Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

There is no doubt that working from home blurs the lines between work and home. With no physical distinction often we are tempted to log on early, skip lunch and work late.  In my previous article Seven Fantastic Ideas For Effective Remote Working For Teams I presented different ways to help encourage teams to work smarter.  If not managed correctly this can affect your work-life balance.  This article explores the puzzle that is work-life balance.

Introduction

The term work-life balance is a term du jour from the 1970 and 1980's where stressed workers struggled to find a way to balance careers, families and other areas of their lives.

Before you continue reading, ask yourself these questions:

  • What does a work life balance mean to you?
  • Do you feel you achieve it?

If I am honest with myself, I still have not cracked this nut and been known to snap at the children, neglect home life and sacrifice personal goals in favour of trying to overachieve at work.   In fact, in 2018 in my pursuit of proving I could do deliver a project I ignored the physical symptoms and powered on only to suffer burnout and a breakdown.  I delivered but suffered - clearly, my work-life balance was out of whack.

Attitudes to work has changed over the years, the following isn't exact but roughly speaking it goes like this.

  • < 19th Century - Work was life, we worked for ourselves around cottage industry and work ended once we finished our job.
  • 19 Century - Industrialization lead to many of us working for employers under poor conditions, high stress and long schedules.
  • 20th Century - Movements were made to improve working conditions, reduce hours and reduce stress. As we approached the 1970s and 1980s in an attempt to reduce stress take advantage of parental leave, telecommuting and other measures to achieve balance in their life.

In the 21st Century, it is estimated millennials (born between 1981 and 2000) are to make up 75% of the workforce in 2025.  Millennials have a strong work ethic and are a generation who are looking for work who will support their lifestyle - that is life outside of their work.  As such we have seen a trend for companies to focus on more flexible working, promoting a healthy lifestyle both in physical and mental health.  The challenge is managing this without sacrificing productivity in an ever demanding quest to remain number one - Bean bags, pool tables and free lattes probably aren't the answer.

Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?

A work-life balance is considered important because:

  • It is important for your wellbeing, both physical and mental.
  • Higher motivation in employees.
  • Sickness, stress and absence are all lower.

The Work-Life Conundrum

The advantages of a healthy work-life balance are clear for both the employee and the employee.  The question remains though is it possible whilst keeping productivity up.

Balance in the work life puzzle

Consider the middle line as the balance in our work-life conundrum,  we can see that the more time we spend on either work or life the further we lean away from the opposite.  However, it isn't as simple as following the middle line because it is not that simple.  Work is always going demand more during peak times, and life well, life always presents challenges.  Ultimately something suffers.

Now, think about when:

  • How did you feel when you have had to stay late, or work long hours to achieve a goal at work? What did you miss out on at home?
  • Think about when life pressures took over in the middle of a key delivery - a kids sports day, illness, or perhaps a funeral.

None of these things can be helped but something had to give. Time waits for no one, pushing out to the extremes and before you know it that moment has passed.

Gamble with your time and you will be placing a bet you cannot cover.

Counterbalance

We have discussed the need for a work-life balance, but also explained that its not straight forward.  If we focus too much on either extreme then productivity or life goals suffer. Trying to do everything is impossible and leads to burnout. So what is the answer?

Stress is induced by doing and experiencing things we do not want to do, therefore if we are trying to compete with time to achieve effectiveness in both work and life then stress naturally will begin to creep in.

There is always be periods in life where we have to dedicate time away from either work or life.  By setting priorities we can start to create a balance, or at least, the illusion of a balance between work and life.  The idea is that in work we focus our energy by deciding the most important task and dedicating all of our time to this, understanding that in our pursuit of excellence somethings might not be achievable in the same time period. However, for your own self-love and happiness counterbalance this with some well deserved rest, family time and play.

One of my favorite books 'The One Thing' by Gary Keller goes into more detail about the counterbalance theory.

Conclusion

The 21st Century working and living is running at a pace far quicker than any other time in history and the importance of maintaining a healthy balance between work and life is required for our physical and wellbeing.

As leaders I think we owe it to ourself, our teams and families to not only aim for our own work-life balance but help our team members achieve the same thing.

We have discussed that not only is it expected by todays workforce, but it essential for maintaining a healthy strong workforce.  There are a few things we can do to help our team:

  • We can help our team keep focussed on what is important and what to spend time on.
  • Avoid overloading and communicating out confusing messages to your team.  
  • Encourage them to log off and do something fun with their own time to counterbalance work.
  • Keep an eye on their welfare.

What is laid out in this article might sound simple, dare I say it obvious, however in reality it requires discipline to be successful. Honestly I believe that many of us do not have the discipline, rather we work and live at the extremes causing a serious and stressful imbalance.

Without doing this, we will end up with a sick, unmotivated and underproductive workforce.  To ensure we and our teams remain productive in work- we need to be satisfied in life (and vice versa).

I will finish with a fantastic quote written in the novel Suzanne's Diary For Nicholas by James Patterson.  

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you're keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls...are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.”