Work life balance is a challenge. And a challenge that many of us are not succeeding at, given that one new poll found that the overwhelming majority of working parents were struggling to achieve it.
I often get clients contacting me saying that they need help with balancing work within their lives, especially once they have introduced little people into the mix. What was once acceptable to someone when it was just their lives it was affecting, often becomes unacceptable if we have children.
But what is 'work-life balance' anyway? Is it a buzzword, something that is really achievable, or yet another unachievable pressure we are putting on ourselves? Researchers have been questioning whether work life balance is actually a helpful term. It implies that the two things should be in balance; an equilibrium. The ideal that people are searching for is the way to live a sustainable life that gives them satisfaction overall. For every person, this will look and feel very different.
There is something that we can do to help ourselves: challenge the standards we put upon ourselves and the question the perceived norms of the culture we live in.
We live in a culture of longer work hours than before, and advances in technology that enable us to be in contact all the time. Being busy, working long hours, and being exhausted is often seen as a badge of honor. Why and how did this become the norm? There so many costs to us as individuals and communities, some explicit but others remain hidden. As a society, we need to start challenging this badge of honor mentality.
I often hear my clients say they feel like they are not doing their job properly, when they leave the office at the end of their working day, and their colleagues are still working. Often this is tangled up in a web of unhelpful beliefs and mis perceptions, but why do people hold the assumption that when they are leaving work on time, they are the inadequate ones? Why do we not see this as evidence that we are being competent and completing our work on time? Our colleague staying late, might be feeling exhausted, but feels they have to stay at work, because that is what someone always does.
Ask yourself this: are the standards and expectations that you have for yourself at work real or perceived? Are you expecting unrealistic things for yourself, that no-one else actually expects. When your boss asks you if you can do a task or take on a project, and you say 'yes' but inside you are screaming 'how the hell am I supposed to do that?', whose responsibility is it? Is your boss at fault for asking you if you can or are you at fault for agreeing to it and not explaining your limitations?
Flexible working can give us the freedom to juggle our many responsibilities and is often seen as only a positive thing. But there are dangers. It can be hard to know where to draw the lines between work and non-work time. It can become a real danger that the first thing we look at in the morning and the last thing at night, are work emails, whilst also losing the time in the evenings or weekends that was once the time to do the other things we enjoyed.
There are a lot of jobs that do not set clear work hours, as such. Being self-employed and married to a university lecturer who is contracted to do the job, not to a set number of hours, I know this only too well. I also used to be that person who was the first to the office and the last to leave, taking work with me to do at home. There is no simple answer to this very real struggle. A good place to start is to ask yourself a few questions:
- The pressures that you experience, where do they come from? Have they been explicitly communicated with you by your boss or superior? Are they standards you put on yourself?
- What are your limitations and boundaries, with regards to work? How can you implement these?
- What is within your control? What choices do you have? Remember, if you can't change your job, you can change your perception and/or your behaviour.
Thinking about these questions may bring you into a better equilibrium. My wish for you, is for your work to be a part of your life, not your whole life.