With our modern lifestyles becoming more and more dynamic, the debate on what work-life balance means proves to be quite relevant today. We caught up with Daniel Ross, Marketing Executive at Roubler to see what he had to say on this pressing issue.
Work-life balance is defined as the extent to which a person feels fulfilled in both professional and personal aspects of their life. Basically, it’s when you achieve a healthy combination of work and play. What is interesting is how subjective it is for each one of us.
For some, it might mean being able to leave work early or having weekends totally free. For others, it might mean having a completely flexible schedule. Ultimately, only you can perceive if your life is in balance or not.
The concept of work-life balance emerged as early as the 18th century when the first laws were enacted to limit the number of working hours allowed for employees. Laws supporting mandatory leave for particular life events, such as childbirth and illnesses, were also passed.
This was largely spurred on by the influx of women in the workforce, who lobbied for shorter working weeks and flexible schedules to be able to juggle work and caring for their families. Nowadays, the discussion on work-life balance includes all working individuals, and even identifies distinct groups such as single parents.
People who consider themselves to have a balanced work and personal life generally have lower levels of stress and depression, and higher levels of satisfaction in life. In contrast, work-life imbalance is also associated with elevated levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol, increased blood pressure and heart rate, ill health, and depression.
These effects have an impact in both aspects of our lives. On a professional level, for instance, work-life balance translates to pro-social behaviour, engagement, and productivity, while failure to achieve it results in absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, and burnout.
On a personal level, engagement in relationships, personal development, and good self-esteem are associated with work-life balance, while guilt, regret, and depression tend to occur without it.
Why is it hard to achieve?
Now that we have established the importance of work-life balance, the big question is, “Why is it hard to achieve?” Hectic lifestyles combined with ubiquitous technology may have something to do with it.
In the era of the Internet, computers, and mobile phones, convenient access to these portable technologies can blur the boundaries between work and non-work tasks, especially with provisions like flexible work hours, telecommuting (working from home), and others.
Gadgets enable us to work from our cars and homes, from planes and cafes—places that used to be traditionally non-work spaces. On the flip side, employees can bring personal activities (e.g. texting, online shopping, logging in to social media accounts) into the workplace. This blurring of boundaries leads to work hours spilling over into non-work hours, and vice-versa, causing imbalance and conflict between the two.
Ways to have work-life balance
It can be challenging to achieve a proper work-life balance given our numerous roles and responsibilities, but there are a few strategies that may help you actualise it:
Organise and prioritise
It’s best to start with tracking your daily activities and estimating how much time is dedicated to each. Afterwards, try to prioritise: what’s non-negotiable, what can be flexible, and what’s not really important? Whether it’s cooking dinner for your kids, or working on your board presentation, or having a date night once a week—it will be an eye-opener on what really matters to you.
Check if your non-negotiables are mostly personal commitments or professional ones, or more or less an equal mix of the two. This will show you whether the hours spent between these two facets are uneven and if they in fact spill over into each other. Here you can already start the process of balancing your hours for a more even distribution of time and effort.
Segment, multitask, and neglect
It’s a cause for concern when work and personal roles begin to overlap, because one role could either benefit or harm the other, and most of us can only juggle so much before reaching the breaking point. It pays to set firmer boundaries between work and non-work activities, or what we refer to as “segmenting.”
This is particularly difficult to do in our digital age when technology blurs boundaries. But with a little effort, it can be done. Segment when you’re engaging in non-negotiable activities: pay attention during an important meeting, be fully present when playing with your kids, and don’t check your phone every five seconds when you’re out with friends.
Now for tasks that you’ve deemed flexible (e.g., cleaning the house, watching a new TV series, picking your kid up from practice) you can actually multitask while doing these activities, or even occasionally neglect them. It’s all about prioritizing: neglect what you can, multitask when you can, and segment what you love.
Take care of yourself
Work-life balance isn’t just about figuring out how to best be of service to other people, it means figuring out how to best care for yourself. Set aside your own me-time every day when you can recharge through simple activities like reading, exercising, pampering, satisfying a food craving, or just plain relaxing. It’s not about being vain — you need to be healthy and happy to be able to give your best at work and at home.
Work-life balance is strongly associated with health, wellbeing, and personal and professional relationships. Prioritizing work and non-work demands may not always be easy, but with a lot of planning, consideration, and zero guilt, you can determine what matters most to you and strike that perfect balance between work and play
Who is the author?
Daniel Ross is part of the marketing team at Roubler — a time and attendance software platform founded in Australia. Their mission is to change the way the world manages its workforces.