Work-life balance: Moms want it. Dads want it. Single employee want it. Younger employees want it. Older employees want it. And research shows that finding balance is important to individual well-being as well as better satisfaction, commitment, and performance in one’s family and one’s job. Despite these positive outcomes, work-life balance often remains an elusive goal. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been thinking about “balance” all wrong.
Balance is generally thought of as a noun, or a state that is achieved and maintained by dividing one’s time equally between work and nonwork. But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to equally divide one’s time across roles, and as soon as you think you have balance, it’s usually gone before you can even enjoy it.
Balance is also a verb, in which people establish “appropriate proportions” of elements of their lives. This view implies that there is an ongoing process of “balancing” the various elements of one’s life in proportions that are consistent with what s/he values. This view suggests that balancing work and life is something you do through continual effort, and not something you magically obtain and maintain. Also, everyone’s formula for work/life balance is different. “Happy workaholics” may feel balance when they spend a lot of time at work because that is what is most important for them and where they feel successful and satisfied. What is “balance” for one person may not be “balance” for another.
The new year is a perfect time to approach balancing in a different way in 2017. Like any new year’s resolution, balancing work and life requires changes in behavior and a commitment by the organization and employees to make them stick.
Here are 6 things to know to help you in balancing all facets of your life.
1) Organizations can promote employee balancing by providing job security and autonomy, supervisor and coworker support for employees’ personal lives, providing flexible work schedules when possible, and having a family-supportive culture that understands people bring their whole selves to work, including aspects of their personal lives.
2) Families can also help employee balancing by providing emotional support for employees’ work lives and providing help with household and childcare duties when work demands are high.
3) Individuals should deeply consider how important each aspect of your life (work, family, community, friend, self) is to you. If there’s a big gap between how important a role is to you and what you’re currently investing in it, consider small, practical steps you can take to close the gap. Find synergy across your roles. For example, to increase your investment in your self and your friendships, can you exercise with a friend? Can you take walking meetings with a coworker? Can you start a book club at work or do a community service project with your family?
4) Don’t forget your self. Just as you’re advised in the event of an airplane disaster to put your oxygen mask on first before doing so for family members, if you don’t care for yourself, you won’t be able to care for others. Intentionally getting more sleep, exercising regularly and sticking to a healthy diet will keep your body and mind more ready and able to deal with your responsibilities at work and at home. And don’t forget to make time for leisure activities that help you recharge.
5) Trying to “do it all” and/or trying to do it perfectly is a recipe for disaster when it comes to balancing. Ensure that your expectations are realistic. Are there responsibilities that you can delegate or outsource to others at work or in your family? For example, can you teach your kids to pack their school lunch? Can you empower your subordinates to make certain decisions without your heavy involvement? Not only does this lighten your load but it teaches them important skills.
6) Realize that balancing is an ongoing process. Regularly evaluate how you’re doing at balancing and take steps to correct when necessary, but don’t beat yourself up for a day or week that feels out of “balance”. Remember that work/life balancing is something you do, not something you have, and keep working at it.
In 2017, don’t blindly strive to chase a mythical idea of obtaining and maintaining work/life balance. Instead, take the actions above to work towards better balancing your work and non-work lives.
Julie Wayne is associate professor at Wake Forest University School of Business in Winston-Salem, NC.