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10 barriers to work-life balance... and how to overcome them

“Work-life balance” has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years. It’s a term that’s often talked about in modern workplaces, but achieving this ideal lifestyle is often easier said than done. Here are 10 common obstacles to work-life balance, with actionable solutions to beat them.

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An illustration of a person balancing several things at the same time, symbolizing work-life balance

The nature of work is changing. Hybrid and Virtual First working is more popular than ever, and the traditional 9-5 is declining. These more flexible arrangements have a variety of benefits for workers, from reduced commute times to the opportunity for employers to attract talent beyond their geographical boundaries.

But what about the impact of this on work-life balance? As we develop our understanding of how our work can adapt to these cultural shifts, many of us are starting to identify conflicts that cause an imbalance between our professional and personal lives.

If you feel the pressure to work longer hours when working from home, or your work schedule is starting to infringe on your personal time, then you’ve come to the right place. Before we dive into our tips for improving work-life balance, let’s remind ourselves what this term really means.

What is “work-life balance”?

We hear the term “work-life balance” being thrown around a lot these days, by individuals and businesses alike. But what does it actually mean?

According to Cambridge Dictionary, work-life balance is “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy”.

Each of us will experience this differently. For a working parent, this could mean having the flexibility to do the daily school run and attend events for your child, while also being able to progress in your career.

For a solopreneur, freelancer, or small business owner, work-life balance may simply be having the time to eat and sleep well every day.

But there are some overarching themes that define a good work-life balance:

  • Having the ability to do the things you need to do—such as eat, sleep, and attend doctor’s appointments
  • Having the ability to do things you want to do—such as leisure activities and hobbies
  • Being able to spend time with friends and family, without your thoughts drifting to your work
  • Not worrying about work when you’re not working

Why is it important?

Most of us will appreciate that maintaining a distinction between our personal and professional lives is important. But, with this increased focus on work-life balance, sometimes an understanding of why this is so important gets lost among the vast array of tips, advice, and support materials available.

For some, it may be difficult to picture work-life balance because they’ve never fully experienced it before. This is exactly why work-life balance is so important—put simply, there is more to life than work!

Every working professional—whether a solopreneur, freelancer, or contracted employee—needs a healthy work-life balance. There are a variety of reasons why, including:

  • Reduce stress and avoid burnout
  • Better physical and mental health
  • Improved productivity and creative thinking

When you have the space to focus on just one thing—be it a work task, a hobby, or just spending some quality time with family and friends—you nurture the ability to be more “present” in what you do.

Seven colleagues work across four desks in an office

Challenges in work-life balance—how to beat them

We’ve explained what work-life balance means and why it matters. So what are the signs your work-life balance needs some TLC?

Below are 10 common barriers to work-life balance, and our solutions to help you, your colleagues, and your company overcome them.

1. Company culture

We often think of company culture as the social and physical work environment—whether there are co-working spaces in the office or individual cubicles, for example.

But it also refers to the values that drive a company. The principles that a company stands for—both internally among employees and externally with clients or customers—will set certain standards or expectations that trickle down into the work culture.

The sense of culture that a company creates should be cultivated to support growth. But hitting targets and achieving goals should never be to the detriment of employee satisfaction. Nobody will want to hang around long enough to see the company meet those goals if they feel like their efforts are going unappreciated, or their opinions unacknowledged.

The “culture” should never pressure anyone—junior or senior—to become someone they are not. For recent graduates, a company with an active social committee may be ideal, but for more experienced workers with other priorities (such as a family) feeling forced into participating in after-work drinks every week (for example) could become a burden.

Solution: For employers, recognize that mandatory fun is rarely fun for everyone. Use collaboration tools to engage employees in discussions around voting on team activities.

For employees, overcoming this barrier could start as early as the interview and onboarding stages. You could reach out to current employees and ask what their take on the company culture is like, to learn if it would be the right fit for you.

2. Company policies

How a company structures its workplace culture often comes down to policy. This encompasses a lot of things, including working hours, paid sick leave, benefits, and access to mental health support.

When these factors aren’t regularly reviewed, policies can become outdated—just see how quickly the COVID-19 pandemic shifted priorities and work patterns. 

Company policies become a challenge to work-life balance when they start to feel restrictive. For example, this might be a lack of flexible working opportunities that enable employees to work different hours outside the traditional 9-5.

Solution: For bosses, encourage your employees to be open about how you can make their work more manageable, so it doesn’t spill over into their personal lives. This could be increased support for parents and carers, or longer lunch breaks to allow employees to attend counseling, mental health support services, or medical appointments.

A group of senior managers discuss some documents

3. Management

Managers are integral to the work-life balance process, especially where workload and task management are concerned. They’re not only the ones to delegate tasks among their team members but are also usually the first port of call if something is wrong.

Work issues can be made worse if you feel like you can’t approach your manager about something that’s bothering you—even more so if management as a whole lack the training to deal with complex matters like work-life balance.

Managers can also be the cause of poor work-life balance. By pushing you and your colleagues to overstretch your time and resources, or pressuring you to work unpaid overtime to reach certain targets or KPIs, they could be leading you into burnout.

Solution: Managers and supervisors should be trained in spotting the signs of stress and poor work-life balance among their colleagues, as well as working with colleagues to help them overcome this.

4. Imposter syndrome

Do you struggle to believe that your success is deserved, and compensate for this by overworking? Or think that you’re not as competent as others perceive you to be? These are two signs of what’s known as imposter syndrome.

For many, imposter syndrome doesn’t just involve self-doubt. It can also be a lack of self-confidence in your work, hypersensitivity to minor mistakes or criticism, overwhelming fear of causing disappointment, and burnout from pushing yourself too hard.

According to research by Asana, 62% of knowledge workers (such as programmers, editors, lawyers, and academics) across the globe report experiencing imposter syndrome. And those in senior positions are actually more likely than junior team members to experience it.

Solution: There are a number of things companies can do to combat imposter syndrome. These include transparency on organizational goals, developing training and mentorship or “buddy” programs, and providing mental health support.

On an individual level, when feelings of imposter syndrome creep in, take some time to focus on the facts. Step back, and look at the bigger picture—remind yourself of the skills and experience you bring to the role. Instead of comparing yourself to others, consider how far you’ve come since last year or five years ago.

You should make the most of opportunities to learn from your colleagues. Set up a meeting with a mentor or supervisor, note down the points that resonate the most, and store this information somewhere you can easily reference whenever you’re feeling a level of imposter syndrome.

You could also create a doc in Dropbox Paper to keep a list of kudos, nice notes from colleagues, and summaries of your achievements. Refer back to this when imposter syndrome starts to creep in, so you can be reminded of the great things you’ve accomplished.

Managers should also lead by example. Behaviors that effective managers should demonstrate include:

  • Taking time off and not working outside of regular business hours—this could make your team feel like they’re not working hard enough, exacerbating the feeling of imposter syndrome
  • Acknowledging and sharing your own feelings of burnout or imposter syndrome
  • Checking in with team members individually and as a collective
  • Sharing clear, actionable feedback with your team members early and often
  • Praise team members for a job well done
A remote worker uses their phone to communicate with colleagues.

5. Always-on communication

It can be fun having a group chat with your colleagues and following each other on social media if you’re all on good terms. But, sometimes, this makes it too easy to dip back into—or never completely leave—“work mode”.

It’s even harder to separate your professional and personal lives if you have work-related apps on your personal phone, like Google Spaces or Gmail. These can be handy if you’re someone who often works on the go. But they do make it tempting to dip into your work emails outside of business hours or while you’re on holiday, just to keep tabs on your notifications.

Solution: Try to make a habit of switching off the work notifications on your phone, as soon as you finish for the day. 

On a company-wide level, management could encourage a more asynchronous approach to communication. This is when there is a time lag or delay between receiving and responding to information—basically, there’s no requirement to answer a message or email straight away.

You could also incorporate tools such as Dropbox Capture into regular operations. Meetings and other video messages—such as training videos—are pre-recorded and shared, so the content can be shared and viewed at a later time.

When employees have the space to take in information at their own pace, with less pressure to provide a rushed response, they’re less likely to experience burnout from competing demands and more likely to use their time productively.

6. Unclear work priorities

As work becomes increasingly digital, some workers are finding that their jobs are actually multiple roles bundled into one—“content creators”, for example, could manage social media, onsite content, email marketing, and more.

This means it can be difficult to pinpoint your priorities for any given day. Imposter syndrome can start to creep in, and it becomes tough to draw a clear line under the working day.

Solution: Set boundaries with your colleagues so you aren’t stretched too thin! Use task management resources in Dropbox Paper to create team agendas and project plans, so that everyone’s on the same page about who’s doing what and when.

If you like to stick to a solid routine and finish at 5 p.m., determine which tasks are more time-sensitive and prioritize those that need to be completed in the next 24 hours. This way, you won’t need to worry about your to-do list when you log off at the end of the day.

A remote professional works on their laptop late in the evening.

7. Job insecurity

This is a big issue for solopreneurs, freelancers, and small business owners. Many of us attach a part of our identities to our careers, and value our work as a validation of our accomplishments. And even when this isn’t the case, the majority of people rely on work for financial security.

The instability of the job market impacts many workers today—research suggests that living in fear of losing your job can be worse for your health than actually losing your job. Feelings of uncertainty and anxiousness may push you to take on even more tasks at work, to the point where your work schedule starts to infringe on your personal life.

Solution: Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge and accept how you are feeling. You can then use this self-awareness to identify and understand which aspects of your situation you can control. This helps you to regain some perspective and allows you to confirm your value both at work and at home.

You should also be willing and ready to embrace change when it presents itself. Reframe change as an opportunity, and a chance to grow and learn. Be proactive rather than reactive—set yourself a personal growth plan (PGP) using Dropbox Paper to draft your career plans and development goals.

8. Side hustle culture

Hustle culture thrives among workaholics, romanticizing the need to be constantly working. Side hustle culture stems from this and is the motivation to have a secondary project, outside of your full-time employment, to supplement your income.

Having a side hustle can be a great outlet for creativity and an opportunity to pursue projects you are really passionate about. If it takes off, it could even lead to a flourishing freelance career. However, this does have to be well-managed. You don’t want to spend eight hours a day working at your regular job, to then dedicate every spare minute on evenings and weekends to your side hustle.

Solution: Plan and organize your time with Dropbox Paper and other productivity tools. Create some personal expectations for what a “good” workday looks likeyou need to ensure you have time to eat, rest, and do other things besides work!

9. “Presenteeism” and workers’ guilt

Do you ever spend more time at work than you should, even when you’re sick? This is known as “presenteeism”—you’re physically present (or online if you’re remote), but you’re not being particularly productive and may actually be more likely to make mistakes.

This is a major issue in company cultures where long hours and late nights in the office are seen as the norm, a behavior often cultivated by management. It can lead to employees feeling guilty about finishing at a normal hour or requesting time off, or like they’re simply never doing enough work to justify themselves.

Solution: This one really starts at the top, with management and senior staff leading by example. 

Encourage your colleagues to “clock off” on time. Don’t send task-focused emails late in the work day (especially on a Friday!) with the expectation that the task is actioned straight away. Show empathy and understanding when your colleagues call in sick—don’t make them feel worse with panicked reminders about how much work they have to do when they‘re back!

A remote professional works at their kitchen table.

10. Not having a separate place to work

Remote working has boomed in popularity in recent years. This setup has a variety of advantages, but for many, it has removed the physical distinction between your “work life” and your “home life”.

Space limitations are a challenge for many home-based workers. Not everyone has the privilege of a dedicated office or a spare room to work in. Living and working in the same place can sometimes cause you to feel drained, as you never really “leave” your “office”. Consequently, you may end up working longer hours than you would in an office-based job.

But this doesn’t just have to be physical space. Have you been using your personal laptop for work? Then you’ll know how easy it can be to blend your personal and professional lives—especially if you don’t have a strict file system in place!

Solution: As a manager or supervisor, don’t fear remote work! Employers need to be ready to support a transition to hybrid or fully remote work, starting with the employee onboarding process. This also includes training for employees, as well as getting feedback on well-being and job satisfaction from remote workers.

On an individual level, try to maintain an organized file system that keeps your work and personal files separate. Dropbox cloud storage is perfect for this.

Work to live, don’t live to work

Finding a better work-life balance is an ongoing process—sadly, it won’t happen overnight. Your circumstances may change, meaning your “balance” may need to adapt as your priorities shift.

You’ll need some resources to help you understand whether these priorities align with how you’re spending your time. Dropbox provides a secure and easy-to-use space for figuring out what work-life balance looks like to you.

From different team and personal accounts to keep your “work” and “life” files separate, to innovative features and integrations that enable you to work with flexibility, Dropbox has the tools to help you take those steps towards a more balanced work-life split.