Work/Life Balance, Mental Health, and Rest for LIS Professionals and Students

These topics of mental health, burnout, work/life balance, and otherwise surviving library school and the profession have been frequent discussions this year. They keep coming up on the blog; Jane wrote about the risks of vocational awe, Kelli on the burden of emotional labor for BIPOC, Mary Elizabeth discussed burnout , and Lauren gave guidance for individuals on not doing it all. My classmates have brought up these issues several times in my classes this quarter at the University of Washington. An article from University of Wisconsin Madison also brings up the mental health challenges LIS professionals face in their work, citing a study looking at mental health prevalence among academic librarians and the lack of workplace discussion of mental health. Clearly the feasibility of a healthy work/life balance is something many LIS students are concerned about, worrying about if or when our free time will ever truly be ours again. Such concerns are also not unique to our field.

In wanting to address this topic in a post here, I conducted an informal survey asking questions about work/life balance support from workplaces and graduate programs. I received 22 responses, 72% from students and 27% from LIS professionals. Cleary the results from this survey are not conclusive or generalizable to all LIS students and professionals due to the number of responses and who the survey reached. However, there are some interesting results and comments from the responses I did receive. When asked about their work/life balance, 54% of respondents said they could use some adjustments, 32% said their work/life balance was healthy, and 14% said it was unhealthy. Interestingly, students felt their workplaces are more supportive of their work/life balance than their programs are. People who have graduated feel their workplaces support their work/life balance fairly well, but two of the three “unhealthy” work/life balance responses come from graduated professionals.

Open comments told of how much work grad students do to get themselves through grad school, working more than part time and taking on full course loads. The responses also included ways they deal with the stress of full schedules – from cuddling with pets to drawing clear boundaries. These results paint a less dire picture than the discussions I have witnessed, but again they are only an incomplete snapshot.

I personally constantly wonder if I have done enough in grad school to be hired someplace I want to work, doing work I feel is meaningful. I worry about this because I have maintained a fairly healthy work/life balance during grad school but fear I would be more employable if I had sacrificed some of my well-being to volunteer or do something else that would add to my resume. My classmates share similar worries around doing enough, being successful, and mental wellness, especially as libraries are asked to do more without receiving increased support. Perhaps we are too stepped in working and being full-time students to see how things can get better.

I was planning on writing on work/life balance for several weeks, but when COVID-19 cases began increasing around Seattle and the city began rolling up the sidewalks; I was uncertain addressing this topic was appropriate. A week into quarantine/sheltering in place/social distancing, I realize now is an excellent time to write about work/life balance and mental wellness. This time of forced slowing down and resting has made clearer the benefits of not having an overburdened schedule (I do recognize, however, that for many people this is a very stressful time due to worry, anxiety, loved ones being sick, having kids home, loss of income, or more work for healthcare workers and grocery store workers).

Having this time to cook and go on an hour long walk with my 2-year-old housemate where we don’t even leave the block, listening to an album not as background music but as the only thing I am paying attention to, and otherwise not having to rush to the next place or the next assignment has been incredible, even as I worry for the world. These activities may not be things I can put on my resume but are so vital to living a life I enjoy and feel is good and ethical. As much as I mourn for what people across the globe are going through with this pandemic, I am also thankful (and privileged in many ways) to have this season of pausing. I hope I can more intentionally bring this into my life when the world starts moving again. But will that be possible without sacrificing my professional success?

This topic and quarantine time ask so many questions: what will life look like once we go “back to normal”? How was your work/life balance before the pandemic? How did your balance (or lack) affect your mental wellbeing? Do you feel LIS professionals (especially those working more with people than technology) can have a healthy work/life balance? What does a healthy work/life balance look like for you? Any and all thoughts welcome!

Hanna Roseen is in her second and final year as a residential MLIS student at the University of Washington with an interest in public, academic, and school librarianship, and archives. You can check out her latest project, a sexuality education bookstagram, here.

Photo by Omer Rana on Unsplash

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