Scientists agree that in moderate amounts, stress can be benign, even beneficial, and most people are equipped to deal with it. However, increasing levels of stress can rapidly lead to low employee morale, poor productivity, and decreasing job satisfaction, leading to abuse of sick time, cheating, chronic absenteeism, distrust, embezzlement, organizational sabotage, tardiness, task avoidance, and violence in the workplace. Other serious repercussions are depression, alcohol and drug abuse, marital and financial problems, compulsive eating disorders, and employee burnout.
A work/life balance survey conducted in 2002 by True Careers states that 70% of more than 1,500 respondents said they do not have a healthy balance between their personal and work lives. “Holding a Job, having a Life: Strategies for Change” 2001 study by the Work Institute of America points out that employee driven solutions help reduce overtime, stress, and workloads, and increase flexibility and family and leisure time.
As companies slash their payrolls, it is more important than ever to keep remaining employees productive and happy. One issue that employers constantly grapple with is work/life balance, the allocation of employees’ time and energy between work and family, health activities, hobbies and all of life’s non-work requirements.
With the growing diversity of family structures represented in the workforce in the new millennium, it is important that human resource professionals better understand the interface of work and family relationships and the resulting impact in the workplace.
Studies have also shown that too much work can lead to a variety of stress-related illnesses that sap workers’ vitality, making them more prone to errors on the job, absenteeism, burnout and turnover. It behooves companies to encourage employees to sustain healthy work/life balances.
In their book, Work and Family—Allies or Enemies, Friedman and Greenhaus (2000), two leaders in work/life balance, bring forth new evidence to help understand choices employers and individuals make regarding work and family.
The study of more than 800 business professionals considered values, work, and family lives and found that “work and family, the dominant life roles for most employed women and men in contemporary society, can either help or hurt each other.”
For women, conflict between work and family has real consequences including constraints on career choices, limited opportunity for career advancement and success in work role, and the need to choose between two apparent opposites — an active and satisfying career or marriage and children.
Many men have had to trade off personal and career values, while they search for ways to make dual-career families work, often requiring them to embrace family roles that are far different, and more egalitarian, than those they learned as children.
Friedman and Greenhaus stress that working adults must learn to build networks of support at home, at work, and in the community.
To achieve a balance between work and your life outside work, it is important to be the leader of your life. When you are leading a major project, you determine early on what a win should look like. The same principle applies to leading a deliberate life: You have to define what success means to you—understanding, of course, that your definition will evolve over time. These days, work-life balance can seem like an impossible feat. Technology makes workers accessible around the clock. Fears of job loss incentivize longer hours. In fact, a whopping 94% of working professionals reported working more than 50 hours per week and nearly half said they worked more than 65 hours per week in a Harvard Business School survey.
Work-life balance means something different to every individual, but here health and career experts share tips to help you find the balance that is right for you.
Let go of perfectionism
A lot of overachievers develop perfectionist tendencies at a young age when demands on their time are limited to school, hobbies and maybe an after-school job. It is easier to maintain that perfectionist habit as a kid. As you climb the ladder at work and as your family grows, your responsibilities mushroom. Perfectionism becomes out of reach, and if that habit is left unchecked, it can become destructive. Strive not for perfection, but for excellence.
From telecommuting to programmes that make work easier, technology has helped our lives in many ways. But it has also created expectations of constant accessibility. The work day never seems to end. There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment. Phone notifications interrupt your off time and inject an undercurrent of stress in your system. So do not text at your kid’s soccer game and do not send work emails while you are hanging out with family. Make quality time true quality time.
Exercise and meditate
Even when we are busy, we make time for the crucial things in life. We eat. We go to the bathroom. We sleep. And yet one of our most crucial needs – exercise – is often the first thing to go when our calendars fill up. Exercise is an effective stress reducer. It pumps feel-good endorphins through your body. It helps lift your mood and can even serve a one-two punch by also making you meditative. Achieving a balance should also include self-care so that your body, mind and soul are being refreshed
Limit time-wasting activities and people
First, identify what is most important in your life. This list will differ for everyone, so make sure it truly reflects your priorities, not someone else’s. Next, draw firm boundaries so you can devote quality time to these high-priority people and activities. From there, it will be easier to determine what needs to be trimmed from the schedule. If email or internet surfing sends you into a time-wasting spiral, establish rules to keep you on task. That may mean turning off email notifications and replying in batches
during limited times each day. If you find your time being gobbled up by less constructive people, find ways to diplomatically limit these interactions. Cornered every morning by the office chatterbox? Politely excuse yourself.
Drinks with the work gang the night before a busy, important day? Bow out and get a good night sleep. Focus on the people and activities that reward you the most.
Change the structure of your life
Sometimes, we fall into a rut and assume our habits are set in stone. Take a birds-eye view of your life and ask yourself: What changes could make life easier?
Instead of trying to do it all, focus on activities you specialize in and value most. Delegate or outsource everything else. Delegating can be a win-win situation, says Stewart Freidman, Management Professor at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School and author of Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life. Freidman recommends talking to the “key stakeholders” in different areas of your life, which could include employees or colleagues at work, a spouse or a partner in a community project. “Find out what you can do to let go in ways that benefit other people by giving them opportunities to grow,” he says. This will give them a chance to learn something new and free you up so you may devote attention to your higher priorities.
Start small. Build from there
We have all been there: crash diets that fizzle out, New Year’s resolutions we forget by February. It is the same with work-life balance when we take on too much too quickly. Many workaholics commit to drastic changes: cutting their hours from 80 hours a week to 40, bumping up their daily run from zero miles a day to five miles a day. It is a recipe for failure! When one client, who was always absent from his family dinners, vowed to begin attending the meals nightly, he was advised to start smaller. So he began with one evening a week. Eventually, he worked his way up to two to three dinners per week. Start small, experience some success and build from there!
To have a long, healthy, productive, and happy life and career, you need to understand the value of pace. There are times when you need to throttle up and there are times when you can throttle down. Self-awareness is crucial. Doing so will help you enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
by Revina Acheampong