What is the work-life balance?
Working 9-5 is becoming increasingly obsolete. Past generations may have seen work as the be-all and end-all, but we’ve all come to better understand the relationship between work and health. There is a rising awareness of where personal life fits into all this. The term work-life balance – sometimes called WLB – is pretty self-explanatory, referring to the sense of harmony you get between your work life and your home life, without having them conflict. If you need to work overtime hours, for example, you may find yourself in a work-family conflict, where you can’t fulfill your duties to your job and to your family equally. In this case, your work-life balance is anything but balanced.
Generally, when people refer to achieving work-like balance, they talk about a work schedule that doesn’t require them to sacrifice their personal time in favour of longer hours. Getting that balance right is often seen as vital to worker happiness and an admirable organisational culture.
Why is work-life balance important?
Everyone wants more time in the day to do things they like, so isn’t a better work-life balance just wishful thinking? Actually, it’s far more than that. Achieving a work-life balance has proven to be vital for mental health and even physical health, both for office workers and freelancers. A lack of balance can lead to what is known as 'burnout', defined by the World Health Organization as:
“…a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed ... feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Burnout is on the rise, causing workforces to lose motivation and productivity, as well as being linked to heart disease, blood pressure and types of diabetes. Put simply, being in a constant state of stress isn’t healthy for anyone, or any business.
Work-life balance tips
Getting a healthy work-life balance is as much about attitude as it is about action. Here’s how to ensure you’re on the right track to harmony for you and your team:
Know its value
You might be surprised to know that a quality work-life balance is one of the things people want most of all. A recent study discovered that workers would be willing to get paid less if it meant they could work for a company that empathised more. That’s a pretty major compromise to make no matter what your personal circumstances are. However, it’s a clear indicator that people are no longer viewing work as their whole lives, but as a means to live them. What does this mean for you and your team? They need to know that you’re looking out for their interests and well-being, both in the office and at home.
Stop calling it balance
An increasingly popular take on the idea of work-life conflict is to stop thinking of it as a delicate balance, and to instead think of it as life as a whole. For example, don’t think that sending a few work emails over the weekend automatically strips your weekend of its status as 'free time'. Similarly, don’t think taking a break during the workday implies that you’re not applying yourself.
Manage time and energy
The workday is about more than the number of hours you spend at a desk. Try and approach your work tasks in a new way, maybe by adopting a to-do list or time management technique like Pomodoro. If you’re a manager or a boss, you should give your team the freedom to explore different ways of working. Our energy naturally goes through peaks and valleys throughout the day – don’t get on a co-worker for not being at peak output constantly. This leaves you feeling less stressed and more energised to make the most of out-of-work hours.
Plan and manage expectations
Planning your work week ahead helps you determine the time you can actually dedicate to your personal life. For example, planning to go all-out every week can set you up for failure, disappointment and burnout. Set more realistic expectations for yourself so you have more balanced energy for both your work and personal life.
If you’re managing a team, don’t expect the impossible from your team members. Try approaching a project knowing that everything may well go wrong, and make allowances for it – even the Navy-created PERT planning technique knows things don’t always go smoothly.
Think about your surroundings
Whether you work from home or from an office, you should be aware of the things you choose to surround yourself with. You may not have much control over office design, but try your best to keep your work area neat and tidy – the old adage 'tidy desk, tidy mind' has a valid point. Similarly, when you come home, make sure you feel like you’re in a space that’s designed to make you feel relaxed and lower your stress levels. Don’t leave work documents out, don’t have work emails constantly open on your phone. If you work from home as a freelancer, try and keep your office space confined to a room or desk you can walk away from at the end of the workday.
Don’t downplay mental health
That goes for your team as well as you. More and more companies understand the importance of 'mental health days', meaning that employees can take time off to recharge – as they see fit. Being physically 'sick' doesn’t have to be the only reason to take time to rest. Be open with your team about the importance of mental well-being, don’t adopt or encourage a sense of embarrassment for admitting to not feeling 100% all the time – no one does. While this attitude doesn’t fix the problem, it can certainly help lessen the burden. 55% of workers worry about asking for time off to help with a mental health issue. By creating an open and honest forum, and by not hiding your inner feelings, you can help your team spend less time stressing and hopefully help lessen the hold these issues may have on your worker’s lives.
Don’t go it alone
Many modern workplaces see their teams as more than just names or numbers – they are an extended family. Colleagues are encouraged to spend time together at social events and after work, while team chats through Slack or Zoom are usually the norm. Essentially, colleagues are encouraged to view each other as friends, people they can connect with and rely on. Having this sense of camaraderie can make a massive difference for work-life balances – in fact, isolation was found to have a negative impact on motivation for those who started telecommuting without a distributed team to support them.
That said, distance can’t stop your team from connecting – especially today with so many effective remote work tools at your disposal. Just make sure everyone has access to and knowledge of all the collaborative tools they need to create an easy-to-use, unified workspace.
The heart of a good work-life balance is ensuring that you and your team attend to your personal and family lives. This doesn’t mean anyone should downplay their professional life but everyone should remember that work and life outside of work are equally important. Your co-worker isn’t just a person who turns up with a laptop for eight hours a day. They’re a human being, too – with hundreds of valuable obligations outside of work. When you can all get aligned with this way of thinking, you’ll find you can truly achieve a quality work-life balance together.