Work-life balance is something most of us have heard of and have been told to reach for. It helps improve our mental health, work performance, and overall well-being. However, as we start year two of the pandemic and continue working from home, striving for work and life balance itself can become more stressful and tiring than anything else. To understand this better, let’s explore what it means to have a work-life balance and how to ensure you can enjoy its benefits in the remote environment without stressing yourself out even more.
What is work-life balance?
If you look it up, there are various work life balance definitions, but all of them talk about the same thing – finding a balance between the time you spend at work and the time you spend on your life.
Now the work part is self-explanatory, and the life part includes everything else from your family, to hobbies, to friends. The idea here is that both work and life parts should be balanced with each other without any part taking over. Going by the definition, the division of these parts should be 50-50. So, 8 hours at work, 8 hours for life, and 8 hours for sleeping. The reality, however, is not that simple, and here is where stressing about reaching the work-life balance begins.
While it sounds pretty straightforward and simple on paper, most of our days are not identical. Some days you have to put in more hours at work and some days, your family commitments or hobbies take over. The important thing to realize is that this is okay. Instead of putting even more stress on yourself in trying to cram everything that has to be done at work into 8 hours, you should strive for long-term balance. If there is a more demanding week at work, maybe the next week you can take it easier and focus more on spending time on yourself. This way, you will be able to maintain the work-life balance without putting an additional burden on yourself.
Why is work-life balance important?
At this point, you may be thinking – but I like my job and I don’t mind spending more hours at the office, so why does this need to change? Well, in this case, it doesn’t and this is another common misconception people tend to have about creating work-life balance. There is no requirement for you to get a new hobby or seek out new activities if that is not something that interests you. Work-life balance is about creating a lifestyle that allows you to perform in your professional life and to enjoy your personal life. And this balance is individual for all of us.
If you are happy by spending more of your time at work, there should be no pressure on you to stop doing so. However, there are many people out there that struggle to find time for their personal lives, and these practices are created specifically for them. In such cases, without striking the work-life balance it becomes difficult to stay motivated, perform at your job, and feel fulfilled in your life. Moreover, it can lead to poor health and chronic fatigue as most of us tend to sacrifice sleep to have time for other activities.
It is proven that chronic stress and fatigue can double the risk of a heart attack. Thus, it is important to learn how to reach for and apply the work life balance to your life.
Causes for poor work and life balance
Most common reasons for poor work life balance are – Increased workload, Getting more work responsibilities, Having children, Increased home responsibilities and most recently Working remotely.
While some of these causes may be temporary, most of them will stay with you for years. Thus, simply toughing it out for a certain period of time will not work. In fact, one of the most common ways we fall into habits leading to poor work life balance is thinking: “Oh, I will just do this until my kids go to college and then I can relax.” Before we know it, this reasoning stretches out indefinitely and we find ourselves thinking we can only enjoy life once we are retired. Leaving little to no joy in living our lives now and spending time with those we care about.
For most of us, remote work is a relatively new stressor on the work-life balance. In fact, there has been a significant increase in work-life balance satisfaction with the universal shift to remote workplaces this last year. According to a survey done by FlexJobs, 73% of respondents said that working from home improved their work-life balance. This was mainly caused by no need to commute to work, more flexible schedules, and being able to perform when you are the most productive. However, as the pandemic continues, another side of remote work has appeared as well – that is the blurring lines between personal and professional life.
During the recent year, it has slowly become the new norm to join zoom meetings during vacations, asking colleagues to work just a little while they’re sick and using messaging platforms to ask work-related questions over the weekend. Something that used to be quite rare, became the usual due to the flexible work schedules and everyone working on their own time. As such, maintaining the increased work-life balance has become just a little more difficult. And it is up to each of us to set boundaries that we want in our lives and to make sure we keep them.
How to balance work and life
There is no one way to create a work-life balance for everyone. It depends on your lifestyle, marital status, career choice, and many other factors. However, there are certain steps you can take to find your personal work-life balance and keep it.
1 – Understand that each day is not going to be perfect.
It may be tempting to map out the perfect day and try to achieve it every single day, but you will quickly realize that is not going to happen. Instead, reach for balance over a week or a month and ensure each intense period at work is followed by a period where you focus more on your personal life.
2 – Enjoy the little things
Striving for work-life balance is not about joining 5 new clubs and taking up new hobbies. It is about having time to enjoy your life. Go on a date with your significant other, pick up your kid from school and spend the entire evening with them, go meet your friends for a drink. Your personal time does not have to be big things all of the time. They can be the little things that you can do without any rush or worry about work.
3 – Set boundaries and unplug
No matter how much you love your job or how great of a company you work for, they cannot ensure a work-life balance for you. Instead, you have to set boundaries and make sure to keep them. Unplug, take time for yourself and turn notifications off to make sure you can have quality time off. This is especially crucial for those working remotely. As you can quickly fall into the habit of checking your messages or doing some work during your time off. Everything is right there so why not do it? No one is saying you can’t, but be wary of creating a habit of working when you should be doing other things.
4 – Review your responsibilities
Take a look at your work and personal life and see which responsibilities could be cut. Maybe instead of cooking dinner, you can order in or go out and enjoy your time instead of stressing. Or maybe at work, you are focused on tasks that create little to no value? Reprioritize your task list to keep the focus on the most important things. This way, you will be able to do more with less time and keep a balanced approach.
How to achieve work life balance for your company
As I mentioned above, no one but you are responsible for creating and maintaining work-life balance. However, if you are a team leader there are certain things you can do to empower your employees to reach for it.
Lead by example
We are all familiar with this concept. However, it usually talks about working alongside your team to motivate them to perform. That is great and should by all means be continued, but if you want to encourage your team to strive for work-life balance, you should also practice it. Make sure to set your personal boundaries and inform your team about them. Doing the simple things like asking to only contact you during a vacation if there is something important or telling your team that you will not answer e-mails over the weekend, will show them they can do it too. And create a culture within your team that respects the work-life balance.
Implement clear policies
Establish and inform your team what response time is expected of them, which meetings they should attend and which are optional, and what are official policies of working during vacation time. Doing that will set clear rules on what is expected and allow your team members to create their own schedules while respecting everyone else’s and fostering asynchronous communication.
Make it a habit to gather once a week, review your team’s tasks and prioritize the most important ones. This Kanban practice will allow your team to perform the most important work first and eliminate time wasted on something that can wait. This way, there will be little to no emergency tasks popping up at 3 pm on Friday. Letting everyone have a clear plan and schedule for their week.
Reaching and maintaining a work-life balance is important to our well-being and mental health. However, it is important to understand that no one else will do it for us. Instead, we have to set clear boundaries, make effort, and live the life we want today instead of waiting for something like the current pandemic to pass. Be wary of creating habits that foster one side over another and prioritize the important things in your life to make sure you always have time for them.