By Lindsey Luft
There’s a lot of discussion about how to balance family and work. But the conversation is a little different when you’re a family of one. Being a single professional presents its own challenges in finding a work/life balance.
Single professionals may feel they’re less entitled to their time off than their counterparts who have “more going on at home.” Or they may feel they have no reason not to work long hours and on weekends to get things accomplished. Everyone deals with the issue of working late or on weekends, but single professionals don’t always have someone urging them to spend more time away from the office. So working extra hours really is a personal decision.
It’s easy to feel pressure to be the person who reliably covers the office while coworkers with families take time off. I’ve been the single professional in that situation. I feel it’s important to fill in for these coworkers, but it’s also important to protect your own time off. Covering for an employee who is attending to a family matter fosters a positive professional relationship between individuals and a sense of teamwork. However, if things are getting one-sided, it can have the opposite effect.
If you’re the individual who is filling in, it’s important to check in with yourself. Do you feel like a reliable coworker for what you’re doing, or are you growing resentful? If you’re starting to feel resentful, it may be time to discuss taking a personal day with your supervisor. Taking a day off to mentally recover can go a long way toward improving your outlook, but it’s also important to monitor yourself so you avoid reaching that point. Plan time off, even if it’s leaving early on a Friday.
I recently moved from my home in Rochester to Westchester County, New York, to advance my career. It was very challenging at first. I was five hours away from my previous home, living by myself; I knew very few people, and I was eager to establish myself in the new job. I found myself waking up, going to work, coming home, and really not doing much else. Sometimes, I felt that everyone around me had so much going on in their lives while I was focused on reestablishing mine.
I was working for a small municipality where it was often all hands on deck at the public counter, and those of us who sat near the public area often pitched in to help. Two of the full-time individuals who were out front had unique family situations. One worked on an accommodated schedule, while the other often had home-based pressures but felt she needed to be at work. My colleagues and I, and the village manager, were respectful and supportive of these individuals’ needs, and they were appreciative of our help.
Although I was happy to help out, the situation was emotionally challenging for me to deal with as I was trying to reestablish my life—not so successfully initially. I had to find a way to cope with being a single individual living in a new area and working in a small office with coworkers who had unique family situations.
My undergraduate studies in health education had made me aware of the stress factors that affect health, and eventually I realized that I needed to make a more conscious effort to establish healthy habits, such as long weekends in Rochester, meeting new people, and taking an exercise class. When I took time off, I was comforted by the support I received from my coworkers and the village manager. I felt rejuvenated when it was time to return to work.
Recommendations for Growth
My suggestions to the overwhelmed single professional are to establish hobbies and be courageous enough to speak up about office situations. Hobbies are self-rewarding and encourage you to take time for yourself. Speaking up by initiating a conversation with the manager/administrator about taking time off is important so that he or she is aware of how you’re feeling.
Another situation unique to the single professional is dating. A woman I met was working for a small municipality on a somewhat controversial project. She had a date who asked, “Aren’t you that woman who has been on the news?”
I’m sure many managers are accustomed to this type of reaction, but it’s different in the dating world because you’re potentially developing a long-term relationship. It’s important to be proud of your line of work, and anyone who becomes a long-term partner will have to be aware of what you do and how you feel about it. Transparency is essential.
Additionally, I find it important to establish friendships outside the office. This can be difficult when coworkers know you’re single and maybe also new to the area, and they want to help you make friends or become your friends. It’s enjoyable to be on a friendly basis with your coworkers, but it’s also important to establish your personal boundaries for making friends at work while maintaining the necessary level of professionalism. Hobbies and exercise classes are two ways to expand your circle of potential friends, even if you need to step out of your comfort zone.
As a single professional, be aware that you aren’t necessarily doomed to be the one constantly filling in for other staff at the office or that you’ll never meet someone or make new friends. The most important thing is to be patient with yourself, be aware of your attitude, and focus on where you want to firstname.lastname@example.org).