Work Life Balance: Definition and Practical Tips
Ask the first person you see how he would define happiness. Then ask another person. And another, and then another. From asking the same question to several people, you are bound to get different answers. One may equate happiness with having a lot of money. Another may say it would be getting the job of their dreams. One may even say that having a family is what will ultimately make him happy. The answers can be varied.
Among those answers, there may be a few that define happiness along the lines of having a balance among all the aspects of one’s existence, such as personal life, professional life, and family life. There has to be a balance between the negative and positive aspects in order for everything to go smoothly.
According to author and journalist Paul Krassner in an interview in 1963, “one of the aspects of happiness is when you can make as little distinction as possible between your work and your play”. But this dichotomy between work and play has been around since the middle of the 1800s. However, it was only during the 1970s and 1980s that the concept of work-life balance was shed more light.
In this guide, we explore 1) the connection between work and life, 2) common misconceptions about work-life-balance, 3) the importance of achieving it, 4) how to achieve your work-life-balance.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN WORK AND LIFE
For many, talking about work-life balance immediately brings to mind scenes of visiting a psychologist or psychiatrist and starting a discussion about the meaning of life. It sounds like a very complicated concept and, for many people, it probably is. However, it doesn’t have to be, and we hope to provide even a small amount of enlightenment on the topic.
Work-life basically refers to the proper prioritizing of an individual between his work or career and his personal life or lifestyle. You may hear other people talking about how they have to balance their work and family. Work-family balance is merely one of the many aspects of having what we call a work-life balance.
Worklifebalance named two key everyday concepts that will help us come up with a positive and clearer definition of work-life balance: achievement and enjoyment. These two concepts always go together, meaning you cannot have feel fulfillment out of achieving something if you did not enjoy it, and you cannot enjoy doing something if you do not accomplish anything. These two, together, help an individual realize the full value of life.
The four quadrants of live are: Work, Family, Friends, and Self. All four are subject to both achievement and enjoyment. Let us simplify that quadrant by categorizing family, friends and self into personal life, and putting work into a separate category on its own.
Work-life balance is when you can objectively say that you were able to achieve and enjoy something with your family and friends. When you were able to achieve and enjoy something for yourself. When you were able to achieve something at work, doing a job that you enjoy doing.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Work-life balance does not mean that both blend as one.
This may be the first assumption one would make once they read what Paul Krassner said about work-life balance referring to work and play having very little separation. It does not necessarily mean that the lines will be blurred, such that you’d no longer be able to distinguish work from play, and vice versa. Work will still be distinct as work, and play will remain recognizable as play.
Work-life balance does not mean having equal amounts of each.
Let us say that you spend 8 hours of the day working. Does that mean that you should also spend as much time – 8 hours – playing? Not really. In fact, this can be very stifling, since your work and life will have to adhere to a certain schedule or timetable, where everything is strictly the same, or equal. “Balanced” does not necessarily mean equal.
Work-life balance is not fixed at all time.
Priorities change. That means that the work-life balance may also change. A fresh graduate from college will have a specific work-life balance at that time. However, that balance will be different once she reaches her 30s and she has a family of her own. It is also likely to change when she reaches the age of 50 and her kids are all off to school, leading their own lives. Therefore, you should not expect one’s work-life balance to remain the same all throughout his life.
What works for one will work for everyone.
There is no set formula to obtain work-life balance. It’s not a one-size-fits-all deal, wherein what works with one person will naturally work with everyone else. The mere fact that people have different priorities and lifestyle choices is already an indicator that there would be varying approaches to obtaining and maintaining the balance between their work and personal life.
IMPORTANCE OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Before we can fully get into the reasons why we should seek work-life balance, take a look at the following scenarios:
- A male executive in his early 30s is on the fast track for a promotion, putting him in a potential position of becoming the youngest ever senior manager in the corporation. To get that promotion, he spends more hours at work than usual, taking on a lot of jobs all at once, probably even more than he can chew. His stress levels increased until, at one point, he collapsed and had to be brought to the hospital.
- A married woman with two kids wants to prove that she is a capable career woman. In order to prove that, she feels compelled to spend most of her time at the office, leaving the care of her children to her husband, who also has a job. This resulted to a distance between her and her children, who rarely see her at home.
- An employee devotes a lot of time cozying it up with co-workers, in the hopes that they would be able to work together smoothly. This resulted in a tight-knit relationship between her and his co-workers. However, she has no other circle of friends outside of work.
From the three scenarios described above, which of the three employees has work-life balance?
Some of the harmful consequences of a poor work-life balance (or the lack of one) includes the following:
- Health issues. Stress is just the beginning for many. It can snowball into bigger health problems and disorders if left untreated. Some of the common medical issues are cardiovascular diseases, headaches, migraines, body pains and aches, depression and weight problems. Some may even resort to substance abuse and alcoholism.
- Decline in personal productivity. Exhaustion – both physical and mental – will have a negative impact on one’s work and home life. This will also make the individual prone to mistakes, and churn out subpar quality work and output. They may also end up incurring tardiness and absences regularly.
- Decline in organizational productivity. An organization might as well kiss its goals goodbye if it has a workforce composed of overtired, burnt out and stressed workers. Unproductive workers, after all, lead to an unproductive organization. Naturally, low productivity also means less profits.
- High labor turnover and low employee satisfaction. Employees will not stay long in the company, especially if they are highly dissatisfied and constantly frustrated with how the organization aids in their work-life balance maintenance.
- Injuries and accidents. Exhausted workers are more prone to making mistakes, which makes them bigger risks for accidents and injuries. Poor eye-hand coordination and reflexes will also put them at risk, especially if they are working in highly technical jobs, or those that require the handling of machinery and equipment.
- Loneliness. Yes, they will also tend to be lonely. They have no friends, and they do not interact with anyone other than their family members and the people they work with. This will lead to feelings of isolation, as the friends that they no longer have time for slowly drift away.
Get some tips from Brian Tracy on developing your work-life-balance.
HOW TO ACHIEVE WORK-LIFE BALANCE
For sure it is difficult to juggle a career and one’s personal life, especially if there are family and friends involved. That does not mean, however, that it cannot be done. Achieving work-life balance is a challenge, but it is one that anyone can rise to. Here are some methods on how you can achieve and sustain work-life balance.
Exercise time management
Maintain a journal and create a timetable.
You can start small. Write down all the activities that you perform in a week, from Monday to Sunday. When we say “all activities”, this includes those that are work-related and personal life-related. Writing things down in a journal helps in making things more concrete and resolute. In case you are confused on what to do, you can simply consult your journal and be reminded.
By creating a schedule, you will have a better picture of what to expect in the week to come. This will mentally prepare you for anything that may come up at work or at home. It will also put a semblance of order into things, so you don’t find yourself flailing about aimlessly, with no direction.
Insert a downtime in your schedule.
No matter how busy you will be in the coming week, make sure to build some downtime into it. It could be time spent with family and friends, or you could insert some relaxing activities that you can do by yourself.
The purpose of this downtime is to let you recharge, gather your bearings, and “catch your breath”, so to speak, especially if it has been a particularly busy week at work. This downtime will also give you something to look forward to and anticipate. Say you have dinner and movie night scheduled with your girl friends on Friday night. Knowing that it will happen on Friday is likely to put a spring into your step as you go about your chores at home and your tasks at home on the days leading up to Friday night.
Examples of downtime inserted in one’s schedule are an hour-long yoga class at the end of the day, swimming several laps at the pool right before breakfast, or going for a run in the early hours of the morning before taking a shower and heading off to work.
Do not give the “I don’t have time” reason. “I don’t have time to even have a morning run”or “I don’t have time for a yoga class after work before heading home”. Make time. That is why you have to be more proactive in your scheduling.
Organize your tasks efficiently.
This goes for both household chores and work tasks. At home, if you are used to doing your laundry every day, you can probably schedule it every two days or three days, or during the weekend.
When you are going to shop for your groceries and household supplies, list down everything you need so you can purchase them all at one go, dispensing the need to go on multiple trips to the supermarket every time you need something.
Watch this beautiful way to structure your tasks. It’s visually similar to a kanban board.
Make room for spontaneity.
While it is true that we suggest scheduling to keep things organized and easier to manage, we also recommend that you also plan for spontaneity. Leave a day, or a couple of hours during the week blank. No activities scheduled, nothing definite planned.
And then, you can just fill it in when an activity occurs to you. Curious about that new ballroom dance class being offered in the studio across the street? Go check it out. You heard about an antique showcase in the next building? Swing by for at least half an hour.
Commit yourself and stick to the schedule.
This is probably the most important part of the tips on time management. Some people work out elaborate and clear-cut schedules. On paper, it looks perfect and absolutely doable. However, they do not stick to the schedule and end up veering away from it most times. This will render all your scheduling useless.
Set goals, expectations and limitations
According to Matt Might, maintaining work-life balance requires the “setting of boundaries”. But it is not enough to just set those boundaries. You have to enforce them, put your foot down, and be firm about it.
You have to know what you are capable of, and acknowledge what you cannot do. This will help you better in your scheduling and in making lifestyle choices. There are several tests that will help you perform self-assessments if you are having trouble listing down your strengths and weaknesses by yourself.
Set goals and objectives.
It does not matter if they are short-term objectives or long-term goals. Your objective may even fall along the lines of what you want to accomplish at the end of the day, or the week, or of the month. Just make sure that you have them.
What do you want to achieve? What do you want to prove? What do you want to happen? Answering these questions will act as a guide in your succeeding decisions about your work and personal life.
Choose your activities wisely.
Burnout is primarily due to taking on more activities than one can handle at one time. Everything becomes too much, too heavy, and the person just breaks down. They end up over-committing themselves, and then feeling extreme disappointment if they are unable to deliver on all the things that they have committed to. A possible result of this frustration? Depression.
One way to address that is to pick the activities that will be done.
- Identify the activities that you enjoy or love doing. From the journal that you have written, listing down all the activities that you will be doing, or plan on doing, for the rest of the week, start by identifying those things or activities that you actually want to do.
- Identify the activities that you must do, whether you want to do them or not. Often, these may include tasks at work, or errands that you are tasked to do. Create a separate list for them because, like it or not, you will have to perform them.
- Drop the activities that take up too much of your time. Psychologist and executive coach Marilyn Puder-York suggests that you should drop the activities that do not really do not add value, or do anything to enhance your career or your personal life. If you cannot drop them entirely, you can try to minimize the time spent on them.
- Drop the activities that use up a lot of your energy. Some activities are more draining than others. You are doing something, and then you realize later on that you just tired yourself out needlessly, with no positive effect on your personal life or your career. These activities should also go, so you can make room in your schedule for other activities that actually do add value to your work and life.
- Consider alternative courses of action. What if you can achieve the same results, but you just did things differently? There may be an errand that you have to do, but what if you can find a way to cut down the time devoted to it? For example, instead of always rushing to pick up your child from school at the end of the day, you can make an arrangement with your neighbor, whose kid also goes to the same school. You can agree to pick the kids on alternate days, or whatever schedule you will be able to work out.
At work, if you find that going to and from work is stressful because of heavy traffic, look into the possibility of working flexible hours, or even working from home. Check with your employer if these options are available, or these types of special arrangements are allowed.
Keep work separate from home.
Work is work, home is home. There should be no place for work at your home (unless, of course, the nature of the job has you working from home). Limit yourself in bringing work home. This is a practice done by many employees: when they are unable to finish something, they pack it up and bring it home with them. The result is a dinner table strewn with papers and notes, instead of a meal eaten with family.
If your workplace is your home, you have to designate an area that is exclusively for work, and keep anything personal from entering that domain. The same applies in instances where you have no choice but to bring work home. Pick a certain area of your home to do your work in, and keep it there.
Put yourself first
At the risk of sounding selfish, you should definitely put yourself first. Lately, the term “workaholic” has been getting negative connotations, and for good reason. Workaholics, after all, are often described to have “no life”. You don’t want that person to be you, do you?
Stay active and fit.
Make time for exercise, even if it’s just a few minutes in a day, or a few hours in a week. In an effort to help work-life balance among employees, many organizations create policies that
There are a lot of advantages of adding exercise in your to-do list.
- Exercise boosts your energy levels. If your energy is high, you will not tire easily, and you can handle anything that comes your way with optimism and enthusiasm. Those who are getting bored with monotony at work will be able to go to work with renewed zeal.
- Exercise improves your ability to concentrate and focus. According to psychologist Robert Brooks, exercise can help you become more alert. This will improve your concentration and focus, allowing you to perform better at work.
- Exercise puts you in a good mood. If you are in a good mood, you will look forward to going to work and accomplishing your assigned tasks. The feel-good endorphins will flow through your body, thanks to exercise.
- Exercise keeps you physically fit and healthy. A healthy workforce is a productive workforce. You may be motivated to work, with a strong drive and determination to carry out your tasks efficiently and effectively. However, if your body is unhealthy and you fall ill easily, you won’t be able to do everything that you planned on doing.
Meditation is another recommended activity, although it may not work for most people as exercise does. The good thing about meditation is that you can do it practically everywhere. Take a few breaths on the commute to work. Meditate for a few minutes before going to bed. These may sound too simple, but they can actually do a lot for your stress levels.
Watch this very relaxing guided meditation so you can focus on the current moment.
Celebrate special occasions and milestones.
Many companies impose a birthday leave policy, where employees can take their day off on their birthdays so they can celebrate it with their loved ones.
They also allow days off on other important family occasions such as anniversaries and even conduct family days, or recreational activities where they can bring members of their family for a day of merriment and solidarity.
Unplug yourself once in a while.
Sometimes, with technology always being an arm’s reach away, it is hard for us to leave our work behind. On a weekend outing with the family, the father may still tear himself away from playing with his kids to make a work phone call. In the middle of family dinner, he will remember something important and log into his office account to do “a little bit” of work.
Pick a day to unplug yourself from these conveniences, even for a day out of the week. Or, if that is not possible, for a couple of hours during the day. Take the example set by France, when a labor agreement was signed by unions and employers in the high-tech and consulting field, banning employees to check their work emails once the clock has struck 6pm. This allowed employees to solely focus on their home and families after 6pm.
Learn to say no.
Employees are inclined to say yes and agree to everything that the boss says. This is partly to stay on the boss’ good side, and to avoid conflicts or disagreements at work. However, when the circumstances do not allow it, and you feel that you are being taken advantage of, you should speak out.
Just say no when you are being told to do something that you know is beyond your capability at that moment. For example, you just put in all-nighters for the past week, missing sleep and barely seeing your family in the interim. When the work was done, your boss has another to put on your plate. You feel your body breaking down, and you just want to curl up and get proper sleep. Just say no, you won’t be able to do it, at least not until you have recharged. Do it in a respectful and diplomatic way, stating your reasons.
Get enough rest and sleep.
If you keep on running on two to three hours’ worth of sleep every day, that is bound to take a toll on your body and disposition. Try to get as much proper sleep as you can, and if you have the opportunity to get some shut-eye, even a power nap during lunch time, then do so. It may be short, but it will work wonders in recharging you right up.
Get a hobby.
Remember those activities that you loved doing when you were young, and when you were not yet working? Maybe you can try going back to them. If you have a passion for carpentry and building things, you can devote even an hour or two every week for that.
Your hobby is something that is solely yours. It is something that you do entirely for yourself; not your family and friends, and certainly not the people you work for and work with. Keep the hobbies that you have, and revisit the ones that you let go of in the past.
Don’t spoil your bosses and co-workers.
Are you the type to immediately answer on the first ring? Are you the type to drop anything that you are doing and rush to work at a moment’s notice because you were called in? This is actually a commendable trait, but it also opens possibilities of you being abused by your bosses and co-workers. Soon you will notice that they will call you at any time, even when you are away on a much-needed and long-overdue trip to the beach with your family.
Make it clear to your bosses and co-workers that, while on a trip, you won’t be immediately available to receive their calls or do whatever it is they need you to do. Let them know that you will eventually get back to them, just not instantly.
Wait, did I hear you right? I barely have enough time to squeeze in some exercise, but I should volunteer too?
According to research, volunteering gives a greater sense of work-life balance. It zeroes in on the innate desire of humans to become socially responsible towards other people. This takes care of the employee’s social well-being, and will also boost their emotional well-being.
Many organizations integrate volunteer work and make it a part of their corporate social responsibility programs. Employees should consider joining these activities, because it will be like hitting two birds with one stone.
Communicate clearly and properly.
Did you know that most conflicts in relationships result from miscommunication or lack of communication? Couples get into an argument because one failed to talk to the other about something important. Business partners develop rifts because they did not talk about a business plan prior to implementing it. Friends become estranged because they refuse to talk about their differences or whatever it is that bothers them.
By keeping communication lines open with family and friends, you will be minimizing the possibility of alienating them. If work is suddenly becoming more demanding, let your family and friends know about it clearly, so they will not be surprised at how little time you are spending with them. This will clear the air and prevent them from suspecting that you are pulling away intentionally.
If, despite all these, you still have trouble achieving work-life balance, then you should probably consider asking for help. Talk about it with your supervisor or bosses. Let your family know about the difficulties you are facing. Ask them for their advice and any other assistance. You may also consider seeking the help of a professional, although that may be a last resort.