You deserve a work-life balance, even if you're child-free in a pandemic

Q: I'm the reader who wrote about being a weary child-free worker in a federal workplace where parents were being allowed full pay for reduced hours. Many of my co-workers who are parents are doing the unimaginable and still tackling so much, but others are bragging about going on a daily fall hike or other activities. Meanwhile, I'm sobbing into my keyboard over a spreadsheet. I did not read your initial column as taking any sides, but the reactions from other readers tell me I'm not alone in my strong feelings.

Your point about thinking of the parents as being on a form of sick leave is well-taken, but some of the other suggested solutions are tougher to put into practice. If I ask my supervisors, they'll tell me it's fine to let some tasks fall by the wayside, but they all have different views on which tasks can be let go. Everyone is very nice, and my job is secure, but I was passed over for promotion this year, and I am terrified that if I let anything drop now, I'll be skipped again in the next round of promotions.

A: It's possible your leisure-flaunting colleagues are trying to normalize taking breaks and encouraging others to do the same. But whatever their intent, you're still feeling like Cinderella stuck at the hearth while everyone else is frolicking in the autumn leaves with their families.

As readers following this saga over the past few weeks have already observed, this is less about parent-versus-nonparent conflict and more about a lack of clear guidance on priorities at your workplace. If everything is important, then nothing is. And if that's the case, you'll have to set some priorities for yourself, starting with your mental health.

Being a team player is one thing, but you're carrying all the batons with no one to hand them off to. I respect your drive to stay on track for promotion in the After Times, but after seven months, it's time to change your pace and settle in for the marathon.

Silently, miserably plugging along on all the tasks dumped on you is not only an express train to breakdown - it's also not guaranteed to pay off come promotion time. Your workplace may vary, but a dirty little secret many of us have had to learn the hard way in both the public and private sector is that reward is not always given in proportion to effort.

If your employer's promotion process relies on seniority or other metrics unrelated to performance, no amount of uncomplaining diligence is likely to make you a better candidate - but, on the bright side, overlooking a few nonessential tasks won't doom you, either.

If you step back and study your workload from a strategic perspective - focusing on what's high-profile, what makes the best use of your work skills, what's most relevant to your department's purpose or your personal goals, and what is most likely to catch the attention of people you're looking to impress - I'm betting some projects will emerge as urgent must-dos and others will recede as nice-to-have-but-nonessential. Give the former the benefit of your most productive hours and focus; for the latter, give yourself permission to say, "I wasn't able to get to that this week."

And schedule some time off for yourself, OK? Even if the workload doesn't subside, you'll be in a better frame of mind to tackle it after an honest-to-goodness break.

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