January 1, 2013

The Truth About Work-Life Balance

Studies suggest that many employees feel busier now than they felt 5 years ago.  It may be due to businesses “doing more with less,” mobile technology, globalization of business, family and personal activities or any number of other factors.   I tend to think of employees as the hub in a wheel with many spokes.  The wheel represents the employee’s life.  Each spoke represents something that draws resources (time, money, attention, etc.) from the employee.  The spokes can be relationships (with family, friends, associates, coworkers, etc.), financial requirements, recreational activities, developmental activities (school, reading, etc.), work requirements… whatever the employee is dealing with at the time.  Swork-life balancepokes can come and go, and their relative priority can change over time.  In my model, each hub has different limits on its capacity to handle the pressures inherent in the wheel.  Some hubs can manage more spokes than others; still, each hub has a finite capacity. 

I think most employees (hubs) see work-life balance as a problem the supervisor imposes on them.  Consider a different angle; maybe work-life balance is more of a self-management issue.  HR solutions like PTO, job sharing and flexible schedules are great tools for the productive employee.  They help with structuring our schedules to accommodate all the “stuff” we do.  What they don’t do is help us to feel less busy, or (in other words) less employee stress.

Consider the following work-life balance tips.

Practice saying no.  Every spoke in your wheel represents a demand on your resources; let’s not put all the blame on work.  If you routinely take on more than you can handle at work, you probably do the same thing with other spokes in your wheel.  Remember the point about finite capacity.

Prioritize; not everything needs to be done now.  Do what you agree to do as well as you can, and as soon as you can.  Leave some “slack” in your agenda to handle the inevitable emergency, or be prepared to stop doing something to tackle a higher priority emergency.

Delegate what you can, and partner with people you can trust to deliver up to your high expectations.

Get in touch with the reasons why you accept the spokes in your wheel.  Why are you doing all that stuff anyway (work, recreation, relationships, etc.)?  A wheel is made to roll; where is your wheel going?  Is your wheel part of something greater?  If you see work as an integrated part of your reason why, it will probably be a lot less stressful for you.  On the other hand, expect high stress if work is a forced distraction from your “real life.”

If work-life balance is a problem for you, start with a self-evaluation.  Change what you can, manage what you can manage, and stay in touch with your reasons why.  The truth is, work-life balance is a moving target that overemphasizes work as a component of life.  Work is one of several spokes on your wheel; keep in perspective.

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