When it comes to work-life balance, the struggle, for many, is real. In our modern society of go-go-go, it’s easy to feel torn between your professional life and your personal life. But really, we need to become better at this as a nation.
Why? Because achieving work-life balance, even if it’s not completely even, will positively impact your health, relationships and job productivity. If you’re wondering how to be happy — this is undeniably part of it.
Of course, it may feel like there’s not enough hours in the day to balance work and life. And with shifting “gender norms,” achieving work-life balance can sound like a bit of a fantasy for working parents. The balance almost always feels more like a lopsided shift in one direction or the other.
So is this alleged work-life balance even possible today? The answer is yes — but it’s not going to be perfectly balanced all of the time. There are ways to align your time so that it’s more in favor of your personal life than maybe it has been in the past.
And this is important because really, without enough time for personal care and meaningful relationships — what will motivate you to live your best life?
What Is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance refers to spending an equal amount of hours and energy on professional and personal actions. Essentially, the important and mandatory tasks of your day are in equal proportion, whether they are work-related duties, household duties, social engagements, personal hobbies and exercise. Somehow, you want to find a way to balance all of these elements in your day-to-day life.
Recently, many articles express that the idea of work-life balance is a thing of the past. With shifting gender roles, for working adults with families, it may be impossible to spend your time on both work and family related activities equally. You may not be able to achieve a minute-to-minute balance, but the idea is to find some personal time to do things that boost your mood, sense of self and relationships.
Why are so many Americans having trouble finding this work-life balance? Some of the most common reasons include:
- Working long hours: For many Americans, work days can be long and even stressful. This makes it difficult to find any time for personal or family activities, let alone equal time.
- Shifts in gender roles: It is becoming more common that both adults in a family have full-time jobs, which means that there’s no one to exclusively manage the household. For many couples, this means that they have to carefully define their at-home roles in order to help one another achieve a professional and personal balance.
- Modern technology: With cell phones by our sides all hours of the day, it’s easy for “work hours” to bleed into the evenings and days off. Today, you can always be reached, at least that is what’s expected in many high pressure jobs.
- Financial demands: There’s a continuous depend for money from all spheres of life, be it housing, childcare, eldercare, healthcare and more. This makes it more difficult for adults to cut back working hours and output in order to maintain a better professional and personal balance.
Why is work/life balance important? It affects many aspects of your life, both professionally and personally.
1. Improves Health
Research published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health indicates that working long hours is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, stress, chronic fatigue, depression and anxiety, sleep problems, diabetes, alcohol use and smoking, occupational injury and hypertension.
And a study published in Preventive Medicine Reports points out that long work hours may be contributing to the rising obesity problem because it reduces time for physical activity, especially for people working in sedentary occupations.
2. Supports Personal Relationships
We know that spending quality time with your loved ones is so important for supporting and nourishing your relationships. This is especially true for children and spouses. Children need the loving attention of their parents, and so do partners. Your time together serves as the building blocks of your relationship.
An interesting study involving over 4,000 U.S. surgeons found that residents with children more frequently looked forward to work and were happy at work, but felt that work caused family strain. This shows that work has complex effects on a family, especially when a parent is feeling torn between the two because of work-life imbalance.
3. Boosts Self-Esteem
When data was collected from 689 married nurses, researchers found that there was a negative relationship between work/family conflict and job satisfaction, and a negative relationship between self-esteem and work/family conflict.
This shows that it’s really all connected. Feeling unhappy about your work/family balance, can lead to negative thoughts about your job and yourself.
4. Increases Productivity
Reports suggest that when companies cut down the amount of hours worked by employers, there’s a boost in productivity. Microsoft Japan, for instance, implemented a 4-day work week and found that there was a 40 percent productivity increase.
This is likely because workers feel more content in their positions at work when maintaining a more leveled work-life balance. Hours at work can be more productive when employees know that there will be personal time off in the near future.
Hacks to Achieve Work-Life Balance
We’re always looking for “hacks” to help us achieve happiness, weight loss, health and balance. But the truth is, when it comes to work-life balance, it’s going to take a little work and maybe even a shift in your mindset.
1. Ask About Company Policies
For one thing, it would be extremely helpful for employers to understand the importance of work-life balance for their employee’s health, work ethic, motivation and productivity. Some companies and organizations are making policies with this in mind.
Ancient Nutrition, for instance, offers “unlimited time off” to their employees, fitness stipends and paid family leave. They also value company-wide outings and get togethers. These types of policies allow employees to take much-needed personal time, prioritize their health and create impactful relationships at work, too.
Before ruling out the possibility of more time away from work or policies that would help you to maintain a more even work-life balance, ask your employer. If you are an important asset to the company, your happiness at the company will matter. After all, it’s in the interest of employers to make work-life balance a possibility because it effects worker productivity and output.
2. Pencil It In
It’ll be helpful to identify certain moments that are important to you and need to be experienced without interruptions from work. This puts you in control of your schedule and when you’re expected to be tech- and work-free.
An article published in Frontiers in Pediatrics states “To be successful at achieving a work-life balance, we should pay equal attention to planning all spheres of our life.”
So if you want to have that lunch with friends, make the cycling class or have a date night with your spouse, add it to your calendar.
3. Outsource When Possible
Sometimes, you’re going to need some help. Whether it’s from a spouse, parent, sibling or hired help, some tasks may have to be outsourced to free up some time in your loaded schedule. If asking for help doesn’t come naturally to you, this may be something that you’ll need to push yourself to do at first.
If coming home to a messy house is frustrating to you, but you can’t find the time to clean it — this is the perfect opportunity to outsource for help. This can go for all house duties, like cooking, grocery shopping, organizing and cleaning.
Sometimes, one spouse may feel that he or she is taking on more of the household work. Communicating your needs and dividing chores evenly can help you to find more much-needed personal time.
This may take a little “soul searching” or mindfulness, but it’ll help tremendously to pinpoint what activities, tasks and moments are the most important to you, both professionally and personally.
This will also help you to say “No” when you’re asked to participate in an activity, assignment or group that isn’t considered a priority. We are prone to do things out of guilt, even if it leads to further imbalance, but with your priorities in mind, there’s no need for guilt. You’re doing what’s best for your personal needs, and that has to come first.
When it comes to prioritizing, start by coming up with a list of values. Then number those values, with one being the most important to you, and the last number being the least important. This will give you a sense of what activities or actions can be put on hold or scheduled less often, and which ones need to be penciled in every single day.
5. Take Time for Yourself
Your personal time can’t be an afterthought, you’ve got to protect it. That means setting aside time for yourself every day or week. This may have to be communicated to your spouse, boss of children ahead of time, so plan ahead and don’t let other “things” get in the way of your “me time.”
We often think that we’ll pay ourselves back later. At some point, maybe next month or even next year, you’ll get to that yoga class, have coffee with a friend, get a massage or take that vacation.
Researcher Tricia Shinelle Alleyne explains that this “pay back” strategy may work well in the short-term, but in the long run it leads to feelings of bitterness, resentment and imbalance.
6. Embrace the Occasional Imbalance
Juggling your personal and professional life will require some flexibility. It won’t always feel like you’re achieving a proper balance, so sometimes you’ll have to embrace the imbalance.
Time-consuming project at work, last-minute conference call, kids home sick, doctor appointments — there are going to be moments that weren’t penciled in, but can’t be avoided. Embracing the occasional chaos will help you to stay level-headed until your regular, planned schedule resumes.
7. Shift With the Times
Remember that the balance you achieved in one stage of your life, may not work five or ten years later. As you enter into new phases of life, you’ll need to reassess how to maintain a balance between your personal and professional actions.
For instance, your priorities as a young adult will likely be very different from those of a new mother, or empty nester. The point is to find ways to promote a feeling of fulfillment at the end of the day, or week, or even month.
- Work-life balance refers to spending an equal amount of hours and energy on professional and personal actions. Although this idea of balance may be tilted in one direction or another at different times in your life, finding time for yourself and your loved ones needs to be a priority.
- Balancing your energy will improve your health, self-esteem, relationships and work productivity.
- If you’re searching for how to balance work and life, start by prioritizing what’s really important to you. Then take those priorities and pencil them into your schedule every day or week.