That Perfect Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is an indicator of health. Yet it seems that almost everyone has too much to do and not enough time to do it. Many things are constantly competing for our time and energy.
Making it all work smoothly is a co-operative venture involving you, your family and your employer. When the home front is taken care of, you are less distracted at work. When your work is managed well, you are happier at home. And when you have regular leisure time just for you, you can recharge, thereby enriching your whole life.
This article describes some of the challenges involved in striking a balance in your life and suggests steps you and your employer can take to help achieve this elusive goal.
The challenges of “getting there”
Gone are the days of the stay-at-home mom whose family arrived home each day to the smell of freshly baked bread, an organized home, and clean and pressed laundry, including sheets and underwear. In most families today both parents work outside the home. Homemaking and caregiving responsibilities have been somewhat redistributed between men and women, although women still carry the lion’s share of domestic responsibilities.
Canadian families have become smaller. Some couples are deferring having children or choosing not to have children at all. This means there are fewer people to do what needs to be done.
The population is aging. Because Canadians are living longer, many people who are nearing the traditional retirement age are staying in the workforce. But these are also the people who find themselves also caring for their elderly parents or other relatives.
The current significant labour shortage is increasing workloads, forcing many people to take on multiple roles in their jobs. Our knowledge-based work world and global competition further increase the pressure as workers must continue learning throughout their lives.
Clearly, it’s a challenge to achieve work-life balance in this environment.
Steps to take
You won’t achieve a balance 100 per cent of the time, but you can certainly take some positive steps in the right direction by taking things step-by-step.
Step 1: Write down all the roles you’re juggling
Many people are not aware of how much they are asking of themselves. They don’t stop long enough to see the choices they’re making and the impact of these choices. Ask yourself some questions:
Why am I doing this?
When did I start doing this?
Did I intend to keep doing this?
Do I want to continue doing this?
Step 2: Determine what’s most important (your priorities)
How do you want to live your life? Women, especially, tend to put their families first. Ensure that you are taking time for personal care such as regular physical activity, which helps you stay healthy and provides a break from home and work responsibilities. When you take care of yourself, you have the energy to care for others and be effective at work.
Step 3: Use your priorities to rearrange your life and decide where to spend your time and energy
Be realistic about how much of yourself you can give. Say “no” to less important tasks and activities, so you can say “yes” to what you really want (or need) to do. Decide where you can relax your standards to make your life easier.
Step 4: Give yourself permission to make necessary changes
Can you share the workload at home and work more as a team?
Step 5: Just do it, and don’t feel guilty
Achieving balance requires compromise. For example, could you work four days a week and manage on a smaller paycheque in order to have more time at home? Decide what will work best for you, and then talk with your employer.
Steps employers can take
Recent research indicates that employees believe work-life balance challenges are more significant at work. These challenges include heavy workloads and too many roles, which mean longer hours and perhaps more travel time. Employees see a need for:
- Developing work-life balance policies that are put into practice.
- More supportive managers.
- More employers who do their part to help employees achieve a better balance.
A work environment that supports work-life balance attracts and retains employees and promotes higher morale throughout the organization. When employees feel supported at work they:
- Perform better in their jobs.
- Have less stress and fewer absences.
- Have more positive attitudes.
Supportive managers reap benefits too. Managers who communicate clearly, sincerely care about employees and offer flexible work hours when possible are rewarded with employees who trust them and genuinely try to do a great job.
Consider these ways of creating a more supportive work environment:
- Develop and implement supportive policies and ensure that managers implement them fairly.
- Increase employees’ sense of control. For example, can you give them more flexibility to decide when and where they work?
- Try to determine the root cause of troublesome workloads. Is it unrealistic expectations? Poor planning? Something else?
- Give employees the right to refuse overtime work.
- Provide a limited number of days of paid leave for childcare, eldercare or dealing with other personal challenges.
Achieving a work-life balance is complex, but not impossible. The key is co-operation. If you, your family and your employer work together, you can do it.
Compiled by R. Legault and source files from Healthy Alberta.