What is work-life balance?
Ask each of your employees and you’ll likely get similar answers. For every person, what they feel they need to prioritize at work and home is personal. And it will always change.
But one thing that doesn’t change is the importance of ensuring harmony in one’s personal and professional life. Keeping a healthy balance (and love of) work and life activities are essential to good health, happiness, and strong relationships. Without a delicate balance in each area, stress, overwhelm, and burnout can take even the best employees down.
Here we dive into the question of “What is work-life balance?” and the benefits of making an effort to keep both work and life in equilibrium.
What is Work-Life Balance?
The term work-life balance has become a key topic in many HR circles and workplaces these days. Perhaps if anything positive came out of the pandemic, it showed people how to slow down and take stock of what’s important — a must for achieving work-life balance.
At its core, work-life balance is prioritizing life and work according to one’s goals. It’s about creating time for what matters in career and personal experiences without getting burned out. It’s an ongoing process that ebbs and flows as your life changes.
Essentially, it’s a delicate balance of life and work activities that each person must discover through trial and error.
Is Work-Life Balance Achievable?
As Marissa Mayer, an American businesswoman puts it: “You can't have everything you want, but you can have the things that really matter to you.”
While it would be nice to get everything we want and “have it all” professionally and personally, it’s not possible. But it is possible to narrow down with intention the type of life you want to lead. Despite what influencers and successful people may portray, no one has a perfect work-life balance all the time.
A healthy work-life balance looks different for each person.
For one employee, it may mean four-day work weeks with longer work hours to enjoy blissful three-day weekends. For another employee, it may mean having a worksite daycare so they know their child is nearby and there’s no rushing out of work to skip commuter traffic to make pick-up on time. And yet for others, it may simply be meeting deadlines, getting enough sleep, and still making time for fun activities during evenings and weekends.
Instead of work-life balance, perhaps a better term is work-life flexibility.
What it comes down to is this: The things that matter in life are the ones that will need to be prioritized for employees to feel balanced. It means being intentional about working hours so “play” hours offer a chance to recharge.
Perks of a Healthy Work-Life Balance
It can be challenging to overcome unhealthy work habits and overstuffing personal schedules in an effort to look “busy” or “productive and happy” in life. But, it’s worth the ongoing work to strike a balance that works for you.
Here are some reasons to strive to make it happen:
- Reduced stress - When you have enough time for both hobbies and work without feeling rushed between both, life is much more enjoyable. Too much going on in one area or another (or worse, both) can lead to overwhelm, resentment, and chronic stress.
- Improved overall health - Too much work can increase stress hormones and cause health problems in the body. A better-balanced life can offer time for activities that improve health such as yoga, meditation, exercise, therapy, and more.
- Increased engagement - Employees who enjoy their work and don’t feel overwhelmed when they are working are more likely to stay engaged. A manageable workload makes it easier for workers to enjoy their work and stay on top of their duties.
Working to the point of exhaustion doesn’t do you, your family, or your company any favors. The truth is, having enough self-awareness to understand your limitations, boundaries, and personal priorities can help you achieve a more harmonious work and life experience.
The Negative Impact of an Off-Balance Life
There’s no denying the consequences of a poor work-life balance. Too many demands on your time can lead to unhealthy stress levels that can create serious health issues. It can take its toll both mentally and physically, so taking the time to learn how to prioritize work and life, again and again, is essential. Common reasons people struggle with it include working longer hours, caregiving, increased workloads and having kids.
Here are just a few of the ways an unbalanced life is unhealthy:
- Stress makes workers sick - Whether life, work, or both are causing stress, it’s important to keep it in check. Too much stress can lead to illness as it suppresses the immune system. Physical symptoms like ongoing headaches, upset stomach, chest pain, and even a rapid heartbeat can all be significant indicators the body is stressed. Encouraging workers to take time for themselves can alleviate the stress that might otherwise turn into an illness that can knock them off the job.
- Longer hours can lead to chronic health conditions - One study published by Environment International found that over half a million people who worked at least 55 hours weekly died from a stroke or heart disease as a result. Working longer, harder hours is a risk factor for poor health and even early death.
- Resentment of work and colleagues - For workers who are overloaded, coming to work will feel like a chore. This can also turn into resentment if other employees have lighter workloads. Keeping work engaging is a must for employers to retain their most talented workers and needs to happen long before resentment sets in.
For workers, it’s essential to be in tune with both your body and mind. An employer can’t read your mind or know what you’re going through if you don’t share. An open dialogue about improving your health — mental or physical — with an understanding employer can make all the difference. Prioritizing health is a must as you only get one body and taking care of it can make a huge difference.
Employers, it’s also essential to have ongoing conversations around work-life expectations. Doing so can show where there are kinks in work processes, how things could be better delegated, or where help may need to be hired. Keeping in touch and being real with your workers can help them be honest about where work is challenging and how you can work together to make it more efficient for everyone.
Work-Life Balance is a Shared Responsibility
There’s no one perfect strategy for companies and workers to strike an ideal work-life balance all the time. It’s an ongoing process that will always require tweaking, flexibility, and a willingness to try new things.
It’s the role of both an employee and an employer to ensure work-life balance happens. An employer needs to have the opportunities available — flexible work schedules, heal
thy work environment, strict overtime policies, etc. — and employees need to be willing to take their company up on them.
Talk with your team about ways to improve your work culture and the views around work-life balance. Whether you conduct regular meetings around it or ask for anonymous feedback, staying open to suggestions can motivate positive changes. There’s always room for improvement no matter how efficient a workplace is. In order to develop sustainable practices when it comes to a better work environment and life balance, employee feedback is the way to get valuable insight into making necessary changes.
Do you think work-life balance is an employee’s or employer’s responsibility or a bit of both? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below!