There’s plenty of research out there to suggest an unhealthy work-life balance can affect our health. The Mental Health Foundation found that an unfavorable balance between work and life can increase stress, negatively impact us physically and create tension in our personal relationships. From a psychology perspective, there’s no doubt that our working lives can impact our lives outside of work both positively and negatively (and the opposite applies, life outside of work can affect our working lives), but what exactly is work-life balance and does it actually exist?
The term balance suggests an even distribution of weight and when we talk about work-life balance are we looking for an equal distribution of time, energy, positivity (or lack of stress), cognitive functioning or other factors? And are we all looking for the same balance? In reality, how you would perceive a ‘balanced’ life would differ from how I would view balance. The chances are we both aspire to different kinds of balance depending on our circumstances and personal preferences. So if we cannot universally measure work-life balance how can we achieve it?
There’s also the concept of preferences and personality to consider. Some people like to blend their home lives with their personal lives, dipping in an out in a fluid and adaptable way. Others like clear boundaries set between work life and personal life and prefer a more rigid separation. Some of us have personality traits that make us more or less susceptible to feeling the strain of an unfavorable work-life balance. If we take email communication at work as an example, a recent study by Future Work Centre found that we respond differently to the perceived pressure of being increasingly contactable via email depending on our personalities. Does this trend extend to reflect how we react to other aspects of work-life balance according to our individual personalities?
The term ‘work-life’ is also an interesting concept. It can be difficult to quantify work into one facet – there may be various elements associated with your work life that you feel vastly differently about such as, type of work you do, relationships at work, your commute and the hours you work. And if that isn’t difficult enough, how do you quantify ‘life’ into one category? Are you thinking about family, social life, travel, exercise, hobbies? Or something else? In reality the concept of life overall and how we think and feel about it is complex, and focusing on two dichotomous scales of ‘work’ and ‘life’ may actually be doing us a psychological disservice.
There is no getting away from the fact for many of us, work plays an important role in our lives. How often do you meet someone new and ask them what it is they ‘do’ (i.e, what’s their job) within the first 30 minutes of meeting them? We frequently talk about our work with others, for some work actually becomes part of our identity and for others work is a necessary evil in order to pay the bills. What is clear is how we think about work and the interaction of work with other parts of our lives is very personal and individual.
Creating balance in work and life
At Kona Coaching, we focus on a balance model that takes into account all aspects of your life such as where you spend your energy and time, what’s working and not working for you. Understanding your purpose and priorities and the impact of your current lifestyle on your wellbeing provides you with a platform of awareness in which to start your balance journey.
The chances are when you consider your priorities across different areas of your life and when you recognize how you spend your time and energy (yes you ‘spend’ energy), you may want to make some tweaks. If you want to improve your wellbeing and address your balance, you need to take steps towards where you want to be, review your progress and be prepared for roadblocks that may throw you off-course.
Building your resilience will enable you to ‘bounce forward’ when you hit roadblocks that challenge your personal balance and this will help increase your wellbeing, happiness and motivation to keep moving forward. Defining and working towards a roadmap encourages a flexible mindset that helps you to create sustainable balance goals – goals that you can realistically achieve and that will enhance your health and happiness.
Quick tips – what can you do today?
1) Take control
Some facets of our working lives are in our control, and some are not. The key here is to understand what is in our control and change what we can. Firstly you need to define exactly what ‘balance’ is for you, what you want to achieve and what you’re actually in control of. If you do want to make changes to how you spend your time and energy there may be some changes you can implement quickly, and others may be part of a longer-term plan.
2) Focus on work-life effectiveness
Balance may be an illusive concept for many of us, and are we ever truly ‘balanced’? And if we are experiencing a feeling of balance, is that static or changeable? By focusing on effectiveness, this provides the opportunity to determine what good looks like in different areas of your life, and to set an acceptable level of achievement in every area of your life. Focusing on effectiveness changes the spotlight from ‘getting it right’ to being effective in managing and juggling priorities in a changeable environment (which is a reality of life for most of us).
3) Think flexibly
Managing balance in your life with a flexible mindset encourages less self-judgement and pressure and a greater focus on dealing with changing circumstances and priorities. Ironically, it can be useful to take a more balanced approach to balance. Sometimes the scales may tip one way, and at times in another direction and rather than being determined to stay static at that perfect point of equilibrium, utilizing a flexible thinking style will help you to move between your priorities, circumstances and commitments in a way that works for you.
Ultimately there is no such thing as a perfect balance and there certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that works for everyone. The key to understanding and creating the perfect balance fit for you takes awareness, prioritization, flexibility and practice.
When it comes to defining your work-life balance, ask yourself if ‘work’ and ‘life’ are dichotomous ends of a scale for you, or does the idea of your balance flow through all aspects of your life?