The quest for work-life balance has been ongoing for decades now, and yet, very few can claim to have achieved it. It is no secret that overworked people suffer many health consequences. It can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, stroke, and other health challenges. It also harms our social lives.
Our jobs take up vast amounts of time and our brainpower. Also, we often define our stage of advancement in life based on career progression. This level of importance means we can never really disconnect from work.
What is Work-life Balance?
It is a state of equilibrium between our personal activities and our professional activities— a state where the demands of our jobs do not encroach into our other life roles.
However, is work-life balance possible?
Our jobs are central to our existence. They put food on the table, they give us a sense of accomplishment in life, and they help us fund pursuits that we are passionate about.
In an era where technology permeates every aspect of our lives, attaining balance in our lives looks even more difficult. We work on our laptops at home, we respond to work emails on the dinner table, and separating work from our personal lives is almost impossible.
According to a study by University College London (UCL) researchers, white-collar employees who worked three hours or longer than their stipulated work hours had a 33% higher risk of heart-related health problems when compared with other employees that didn’t work overtime.
Despite this, many believe work-life balance is impossible. Balance means opposing forces are in perfect harmony, and that cannot describe the realistic picture of the relationship between life and work for most people.
In this article, we will examine the feasibility of this theory.
Is Work-life Balance a Myth?
Proponents of work-life balance will say a balanced prioritization of our personal and professional commitments is possible—still, many struggles to achieve that in the real world.
The theory has good intentions, but it doesn’t take the complexities of the real-world into consideration.
The way the modern workplace operates makes work-life balance a dream for most people. Technology makes it impossible to draw a line between our work and our home life.
All of these make it evident that the application of the theory is a pipe-dream for the vast majority of workers in our modern world.
This begs the question if we can’t attain work-life balance, and if overworking ourselves will lead to severe health consequences, what can we do?
Try Work-life Integration
The word “balance” is the problem. The reality is more fluid. There will be weeks when your commitment to your obligations at work will mean that the scale will tilt heavily in favor of your work-life. And there will also be weeks when you have fewer work obligations, and you will feel like you have a firm foothold in all the areas of your life.
With this in mind, it will be best to dispense with the idea of work-life balance altogether. Instead, you should embrace work-life integration.
The idea that you can spend half of your day at work and the other half with your family or your me-time is unrealistic. The right path will be to accept a fluid approach to tackling your work commitments and life commitments.
We all have different priorities. Your priorities and time-constraints when you are single will be different when you are married with kids.
An ideal schedule will be one that evens itself out over time. There will be days when the bulk of your focus will be towards your work-life, and other days when you have enough time to spend with your loved ones and to pursue your hobbies.
Integrate your work and your personal life and be flexible with how you allocate your time to both areas of your life. When your personal life requires your time (your kids, family commitments, and your health), then you should make yourself available. Also, when work demands more involvement from you (working overtime, traveling for work, and others), then direct your energy towards your work.
The key to work-life integration is to keep an open mind and access your needs daily, instead of taking a siloed approach to work and life.
Challenges To Achieving Work-life Balance
Several factors can make it even more challenging and impossible. Elements like overbearing and managing difficult bosses, making overtime work a habit, an inflexible schedule, long commute to work, and many others.
Many people find it tough to deal with these challenges, and they could be setting themselves up for health problems in the future. Some of the significant obstacles to work-life integration are:
Unhealthy commitment to your job at the expense of your personal life: There are some us that prioritize our work over our personal lives by default. This approach largely stems from the idea that employers deem such employees to be more committed and valuable.
This may be true in the short-term, but overtime overworking yourself can lead to burn-out, and this will severely impact work performance.
Indifferent employers: Some employers simply don’t care about the well-being of their employees. They leave the responsibility of figuring out a healthy work-life integration to their employees and pile more work on them.
This approach is irresponsible, and it can even have severe consequences for the employer when it is trying to recruit new talent. The vast majority of workers today are millennials, and they are a generation that considers a wide variety of factors, including a more balanced life before taking up a job.
Employers can design flexible work arrangements that ensure employees can smoothly navigate their commitments to their jobs and their personal lives.
The demands of working in an ever-evolving and over-competitive industry: Silicon Valley is a prime example of an industry with a demanding and cut-throat start-up culture. A place where people work long hours daily to ship new products/updates with tight deadlines to help them stay ahead or in touch with the competition.
Companies in hypercompetitive industries do not believe that work-life balance is a luxury they can afford. They preach work-life balance, but you rarely see concrete steps taken to aid their employees in achieving such a goal.
This Darwinian concept that only the fittest survive shouldn’t be an excuse to treat the industrial landscape as a battlefield where employees are the soldiers in the trenches.
Companies can still compete effectively if they help their workers achieve work-life integration. They can set desired outcomes for employee tasks and give their staff the flexibility to decide when and how they will complete such tasks. Adequate support should also be provided when needed.
When such measures are in place, employees can design schedules that enable them to effectively allocate time between their personal and work life. One aspect of their lives should not cannibalize the other.
How To Achieve Work-life Balance
We have already dispensed with the idea that work-life balance is unrealistic for everyone.
Creating a harmonious balance life is vital to our health and our psychological well-being. Here are some strategies to help you achieve it:
Set clear boundaries between your work-time and your time to unplug.
We are not saying you shouldn’t bring your work home. That is impossible for the vast majority of white-collar workers. However, you must determine when it is time to work and when it is time to stop working. You can consider using separate computers and phones for your personal life and your work.
Late at night, during vacations, and weekends are not ideal times to be dealing with work-related emails.
When your job demands extra commitment from you, you should provide it, but this should never become a daily occurrence. The core concept behind work-life balance is to allocate your efforts based on the area of your life that needs it the most at that particular point in time.
When your job takes over your entire life, then you don’t have work-life balance, what you have is work dominance.
You should let your colleagues and your bosses know the boundaries beyond which you will not allow work to intrude into your personal life. This creates clarity, and they should ideally respect your workplace limits.
Your health must always come first.
Overtime work will indeed happen from time to time, but such commitment must never be honored if it poses a risk to your health. Your health must always come first, and everything else is secondary.
Make out time for your loved ones and go on vacations or staycations.
Your job will keep you busy, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of your personal relationships. We all want to succeed professionally, but our emotional well-being is just as crucial to our happiness.
You should also create time to get away from it all. A two-week trip to an exotic locale in the Caribbean may not be within the realm of possibility for everyone, and that is why a staycation is another alternative.
Taking periodic breaks from work will give you the time to recharge mentally and physically, and this will benefit your productivity at work.
Work often takes a larger-than-life-size in our lives. We seek professional success at the expense of our own well-being. However, it’s in our best interest to create a harmonious work-life balance or work-life integration. Not only will it better our physical and mental well-being, but it also helps our career.