekends is worn like a badge of honour by many. People proudly discuss how much work they have and how their work-life balance is completely skewed because they are buried in assignments all week.

From Heads of Department to low-level officers, the ‘work bug’ seems to be spreading and I find myself worrying sometimes about our relationship with work.

It’s not unusual to be sitting with a group of people at a social event and see their phones go off with work emails which they immediately respond to.

I’m not attacking the concept of work and productivity here – it should go without saying that it’s important both from an individual point of view and from the perspective of society at large.

Work has been a very key factor in getting us to where we are as a species today and it is also something that gives us dignity and a sense of purpose.

But sometimes it feels as if we are prioritising work over everything else and engaged in a kind of arms race to see who can work longest and at the most awkward hours. 9am on a weekday? 4 pm on a Saturday?

An early morning conference call on Sunday? None of this is quite unusual anymore.

Of course I may be overstating the case as I haven’t seen any hard data in Rwanda on this phenomenon, and my impressions have mainly been formed anecdotally.

However, I feel that this is a phenomenon that’s becoming more generally rooted around us. In giving up our lives completely up to work (not just literally but in the conversational space that it covers in our day to day lives), I feel we are giving up something important.

The dismissal of leisure time as just an impediment to further gains at work is a trend that seems to be growing as more and more people adapt to that environment and get spurred on by their colleagues and friends.

People start considering free time as a sort of inconvenience except in short bursts which can let them transition back to work at a moment’s notice. It feels like a world in which we sleep less, relax less and constantly think and worry about work isn’t one that we should bequeath our grandchildren.

And one more downside to this is that people, who leave work on time are considered lazy and unserious- the earlier you leave, the less of a good impression it makes.

Putting aside the fact that people who work longer are not obviously being more productive just by virtue of work hours spent in office, I feel that the early leavers have a much more balanced approach to life.

If you spent the extra three hours after the end of the work day reading a book, playing with your children or watching a movie instead of squeezing in more work then I feel you have something to teach the people who are chained to their desks.

In fact I feel that the Government’s initiative for public sector workers to take Friday afternoon off is something that should be adopted by the private sector as well.

This may be a controversial opinion for a country that is striving for further economic success, but I believe we should give important weight to having a proper work-life balance.

Which for some people would mean working less.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.