5 Steps to Manage Your Work/Life Balance as a Busy Expat Parent
Expat life means that you are living away from many of your loved ones. According to a new research report published by Finaccord, the total number of expatriates worldwide amounted to around 66.2 million in 2017. That’s a lot of people. While there are many reasons to choose a new lifestyle, many move abroad for better work opportunities. At times, this can feel lonely. Being away from your loved ones can be a huge adjustment. It’s common for expats to throw themselves into work, sometimes committing to more than ten hours a day. Working at this rate can have a negative impact on your wellbeing.
Signs Your Work/Life Balance is Off
Ideally, a good work/life balance would mean that there are no conflicts between your work and what you would like to do. In other words, work doesn’t get in the way of the rest of your life. This can be challenging for expats who have moved abroad for work purposes. It can feel as though work needs to take up a larger portion of your life than the average 9-5. This, however, is a misconception. Your working life should be enjoyable or satisfying while still leaving you enough time to meet your remaining needs. It’s not always easy to tell if you have a good work/life balance. Especially if everyone around you seems to be doing the same thing.
How do you know if your work/life balance needs work? It can be as simple as being tired all the time, working all the time, bringing your work home with you, or feeling out of shape. If you’re struggling with your relationships, this can also be a sign that your work is creating an additional strain, causing you to commit to the wrong priorities. Maintaining healthy relationships when you are long distance requires a certain level of commitment. If you are always swamped with work or too tired to pick up the phone and connect with your loved ones, perhaps your work/life balance needs a little, well, work!
Step One: Figure Out What You Need
If any of the above resonates with you, take a moment to sit down and work out what you want. As an expat, you may have had to compromise on a few things in order to excel in other areas. That’s ok. Whether this is a new position you’re getting used to, or a lifestyle you have had for a while. Take it back to the basics. What do you need? What would your ideal day look like? Give yourself permission to do this and don’t hold back.
It might be easier to start with the things you feel you are missing in your current day-to-day life. Maybe you feel like you don’t have time to speak to your family or socialize with your friends. Maybe you’d really like to get to the gym or have time to prepare meals properly. Whatever you feel like you’re missing, write it down and create your ideal day. You can keep hold of it to refer to later on and check on your progress.
Complete this exercise in whatever format you like. Pens on paper can be a good visual. Nobody but you needs to see it, it’s just for you.
Step Two: Establish Your Support Network
When your work/life balance is weighted in the wrong direction, you need some friends outside of work to chat to. It can be hard to see things from a different perspective if you are absorbed within your own world of work. Talk to a friend or family member who can empathize. They don’t necessarily have to offer any advice, sometimes just talking to someone that is listening is enough.
Who do you turn to when you need support? Do you have people you can reach out to? Do you have a few contacts from back home that will pick up the phone?
Try to engage with the friends and family you already have, these might be people you have known for years or friends you have made along the way. Reach out and strengthen a few connections. This might be a long catch up over the phone, or connecting asynchronously with the Peekabond app.
Peekabond is a great tool for expat parents to keep in touch with loved ones, children in particular. Losing track of your relationships can happen quite easily, but with children, even easier, so don’t be hard on yourself. Kids are resilient and love to feel loved. With Peekabond, you can record a few quick messages using the prompts whenever you have time – it doesn’t need to be a sociable hour. The little ones you are reconnecting with will receive the messages and send you a response in their own time. Rekindling these connections can be an important step to feeling supported in your lifestyle choices.
Building a New Support Network as an expat, it can be difficult at first to build a support network where you live. Maybe you don’t speak the language and find it hard to integrate with the local community. Remember, these things take time. Putting yourself out there and making friends in public places like the gym can be a good start. Hobbies are a great way to connect with people, sometimes it’s easier to bond over something you know you have in common. If this really isn’t your jam, consider an online community. There are loads of groups on various social media platforms for many different things. You can connect with people over something you’re passionate about or simply find the ‘expat’ group for that area. There’s usually at least one!
Step Three: Communicate at Work
Partially covered in step two, but here, we take it further. Once you have established what’s missing in your life and connected with your support network, it’s time to communicate with your superiors. This can be scary, but if you don’t communicate how you feel, how will anybody know? Try not to assume they know exactly what you’re going through. Remember, the changes you need to make might not be huge! Maybe a few small adjustments is all it needs to take for you to start feeling like yourself again. Approach this conversation positively, with a few ideas already about solutions. It’s in the best interest of your employer to support you.
Did you know that employee’s with a healthy work/life balance are more productive than those that aren’t? The right company should support you in maintaining a healthy, balanced life. This may happen out of empathy and genuine care for their employees, but also from a business perspective. Companies that promote work-life balance record two times more productivity than those that do not. (Deloitte)
Step Four: Baby Steps
Your ideal work/life balance might be a few small steps away, or it might be a big change that needs to take place over time. Small changes are important. Don’t overwhelm yourself by completely changing your entire routine – unless that’s something you strongly desire. A lot of the time, small changes can start to make a difference. This is where you might need the help of that support network we mentioned in step two. Talking to your boss about your hours and cutting down could be a good start. Dropping a project you feel doesn’t serve you or even the company, might also be a good idea.
Step Five: Set Boundaries – Learn to Say ‘No’
Once you’re clear on what you want your life to look like, you need to fight for it. This can involve setting specific working times and being strict on when you are reachable or not. Maybe you need to practice saying no to extra work or projects. It’s important to be mindful of your boundaries to protect your work/life balance and prevent things from sliding back to their previous imbalance.
As an expat, this can be hard, especially if your colleagues are used to you taking on lots of work. Try to be firm, kind and clear. Maybe take the opportunity to tell them how happy you are with this new balance and share what you have been up to. People can often relate with real life scenarios as it’s like they have experienced something to this effect as well.
Achieving a good work/life balance is a lifelong endeavor. Some would say we are never truly ‘balanced’ and that life itself is an act of balancing. Each day we can be faced with new things to throw us off course. Try not to be too hard on yourself if you’re feeling imbalanced and remember it’s something everyone has to deal with at some time or another, whether you live in close contact with your family or not.
Alyea Sandovar, is the Chief Play Scientist and co-founder founder of Peekabond. We know first-hand how hard it was to build a bond with my niece remotely. She has a background in early development psychology as well as a PhD in game development. She helps Peekabond through user research and gamification.
Anieke Lamers, our CEO created Peakabond at the onset of Covid-19. A mobile app to help global families bond with young children remotely. Inspiring families to create playful and engaging moments with young children.
Asynchronous video connection and inspirational science-based content suggestions. Allowing families and loved ones to share small moments and build better bonds. Every play experience is designed with care and approved by child development experts. Always age appropriate. Always private and secure, never showing ads. Our intention is to build a movement that connects families across borders and over generations.