‘Work–life’ balance (or ‘life-work’ balance as some prefer to call it) is a concept referring to effective prioritising between ‘work’ (career and ambition) and ‘lifestyle’ (health, pleasure, leisure, family, friends and spiritual development). The expression ‘work–life balance’ was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970’s to describe the balance between an individual’s work and personal life.
The idea of work-life balance can be misleading because it seems to imply that work and life are opposites. As work is an important part of life, if it is meaningful and enjoyable it can create a sense of wellbeing and contribute to good mental health. Work creates financial support for the important things, but taken to the extreme can deplete our lives and lead to stress and burnout.
According to a recent study by The Australian Institute, the balance between work and life is deteriorating for four in 10 people. While it’s true that stresses and demands from personal life can interfere with work, in our society work is the main culprit that’s pushing us out of balance.
A good work-life balance means creating harmony between different aspects of life, where benefits gained from each area can support and strengthen the others. Work-life integration is a new concept, where many people are learning to blend their work and personal lives successfully.
Prioritising between our work and personal life can be a challenge. However studies have found many risks linked with an unbalanced work and home life, including: unhappiness, reduced physical and mental health, burn out, unresolved conflict, poor performance and financial loss.
Adding to the pressure, portable electronic devices have obliterated the line between work and home as workers seem to be available to their co-workers, clients and customers around the clock.
The combination of increased workloads with technology that keeps us constantly connected to our jobs leads to an increasing number of workers feeling overwhelmed, discouraged and depleted.
In contrast, numerous studies have shown the most productive employees are well-rounded professionals with full and well-balanced lives, both in and out of the workplace. Likewise, the most successful companies are those that foster employee health and well-being while enhancing organizational performance and productivity.
Achieving a healthy work-life balance requires managing our professional and personal life in sustainable ways that keep our energy flowing, our minds and bodies healthy and our whole selves happy and content. Benefits of effective work-life balance include: sense of fulfilment, improved physical and mental health, greater productivity, stronger relationships.
Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices. It means giving due attention to all of the things that enrich and fulfil us including work and career, health and fitness, family and relationships, spirituality, community service, hobbies and passions, intellectual stimulation, rest and recreation.
Strategies to Achieving Work-Life Balance
- Review your present situation Keep a time log of everything you do for one week, including work-related and personal activities. Construct a pie chart by allocating time spent on each component of your life.Ask yourself: What am I doing now? What do I need to: Start doing? Stop doing? Continue doing? Do more of? Do less of? Do differently?
- Define your priorities Reflect on what is most important to you, and make a list of your priorities at work and at home.Take your list of priorities and turn them into concrete and specific measurable goals.
- Schedule meticulously Set aside 15 minutes at the beginning or end of each day to plan your tasks and events for the next day. Keep a diary to record all your appointments, also including leisure activities.
- Establish boundaries Set fair and realistic limits on what you will and will not do both at work and at home. Set aside a time at home during which put away electronic devices and not check or respond to work-related matters.
- Monitor what you put in your body Your health should always be your No. 1 priority. If you are not in good shape physically, mentally, and emotionally, both your work and your personal life will suffer. Take care of yourself by eating healthy meals and minimizing alcohol and caffeine intake.
- Exercise Exercising helps relieve stress, raises energy levels and increases stamina. Schedule in at least three sessions of exercise per week. Meditation can also be incorporated in your exercise routine.
- Sleep Sleeping seven to nine hours per night helps reduce stress, strengthens our immune system and improves mental clarity.
- Nurture your family and other relationships Spend more time with individuals who are a positive influence in your life. Healthy personal relationships stimulate our comfort level and sense of belonging, while promoting hope.
- Make time for you It is important to schedule time for your own renewal. Indulge in some daily pleasure. Take at least 30 minutes of uninterrupted “me time.”
- Spirituality Connect with your spiritual source. Belief in God, or a higher power, can be a deep well from which to draw inspiration, guidance, and strength.
- Leave work at work Develop a mental on-off switch between work and home. It helps to establish a transitional activity between the two realms. This might consist of listening to music or podcasts during your commute, exercising, deep breathing, running errands.
- Consider flexible Options Many forward-thinking companies are creating policies and programs that facilitate work-life balance. Find out what options your business offers in terms of flex hours, working from home, a compressed work week, job-sharing, or part-time employment.
- Manage time effectively Limit time wasting activities and people who don’t add value to your life. Using time more efficiently can cut stress and save you up to an hour a day.
- Learn to say ‘NO’ You have the right to exercise choice. Remember that ‘NO’ is only a two letter word.
- Ask for help If you are overwhelmed or stressed, don’t suffer in silence and ask for professional help.
- Start with small steps Don’t get overwhelmed by assuming that you need to make big changes all at once. Start with implementing a few strategies, they will have a positive and measurable impact in your life.
Keep in mind that work-life balance isn’t an exact science. Each of us must find our own way of combining career, relationships, and personal care into an integrated whole. What is right for you now will likely change as new circumstances arise, so periodically review your situation and adjust accordingly.
The process of achieving a healthy work-life balance takes determined effort to implement positive change and a continued effort to stay that way. However those who commit themselves to this quest reap enormous health and quality-of-life benefits.
It is definitely possible to have a successful professional career and a fulfilling personal life. Take control of your work. Be proactive with your time, hence achieving work-life balance.