“Work-life balance” has become one of the most commonly used phrases in reference to weighing how we choose to spend our time. The phrase itself inherently implies a distinct separation between work and life, with “life” including the downtime needed to recharge. While having this time is important, and this phrase may have previously been a useful separation, in today’s interconnected world, it has become more difficult to separate life and work. Our work is part of our life. The rise of the gig economy and flexible working patterns also demonstrate that we can no longer separate these two areas distinctly.
How relevant is the concept of the “work-life balance”? How can both employers and employees maximize both?
Does One Size Fit All?
The idea of work-life balance can help people organize all areas of their lives. However, it can quickly create stress when people compare their lives with others’. Someone who is struggling to balance their responsibilities at work may see someone with an apparently perfect balance and feel disappointed in their own lack of routine or inability to accomplish everything they want to. It is important to remember that while someone may appear to “have it together” on the surface, they may not in reality.
When trying to balance your time, therefore, it’s important to remember that you are unique. Everyone has different responsibilities and hobbies that to incorporate into his or her days and weeks. Something that may work for one person might not work for someone else. Some people find it more effective to work in short bursts, for example, while others work better in longer chunks of time. It is ineffective to use someone else’s way of thinking and organizing if that person does not think like you do.
Finding your preferences will require trial and error. Everyone needs time outside the office, but how much and what you choose to do with that time should be entirely up to you.
Would a Rhythm Be More Effective?
The idea of having work-life balance can make you feel as if you were giving up one thing in favor of something else. It can feel even worse when you must do tasks that you do not enjoy and they come at the expense of something more fun, draining on your energy.
A more effective approach is to think of your routine as a personalized rhythm, ordered in a way that keeps you in flow and includes as many energy-boosting tasks as possible. This rhythm should integrate your work as well as your relationships and hobbies. It is when you are in flow that you can deliver your best work. Shifting away from the traditional idea of “work” and “life” as opposing concepts can be difficult, but the idea of a rhythm evokes more positive imagery of integration.
Is It Only for Times We Struggle?
A common belief is that we only need to consider our work-life balance when something doesn’t feel right or when we are struggling to fit in everything. However, it is common for people who enjoy their job to have trouble establishing a routine that works well for them. When you enjoy what you do, it is easy to work late, always be available for an evening call or work out your to-do list while lying in bed.
This tendency may be even worse if you work from home. You may not see an issue, as you enjoy what you do, but building in time away from your desk is important. Everyone needs downtime and a regular digital detox to relax and recharge. This daily brain break will help you solve tomorrow’s problems more efficiently.
How Can Employers Support This Process?
As the workplace is evolving, employers need to evolve along with it and recognize the important role they play in helping their employees maintain a healthy routine — which also helps make employees more loyal and efficient.
More and more employers are beginning to recognize the benefits of flexible work. We should not judge employees’ contribution based on the time they spend in the office but, instead, on the amount and quality of their work. Employers should consider why they want employees to be in the office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. It may be necessary for meetings and group tasks, but if an organization’s schedule is predominantly based on tradition, it is likely time for a change. Actions speak louder than words; if a company offers flexible work options, it’s important to make sure they’re well publicized and available to everyone.
Managers should also not expect employees to work late every day — a common hindrance to a healthy routine. However, a culture of long hours prevails, making many people feel guilty if they do not stay late, particularly if their leaders do. Managers should assign an appropriate amount of work based on an employee’s contracted hours, limiting the need to stay late. If an employee works late most nights, it could be an indication of poor time management skills.
Organizations should encourage their leaders to develop personal relationships with their staff. When people are familiar with each other, it’s easier to notice any changes in behavior that could indicate an underlying issue. The best workplace cultures make managers and employees aware of the signs that someone is struggling.
The ideas behind work-life balance are important. However, work and life are more integrated than ever before. For people to function optimally, they need — and deserve — time to unwind and recharge. To be able to enter flow, they need to recognize their individuality and discover their personalized rhythm, with supportive employers committed to healthy working practices. A happy and healthy workforce is ultimately a productive and successful one.