What is work-life balance and how do we go about achieving it?
Work-life balance is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot, but what exactly does it mean? Well, it can mean different things to different people but largely, it is helpful to think of it as an acceptable equilibrium between your work life and your home/personal life, in accordance to your priorities, enjoyment, and goals.
Work-life balance can be a misleading term and is often mistaken for a balance in terms of time, allowing equal time at work and away from work. However, the perfect balance will be different for every person, so it really can’t be measured in ‘time’. It is a sense of wellbeing where you do not feel you are being pulled from pillar to post, but rather you feel that you are comfortably able to handle every aspect of your work and homelife, with the amount of energy and enjoyment each requires.
Is a work-life balance achievable?
Unfortunately for many, a work-life balance can sometimes seem unachievable. Balancing work, life, and family can be a difficult job and all too often the “life” part is shunted to the back of the queue and lost to late night work and family responsibilities. According to the 2010 National Health Interview Survey Occupational Health Supplemental data, 16% of U.S. workers find a work-life balance hard to achieve.
This doesn’t have to be the way, though, and fortunately, many employers are seeing the importance of helping their employees create a balance which means when they are at work, they are working at their optimum level and not to the detriment of their health.
Dedicated work-life offices
Many of HERC’s member institutions have dedicated work-life balance offices which work to support faculty and staff to create a healthy mix of work, personal life, and continued professional development.
Many people think about work-life balance as just for parents, but it really is for anybody. Most people look to create a balance when something new enters their life, like when they start a family, but they may also seek work-life balance due to things like caring for an elderly relative, going through a difficult time, or just simply to create a better mental wellbeing.
Steps to achieve work-life balance
As well as accessing a dedicated work-life office or service if you have one available, which is the best place to start, there are steps you can take to get closer to your ideal work life balance.
- Say ‘No’: Whether it is in your work life or your personal life, if you are the person who says yes to everything, or finds it hard to say no, this one is for you. It’s so important not to feel overloaded, because this is where you send yourself into a spin and the unbalance begins. You do not have to be available 24/7 for your boss or at your advisees’ beck and call. Similarly in your home life, take time for you and make sure that isn’t sacrificed because you feel obliged to do something for someone else first.
- Turn off your phone and social media: As above, it’s increasingly difficult to escape contact these days with social media, email, WhatApp, Skype, etc. all popping up on your phone screaming to be answered immediately. Take a step back and make sure you set time aside to attend to these messages, but do not let them eat into everything else. When we react immediately to an email or message, we are distracted from the task in hand, and it can erode productivity and generate more overwhelm. Similarly, when you are at home, turn off work notifications and only answer them at an allotted time or during the workday. Set some boundaries and you will immediately stop work and life blurring into one.
- Work smart: When we are rushing about trying to fit everything in, we tend to just be firefighting rather than being productive. You need to improve your ability to work smart rather than being busy for the sake of it. Prioritize tasks; set yourself rigid timescales to get each task done and stick to hem; turn off social media and distractions; say no to long, unstructured meetings when the outcome can be achieved much quicker; and make sure the tasks you do provide maximum results. It’s important to not get caught up in unproductive tasks like checking email 50 times per day.
- Ask for help: You don’t have to be a martyr. If you have too much to do, it’s ok to ask for help whether at home or at work. Tap into dedicated work-life offices and the wealth of resources available on the subject. It’s OK not to do everything yourself and it’s usually impossible. If you have a busy homelife, it may be that reducing your hours is necessary, or maybe you can employ someone in your personal life, such as a house cleaner or baby-sitter, to take off the strain. It’s not weak to ask for help.
Work-life balance is a term that has different definitions for different people. Whatever it means to you, it’s becoming a term more widely acknowledged by institutions and employers who are offering support to achieve it. In a world where we are constantly being pulled in so many directions, there are many ways you can advance towards a work-life balance yourself.
About the Author: Nikki Vivian is a Career Coach and owner of From Kids to Career, which was set up to support women who are returning to a career, or looking to move in a new direction after taking time out to raise a family. Nikki works with Mums to find their true passions and to re-build confidence that can be lost after a break from the workplace. She believes passionately that being a parent does not put you at the bottom of the pile when it comes to your career. Nikki owns CV writing company Confident CV and has 8 years’ experience working in Careers for Cardiff University.