Working Toward Work-Life Balance
"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony." - Thomas Merton
In an ever-demanding professional climate, the attainment of a healthy work-life balance may at times feel elusive or even unobtainable. Nonetheless, at a time when burnout and work-related stress are at an all-time high, we would advocate that maintaining a sense of harmony between our professional and personal identities isn’t just desirable; it’s essential.
To help nurture this harmonious relationship, we must first abandon the mistaken notion that having a work-life balance represents some form of professional Holy Grail, which once obtained, will provide us with an enduring sense of professional and personal fulfilment. Instead, we should acknowledge that balance is in fact an ongoing process; one which requires continued effort, vigilance, and flexibility.
To help put this process in motion, here are KnowledgeBrief’s key considerations for maintaining a healthier work-life balance.
1. Establish what “Balance” means to you
Traditionally, our understanding of balance may be equated to our capacity to effectively compartmentalise our time, energy, and focus. In reality however, there are a multitude of factors which can impact upon our perception of what constitutes a healthy work-life balance. This may extend to: (1) Equity between roles ─ ensuring there is equal involvement of time between our professional and personal life. (2) Satisfaction between roles ─ feeling fulfilled and being able to function optimally both inside and outside of work. (3) Expectation between roles ─ meeting the expectations placed upon us by others (and ourselves) in relation to our professional and personal responsibilities. (4) Conflict between roles ─ minimising conflict through ensuring engagement in one system (e.g. work or family) can positively contribute to growth within another (e.g. family or work). (5) Control between roles ─ maintaining a sense of autonomy and perceived control over the demands placed upon us.
To ensure a healthy degree of balance can be preserved, each of these aforementioned factors must be subject to careful consideration.
2. Dissect your demands
There’s no denying it; modern working life is highly demanding. Should we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed by the pressures placed upon us within our place of work, the barrier separating our professional and personal lives can quickly crumble. Consequently, it’s important we take time to establish a clear understanding of the differing types of demands placed upon us (e.g. those of a quantitative, cognitive, emotional, or physical nature). Additionally, it’s important we establish the extent to which these demands can be perceived as either hindering or challenging. Hindering job demands are any professional stresses which can negatively impact upon our health or emotional state. Challenging job demands on the other hand, are work-related activities which provide an intrinsic sense of stimulation and satisfaction.
Whilst it may not be realistic to fully eradicate all hindering job demands, it’s important we attempt to mitigate any aspects of our professional life which result in role ambiguity or interpersonal conflict. Moreover, as well as seeking out challenging work-related experiences, we must also work to maintain balance between professional demands and the resources required to meet them. This extends to taking advantage of the social resources available to us within our roles (e.g. opportunities to share our experience of work-related stressors with colleagues and managers), to make sure we feel supported and able to perform our jobs effectively. In turn, this will reduce the risk of professional demands taking up any physical, mental, and emotional energy which has been reserved for our personal endeavours outside of work.
3. Foster flexibility
In the aftermath of COVID-19, flexible working arrangements have increasingly become the norm for many organisations. However, to regard our organisations as truly flexible, we must look beyond job sharing, compressed hours, or flexitime working arrangements. Drawing upon the teachings of some of our European (particularly our Swedish) counterparts, businesses can seek to foster a more flexible working culture through the promotion of processes such as:
(I) Focusing on outcomes not hours: The concept of 40 hour working weeks as a means of measuring productivity is an idea which has been in existence since the 19th century. As such, a change is long overdue and should perhaps come in the form of measuring productivity in relation to tasks completed. This way of working provides employees with a greater degree of flexibility regarding how and when they can complete these tasks.
(II) Promoting trust and accountability: Flexibility is built on a foundation of trust. Ensure your organisation reinforces the message that you fully trust your employees to get the job done (until they provide you with adequate reason to believe otherwise). Trust is both reciprocal and contagious and as such, will help inspire a climate whereby members of our working teams feel enthused to be more personally accountable for their actions. Moreover, trust will help breed autonomy and greater perceptions of internal control, which in turn will help reduce stress, and naturally facilitate a more harmonious sense of balance.
(III) Creating family friendly policies: In this remote working world, the boundaries between our professional and personal lives have become increasingly blurred. In turn, many of us have perhaps become guilty of living at work (as opposed to working from home). To reduce the risk of unwanted work-family conflict, organisations must accept and acknowledge that upon occasion, an employee’s personal priorities (e.g. issues with childcare or private appointments) may have to take precedence. Creating policies which advocate for flexible working arrangements, will reflect a company’s sincere intention to promote a culture which strives to cater to the personal as well as the professional. If implemented and monitored effectively, these policies will play a key role in reducing employee stress and conflict, whilst simultaneously bolstering stimulating greater commitment and work-family satisfaction.
(IIII) Eradicating the unnecessary: It’s important we seek to streamline or remove any events in our professional calendar which could be regarded as unnecessary or superfluous to our professional duties. Providing more free time will not only allow for a greater degree of flexibility within an employee’s working schedule, it will also free up more time for informal check-ins, which can afford managers and leaders the opportunity to ensure their working teams are maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
To reiterate our previous sentiment, a healthy work-life balance requires harmony. In order to achieve harmony however, we must continually seek to reflect upon how the manner in which we conduct ourselves in one domain, can help complement or even enhance our ability to thrive within the other. As part of this continuing balancing act, we must also have the wisdom and foresight to accept that at times, the scales will naturally tilt in favour of one of these domains. For this reason alone, it’s important we never allow complacency to creep in, or indeed allow ourselves to buy into the mistaken belief that we have achieved a perfect state of equilibrium. Instead, we must continue to monitor and reflect upon key aspects of our personal and professional lives, in order to to ensure we can adjust the scales in response to the ever-changing weight of the demands placed upon.
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Balance is in an ongoing process; one which requires continued effort, vigilance, and flexibility.