The Importance of Work-Life Balance
Why is Work-Life Balance Important? Why is it a Studied Subject?
Over the past few decades, people have become more and more caught up in the daily hustle and bustle, pressures at work and at home have been and continue to rise dramatically. With this comes the potential for imbalance in one’s life. When it comes to work, there have been reported increases in the time spent in the office over the past decades as well as an increase in overall intensity at work. When wrapped up in one subject of life, time and energy are stripped away from the other important aspects. What is that perfect balance? Is there a perfect balance? This balance is important in order to maintain life’s pressures. The rise in work intensity, life pressures, etc. is the main reason why work-life balance is even a subject of study. It is known that establishing this balance and maintaining it is key to enjoying one’s life and career. Here we will dive into the details of the factors typically involved in work-life balance, the causes and consequences of imbalance, and some means of improving work-life balance for yourself.
What are the Factors and Causes Attributing to Work-Life Imbalance?
Blurred boundaries between work and home is a primary cause of permanent imbalance.
The primary factors that influence work-life balance can fall under three categories: the demands and culture of work, the demands, and culture of home, as well as personal characteristics of the individual. In general, demands can be seen as negotiable. For example, you have the ability to negotiate with your boss whether you can take on new management responsibilities by discussing your current workload with them. A workplace that isn’t open to negotiating workload with their employees isn’t a place that nourishes a good culture. Unfortunately, culture is very difficult to change and negotiate, unlike demands. As mentioned above, the demands and culture at home and at work influence the balance and should be reflected on frequently. Another, more straightforward category of influencing factors, is the personal characteristics of some individuals. Some of these factors include age, gender, career stage, energy levels, etc.
In addition to these general factors, there are a few other proven, direct causes of work-life imbalance that can be intertwined within each of the factors stated above.
- Blurred boundaries – the most prevalent example of this is bringing work home with you… With the recent revolution in technological advancement, it has become commonplace to bring your laptop or work phone home with you, which in turn is a direct and serious distraction to your home life. Being able to separate the two completely is difficult, but will prove to help in sustaining a healthy boundary between work and your home. With remote work, this can become even more of a struggle, but simply getting out of the house and working at a coffee shop or library can greatly help disconnect and maintain balance.
- The “workaholic” – the “workaholic” personality trait has been studied extensively and has actually been compared to the disease of “alcoholism” with respect to the mental addiction that comes with it. According to Scott et.al., the “workaholic” can be linked to three different personality types: the achievement-oriented, the perfectionist, and the compulsive dependent (1997).
- Extensive travel demands – intertwined with the demands from work, and possibly even the home. Extensive travel demands and separation from family and friends are a direct source of imbalance. Luckily, in an organization that fosters a good culture, this can hopefully be negotiable to some extent so as to maintain balance.
- Insufficient utilization of time – potentially obvious in some aspects, but in others, it may not be. A good example is insufficient dissemination between leisure time and rest time when at home. These two should be considered separate needs and should be scheduled inappropriately and not combined. An individual needs time to rest and relax, as well as have some time to enjoy doing things they like to do (i.e. hobbies, choirs, etc.). Those who believe their rest time is mowing the lawn or taking the boat out to the lake are greatly mistaken and are heading down a path to overexertion and exhaustion.
- Delaying the realization and action – one of the most common causes of a sustained imbalance is the delay in realization and action. It is far too common that people justify long, stressful work hours by stating that its “just for this month” or “just until this assignment is complete”. In reality, the likelihood of the workload decreasing is minimal. The realization and understanding that the workload will or will not go away is the first step and then taking action to make the correction is next. Both need to be reflected upon regularly in order to identify the problem and correct it as soon as possible.
What are the Consequences of a Work-Life Imbalance?
The prevalence of work-life imbalance is high and continues to grow for numerous reasons. The need to maintain this balance is of critical importance due to the extreme, long-term effects that imbalance has been proven to cause to people, relationships, etc. Work-life imbalances are often reported in individuals who associate with the following populations:
- Those who work long, extended hours (into the evenings and weekends)
- Those who hold managerial positions
- Those who hold higher-income salaries
- Single parents
- Dual-career family members
An imbalance between work and the rest of life can lead to all sorts of issues including:
- Health impacts – both physical and mental, stress and illness, sleep deprivation. A study carried out in the U.K. showed that work hours extending over 48 hours per week led to a statistically significant correlation to negative impacts on health and performance (Sparks, et. al. 1997).
- Work dissatisfaction – frustration, stressful environments, resentment towards colleagues and upper management, etc.
- Life dissatisfaction – lack of leisure time, lack of resting time, impaired ability to form lasting, meaningful relationships, etc.
- Negative performance – both at work (as mentioned above) and at home, “being present” does not mean that you’re engaged and adding meaningful value to your work or home life
- Negative impact on others – taking the stress out on individuals at work and at home, not carving out time to spend with your loved ones, not being able to contribute to your life at home (i.e. doing the choirs, spending time with the children, etc.)
How can I Improve my Work-Life Balance?
Scheduling is a great way to visualize and strategize your work-life balance.
After an imbalance has been identified and it is understood that a correction or improvement needs to take place, the next step is to understand HOW to make these improvements. Below we have listed a few great strategies to help in improving your work-life balance so that you may enjoy a healthy, fulfilling life and career.
- Defining work-life balance for yourself – a great first step to improvement is defining what balance means to you. Does it mean a great career position and income? Does it mean contributing to interesting, meaningful work?
How about personal satisfaction? How about your health? How important are these to you and where do they sit within your value system?
- Identifying and maintaining your boundaries – as mentioned previously, establishing and keeping the boundaries between work and home are very important. You can do this by forgetting your work phone and laptop at work, simply taking off your work shoes at the door, working remotely at coffee shops/libraries, etc.
- Taking control by negotiating and communicating – you should be working the job, not letting the job work you. Communication with your management and colleagues goes a long way in negotiating expectations and demands. The same goes for at-home communication, misaligned expectations is a major cause of family turmoil. Communicate regularly and effectively to stay aligned on what your expectations are and what is expected of you.
- Schedule blocking – block your schedule and follow it. Block your schedule after 5:00 PM every day so that late meetings don’t eat up your dinnertime. Block time to go to baseball practice with your son or daughter, even block time for you to relax by the pool. Scheduling is a great way to visualize and strategize the way you want to balance your life.
- Be there – this sounds simple, but that isn’t always the case.
If you’re there, BE THERE! Just because you’re present, doesn’t mean you’re engaged and enjoying the moment.
- Choose a job you love – it’s your career and your choice. Find something that fits within your definition of balance.
- Vacation – simple, but overlooked. Vacation and enjoy yourself. Do not take work with you when going on a trip. Vacations are the break you need to come back and handle the stresses of work and life upon your return. Take advantage of the times you have off.
Establishing and maintaining a work-life balance can be extremely difficult, but is a critical metric of life that deserves attention. Imbalances can lead to many different problems that impinge lasting effects on ones health, wellness, relationships, etc. We have put this post together in an effort to help you understand and identify the importance of work-life balance, as well as to provide you with means of improving your balance so that you can continue along the path of life in a harmonious and happy state. We would love to hear what you think in the comments below!
Scott, K., Moore, K. and Miceli, M. (1997) “An Exploration of the Meaning and Consequences of Workaholism”, Human Relations 50(3): 287-314.
Sparks, K., Cooper, C., Fried, Y. and Shirom, A. (1997) “The Effects of Hours of Work on Health: A Meta-Analytic Review”, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 70(4):391-408.