Last week’s blog shared two key strategies to help you regain a semblance of balance as we adjust to new ways of living and working. This week I consider two more things that can support better balance: avoiding role confusion and using positive psychology to get what you need.
How to avoid ‘role confusion’
Let’s start with an explanation. Social scientists often talk about the multiple roles we all play and the expectations (scripts) that surround them. Two key roles for many of us are parent and employee (or worker). In the normal course of events those roles remain relatively separate. We do our work at work; or within designated work hours if we opt to work remotely. And we carry out our parenting role mostly when we our children are with us.
Of course there is some overlap. Many parents struggle during school holidays and virtually everyone has navigated working while tending to a sick child. The problem is the expectations surrounding both roles often come into conflict. It’s hard to be a model (work focused) employee if you’re also trying to sort out your child’s schooling or worrying about their health. Conversely it can be challenging to feel you’re a good parent when work expects long hours or business calls in the evening. All of this is not ideal; but in more normal circumstances it’s often possible to put boundaries around the two roles and focus on one at a time.
Keeping roles separate in the new order is much more challenging. As they bleed into each other we can end up confused and feel we’re performing both roles poorly.. Which can have a negative impact on our self-esteem. Once you understand this is happening it becomes easier to reduce the mental conflict and manage the circumstances. It’s often possible to negotiate with work colleagues: explaining there are times when you need to be in parent mode and therefore unavailable for work calls or online meetings. It’s also OK to say: “we may be interrupted if my child suddenly needs me. If that happens I’ll reschedule this call/online meeting as quickly as possible.” We need to redefine what ‘professional’ looks like.
How to use positive psychology to get what you need
Navigating the new circumstances involves adapting our own behaviour and encouraging those around us to do the same. Harnessing positive psychology improves our chances of getting what we need. A positive approach to change identifies what might be possible and encourages more of it when it occurs. As the saying goes: the behaviour that’s rewarded is the behaviour that continues.
To get what we need we must first of all have clarity on what that looks like; and how we will know when we have it. It sounds pretty obvious, but what exactly does “I need more help with the children” or “I need some quiet time to write this report” look like in practice? For instance, does help with the children mean keeping them amused for an hour? Feeding them? Getting them to bed? The more specific you are in what your needs look like, the easier it becomes for others to help. Getting help may also mean relinquishing some of the expectations you have around the role of parent.
You can use positive psychology to reinforce the behaviour you want from those around you by asking yourself:
When do I already see the behaviour I want happening and how can I encourage more of it?
Above all else be gentle with yourself and ohters. The current situation is challenging our mental models around how we expect to integrate work into our lives: which is both disorientating and tiring. We will emerge from this with a ‘new normal’ but it’s too early to say what that will look like. Personally I’m holding onto the vision that it will lead more people to put in structures for a more balanced life.