First published in The Hindu, 4 Nov 2023
Tarun, an HR-executive at a multinational firm, likes his job, on most days. Though the hours can be taxing, he carves out time to spend with his family and work out. He also has a reasonably active social life. Yet, Tarun is dissatisfied. He feels he has a reasonable degree of work-life balance, so what can be amiss?
In an article in the online magazine, Psyche, organizational psychologists, Jessica de Bloom and Merly Kosenkranius, argue that trying to achieve work-life balance is a misguided approach to leading a fulfilling life. Rather, they aver that we must examine whether our life meets various psychological needs to see if we’re living the fullest possible life.
Rather than striving for balance, we may aim for harmony wherein we try to meet all our basic psychological needs. For when our needs are met, we are more creative, efficient and helpful. Most of us don multiple hats simultaneously—we may be a daughter, a student, a sibling, a friend, a quizzer, a marathoner and a volunteer for a climate action group. While no single role meets all our needs, the amalgamation of these diverse roles may help us lead a harmonious and rounded life.
Drawing on the DRAMMA model proposed by psychologist Ed Diener, the authors pinpoint six psychological needs that stand for each letter of the acronym. The first, is detachment, or the ability to disengage from demanding or effortful work, whether in the professional or personal sphere. For example, after a stressful day at the office, are you able to come home and not worry about issues at work? Likewise, if you’re caring for an elderly parent, do you get time off where you don’t have to think about care-giving duties, at least for a while. Bloom and Kosenkranius emphasize that it’s not enough to stop working but to mentally disengage. Otherwise, it’s hard to replenish the “psychological resources” required to continue with these responsibilities.
Once we disengage, we need to relax. Relaxation involves pleasurable activities that require minimal effort, like listening to music, going for a walk, taking a warm bath, playing with your pet or watching a show on television. The authors also suggest progressive muscle relaxation, a popular mindfulness technique, that can soothe both body and mind.
Do you feel you have control over your time and life? While you may have work and familial obligations, do you get to choose what, when and how you do things, ideally most of the time? If you have a controlling boss or a family member, who polices your life, you need to carve our time and space where you get to decide how you spend your time. Autonomy is a fundamental human need and is one of the drivers of motivation. Don’t confuse the need for autonomy with being selfish. You may choose to help and be of service to others, but the key factor is that you make the choice.
The next two needs refer to mastery and meaning. Do you feel that you’re utilizing your skills and talents optimally to feel a sense of “achievement and competence”? Mastery also involves a sense that you’re learning and growing. Further, we’re imbued with a sense of meaning when we engage in activities that make us feel we’re contributing to the greater good, however we may define it for ourselves. If you’re lucky, you may find mastery and meaning in your job. Otherwise, seek other opportunities like learning a new skill or volunteering to fulfill these needs. Finally, we need affiliation where we cultivate warm and worthwhile relationships with others. Caring and feeling cared for are essential facets of the human condition.
Go ahead and examine your life to see which needs are being met. If there is a lacuna, see what changes you can make to fill the void so that you can lead a more complete and rounded life.
(The writer is the author of Zero Limits: Things Every 20-Something Should Know & blogs at www.arunasankaranarayanan.com.)