Opinion: Finding balance as an engineer
Learning to establish boundaries for a healthy and sustainable work-life balance.
Being a Lead Process Engineer in the mining industry requires management of many different work fronts and priorities. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance has been one of the biggest challenges in my career.
My job involves solving complex technical problems while working with ever changing teams in a multidisciplinary environment. I also mentor and train up-and-coming engineers to ensure they are challenged and supported enough to achieve their potential. Meeting all these requirements is often more than a full-time job. Finding a good balance between these aspects of being an engineer while also maintaining a good work-life balance can be difficult in such a dynamic environment and my boundaries are constantly being challenged.
The vicious cycle I had adopted involved working overtime for a couple of weeks to a point where I would reach burn out and need to take time off to recover. My colleagues had established healthy boundaries and I always wondered how they did it. Noticing my cycle about to repeat itself, I embraced their behaviours and set some boundaries.
These four strategies have been a game charger for maintaining balance in my life.
Some tasks are more important than others. I focus on these first and push the less urgent tasks to a quieter time of the week, which reduces the chances of needing to work outside business hours.
I align the amount of effort/detail spent on a task with the project requirements. It is easy to fall into the trap, particularly in the concept/pre-feasibility study stage of project, to spend more time than necessary on a particular task. Putting an overly detailed design level of effort into a task can consume more time and budget than what was allowed or required.
No skipping lunches! One of my colleagues suggested I block out time in my calendar for lunch and this has worked well. As my office has hot desks, we eat food in the kitchens and break out spaces. This was hard for me at first, but now I look forward to lunch time and enjoy being outside and switching off from work.
Another one of my weaknesses is learning how to say no when I am at capacity. I naturally want to help everyone and struggle to say no when asked to take on an extra work. This is the skill I am still working on. My management structure is supportive and helps to make sure this does not happen, which is a big help.
I considered if managing this role as a female has introduced any differences compared to my male colleagues. In general, I feel I am treated as an equal and I consider myself very fortunate. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by great colleagues, family and friends who give me the support I need to thrive with all my responsibilities in and out of work.
I have of course had the occasional challenge and negative interaction in the workplace but have been fortunate enough to have a good support network to help me through the challenging situations.