These days, the term "work-life balance" is everywhere, and everyone from life coaches to corporate CEOs are talking about it. The term is a bit loosely defined, but it generally refers to how well you do (or don't) manage responsibilities and relationships harmoniously throughout your life. When responsibilities become too great or too overwhelming, the relationships you have with family, friends and with yourself can begin to suffer.
In a recent interview with Forbes about his new book, "Rethink Work," author Eric Termuende describes the ways that work/life balance is evolving:
It used to be work-life balance, now it is work-life integration (or just life, and work is woven in). The forces shaping it are the accessibility of information and the ability to work from more places at more times of the day.
Organisations need to tell a more holistic story about how they go about doing the work, why, and who with. We can now work from more locations, during more times of the day, from more devices than ever before. The conversation used to be about just work; now it is much, much bigger.
Finding the right equilibrium between life and work isn't about the number of hours you devote to one or the other. It's about establishing a general set of priorities in your life and committing the time you have outside of work toward improving and maintaining what's important to you.
That balance will inevitably shift at times, because life is unpredictable and you can't plan for everything. But by focusing on clearly defined goals instead of rigid schedules, you can eventually achieve a balanced and more flexible lifestyle.
Is work-life balance really that important? Yes. As Tim Kehl notes: “Today work-life balance ranks as one of the most important workplace attributes—second only to compensation, and workers who feel they have a better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than employees who feel overworked.”
What Steps Can You Take to Improving Work-life Balance?
The first step to improving life outside of work is breaking the cycle of overworking and overstressing. Whether you're a workaholic, overachiever or perfectionist, finding a good work-life balance requires learning to leave your work at the office.
If you're the type that habitually brings your work home and spends too much time thinking about the job when you're off the clock, then adding variety and quality to the rest of your life will help to minimize the prominence your job already has.
Consider the effort and dedication going into your work and seriously evaluate what you're getting back out of it. While it might be reasonable to work a fifty hour week for a few months while trying to earn a promotion, working those hours non-stop for little in return is not.
You might be the type that strives for perfection or always goes above and beyond what's asked, but without any payoff, the cost is your own happiness and well-being. Ease that notion in the workplace and apply that same determination and drive to areas of your life that will make you happier and more fulfilled.
Turn Off Your Devices
Schedule time to turn off the phones, tablets and e-readers and then stick to it. For some people, it's nearly impossible to detach from work with all the devices available and notifications coming in around the clock. But, it can be highly beneficial to find some time each day to go device-free. Recent evidence indicates that evenings may be the best time of day to do it.
A 2015 study of roughly fifteen hundred American adults showed more than nine out of ten people use devices at or near bedtime, and that the use of these devices interferes with both the quality and quantity of sleep they get. Minimizing your device use at night will help take your mind off work and could result in better, more restful sleep and better productivity during the day.
Find some time to exercise every single day. Experts agree that increasing your physical activity has a multitude of benefits for health and stress management. As of 2016, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that only about one in five Americans are participating in the amount of aerobic and strengthening exercise that's recommended and it's not surprising that work-life balance suffers as a result.
Proper exercise and physical fitness reaps immediate benefits in the form of stress relief, endorphin release and increased functional capacity. Exercising regularly improves long-term outcomes of work-life balance by preventing future health problems and injuries while improving quality and longevity of life.
Practice mindfulness and self-reflection. In recent years, mindfulness has become a hot topic for discussion and the concept has been applied to various facets of day-to-day life, even as a useful tactic in weight loss management.
Mindfulness is a form of meditative practice. Introducing any kind of meditation into your life can result in reduced stress, better attention and concentration and calmer thinking. Stretching, yoga, breathing exercises and traditional meditation are all ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily schedule.
Evaluate Your Relationships
Recognize which relationships are important to you and invest more time in cultivating them. One of the best ways to counter feeling like your obligations outweigh your enjoyment in life is by focusing your energy and attention toward your existing relationships.
The relationship with self is often overlooked but is easily one of the most important. Start by recognizing the factors and activities important to you and then consistently make time for them. When you're happy with your own sense of accomplishment, focus that positivity into more quality time spent with friends and family.
Healthy social bonds promote a sense of belonging, acceptance and mental well-being.
Once You're Balanced, How Do You Maintain It?
Accountability is the most important factor in keeping your life balanced between work and everything else. Some of the mechanisms we use for coping with stress might not be healthy, but they are habitual.
Likewise, busy routines build behavioural habits that contribute to lack of interaction between family members and weakened relationships. Habits have to be broken and failure is bound to happen from time to time.
It's important to discuss changes to your lifestyle with other members of your household so they can offer support, feedback and help you measure progress. Weekly or monthly family meetings or daily meals together provide an opportunity to discuss the effects that the changes have on everyone involved. Household members feel considered, respected and part of the team in working together to implement the solution.
Another way to measure your progress is by keeping a short diary of how you're feeling each day. Doing so provides insight into changes within yourself over time and is a good way to evaluate and track your success.
How Can You Find Balance at Work?
The notion of proper work-life balance has spread rapidly in recent years, resulting in many companies embracing more flexible policies that would've been discarded as unproductive in the past.
These days, employers are realizing the long-term benefits of happy, productive employees and advertising their company culture as part of their benefits packages. The last decade has seen both small and large corporations begin to offer extras like:
- Flex hours and days.
- Telecommuting full- or part-time.
- Open-office work environments with collective workgroups.
- On-site cafeterias and day-cares.
- Employee enrichment activities like picnics and retreats.
Southwest Airlines is one company that consistently makes the list of Fortune 500 entities recognized for their positive approach to work-life balance and their WorkPerks package makes that clear. They've instituted programs related to health and wellness, positive employee morale and civic responsibility. Employees that work there have financial incentives for pursuing a healthy lifestyle, opportunities to volunteer in their communities and even an employee-to-employee gratitude program called SWAG.
Surprisingly, Chevron is another great example of a company culture. It provides health and fitness centers on site or through health-club memberships. It also gives employees access to other health-oriented programs like massages and personal training. They also consistently insist that employees take regular breaks.
Not surprisingly, Facebook also provides perks that can help employees maintain work-life balance. They provide complementary, stock options, open office space, on-site laundry, a strong focus on teamwork and open communication.
If you don't work for a company that provides any of these benefits, it's worth discussing some work-life balance concepts with your human resources department. While you probably won't exact immediate change, most employers appreciate feedback and should be willing to discuss how they might make improvements.
Unfortunately, for some people, the reality of their job is that the hours are set, their position doesn't offer advancement opportunity, and other career paths are not available to them.
If you're stuck in a position that gives you little control and you don't have other prospects or options, the best tactic is to incorporate stress-busting activities like exercise, enrichment and meditation. Reducing your anxiety and focusing on what you accomplish outside of work will help minimize the lack of control you feel at work and shift your focus to other parts of your life.
Finding organization in the chaos of everyday life can be challenging and change doesn't usually happen easily, or overnight. In the words of Albert Einstein, "Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity." Establishing a different balance takes determination, patience and commitment. Don't pass up the opportunity to regain control.
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