Live & Learn
Career Advancement VS Work-Life Balance: How to Strike that Fine Balance?
“Work-life balance? What’s that?” Even in the best of times, it is not easy for anyone to pursue career advancement while maintain work-life balance; what more, during a pandemic that has caused so much anxiety over job security? If you are suffering from burnout, know that you are entitled to feel so. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise or mock you. (Enough of that ‘strawberry generation’ accusation already!) Learn from these three scenarios faced by fellow youths, so that you can take preemptive steps to improve your work-life balance. 

*All names have been changed.


1. “I feel lost in my first job, especially when everyone is working from home (WFH)!”

Many welcomed the novelty of WFH arrangements at the start of the pandemic. Taking a snack break anytime you want! No more smelly, sweaty train rides! As long as you are responsible and can complete your work, many bosses soon learnt to let go. Even when the COVID situation improved, some companies still allowed staff to work from home at least a few days a week.

This may work well for those who are already well established in the company’s culture and his/her job scope. But for fresh staff, not having a regular work environment can create discomfort.

*Daniel, a 24-year-old trainee at a local bank, started his traineeship during the pandemic in his ‘home office’ – the cluttered desk where he studied during his uni days. Having experienced the benefits of “working in a real office” during his internship days, he lamented that the WFH system has stunted his career growth.

“I can’t just pop my head into my supervisor’s cubicle for a quick chat. When I need to check minor details, I can’t tap my colleagues on the shoulder to ask. I’m not familiar or close to my new colleagues so I feel embarrassed to send multiple WhatsApp messages. So, I try to consolidate all my questions and schedule an MS Teams or Zoom meeting.”

For those of us who have spent the best of the last 2 years working online, we know that Zoom fatigue is very real. Noticing that his colleagues looked irritated whenever he tried to initiate an ‘unofficial’ online meeting to clarify his doubts, Daniel tried to troubleshoot on his own. He ended up working long hours and plowing through old files on his own, just to avoid looking incompetent in front of his boss and colleagues. “Sometimes, I feel burned out even before my career has begun properly!”


Try this: Speak with your supervisor or HR department about having a designated mentor or buddy at work. This formal arrangement will give you access to experienced colleagues who now have a ‘mandated’ duty to help you. This can turbo-charge your learning and is much better and faster than you stumbling around on your own. By flattening your learning curve, you should hopefully enjoy a better experience at work and improve your work-life balance.


2. “I want to say ‘yes’ to every assignment.”

Many of us are guilty of this. We appreciate the opportunities given to us. Some of us even volunteer for everything we can, because we want to prove our ability and good attitude.

Firstly, know that there is nothing wrong with having the drive. Your ability to stretch yourself and take on more (and more and more) is definitely well appreciated by your supervisors. Your bosses may even reward you with a bigger bonus and fast-track your promotion. But, at what cost?

*Sarah, 22, who works in publishing, was flattered when her editor praised her for being a fast writer and ‘lent’ her to their sister publication. She relished the opportunity to see her byline appear in different titles. One article become two. Soon, she was writing regularly, to the point that she was constantly juggling two sets of deadlines.

This went on for months. One Monday morning, her boss walked into the office and was shocked to learn that Sarah had worked through the weekend and overnight, to meet her deadlines.

“She immediately asked me to go home and rest. I replied that I couldn’t, as I had an interview set up for our sister publication later that morning.” Like many ambitious fresh grads, Sarah admits that she didn’t want to waste the opportunities.

“I was also thrilled when I received good feedback from my bosses and readers. To be honest, I didn’t know if I was overworked as this is my first job.”


Try this: Seek advice from a trusted experienced senior or even your boss about what is a reasonable workload you should take on. Do not sound accusatory; instead, ask for tips on how to achieve better work-life balance. Assure them that you appreciate their trust in you, and want to stay the course to keep doing good work. Fortunately, although Sarah didn’t (and felt she couldn’t) say no, her boss stood up for her and asked the other editor to stop assigning her regular work.   


3. “I don’t have any friends at work!”

*Jasmine, 24, a self-described introvert, says wryly: “During the Circuit Breaker, I really enjoyed having some peace and quiet for a change because my colleagues are quite chatty.” However, she soon discovered the opportunity cost: the daily building of rapport with her colleagues.

Some colleagues kept in touch with one another regularly via Zoom lunches or even holding meetings at cafes. But when Jasmine turned down a few invitations, they stopped asking her.

“In the past, everyone in the department went for lunch together. Although I didn’t contribute much to the conversation, I now realise that I quite enjoyed listening to them. I was also more tuned in to happenings in the office through our grapevine.”   

When Jasmine’s company allowed staff to go back to the office more regularly, albeit with stricter social management measures such as reduced group size for meals, She was dismayed that nobody invited her out for lunch. “I was like that meme – that 6th friend that got left out when the ‘five diners only’ rule was implemented,” says Jasmine in embarrassment.

Realizing that dropping off the office social radar may cost her precious opportunities to network and advance her career, Jasmine tried to showcase her abilities in other ways by volunteering for as many projects as possible. This resulted in her feeling burned out. She also wondered if it was worth her effort.

“The many little things I was working on didn’t even add up to the same impact as the high-profile project that my peers worked on. I think that we are equally capable but I have to work so much harder to prove myself.”


Try this: You can’t force an introvert to become a social butterfly. However, you can certainly prevent burnout by making better decisions. Try re-kindling your friendship with friendlier colleagues. Use the current ‘two pax only’ rule to your advantage. Introverts often fare better when they make deeper connections in smaller groups, anyways. Have lunch with a different colleague every week. Don’t underestimate the importance of having lunch kakis or watercooler chatter. We often hear of very capable staff leaving a company not because they suck at their job, but because of office politics. Having a supportive and friendly work environment makes one happier and helps you perform better at work, all of which promote better work-life balance.  

We know it can be very tough hustling hard for your career while battling COVID-19 fatigue and juggling everything else that demands your attention. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you drop a ball or two. It’s okay, we all learn through mistakes. So what if your promotion is delayed, or you did not get as big a bonus as you wished?

Remember, these are extraordinary times. Be kind to yourself. Guard your mental wellness jealously because only then, can you go the long haul and climb that career ladder well. 

At NTUC, we strive to provide safe support for you as you tackle some of the most pressing problems of your generation. Get in touch with us to learn how we can help your career aspirations. Follow us on our social media platforms; Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.