Work Life Balance
Work Life Balance Is A Journey, Not A Destination
So many people are looking for the magical, elusive, work life balance equation that will solve all of their problems.
Despite the resounding evidence that working long hours can be harmful to both employees and employers, many professionals still struggle to overcome their assumptions and their deeply ingrained habits around work hours. What does it take to free yourself from these unhealthy patterns and reach a more sustainable, rewarding work life balance?
The majority of the people described their jobs as highly demanding, exhausting, and chaotic, and they seemed to take for granted that working long hours was necessary for their professional success.
However, about 30% of the men and 50% of women appeared to consciously resist working long hours, describing various strategies they developed for maintaining a healthier work-life balance.
While the details of every individual case differed, our study suggested a common mental process that consistently helped this group of professionals to change the way they worked and lived for the better.
At a high level, research showed that achieving a better balance between professional and personal priorities boils down to a combination of reflexivity or questioning assumptions to increase self-awareness and intentional role redefinition.
Importantly, our research suggests that this is not a one-time fix, but rather, we must engage in a cycle continuously as our circumstances and priorities evolve. This cycle is made up of five distinct steps:
- Pause and denormalize.
Take a step back and ask yourself what is currently causing me stress, unbalance, or dissatisfaction? How are these circumstances affecting how I perform and engage with my job? How are they impacting my personal life? What am I prioritizing? What am I sacrificing? What is getting lost?
Only after you take a mental pause and acknowledge these factors can you begin to tackle them.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
Once you’ve increased your awareness of your current situation, examine how that situation makes you feel. Ask yourself, do I feel energized, fulfilled, satisfied? Or do I feel angry, resentful, and sad?
A rational understanding of the decisions and priorities driving your life is important but equally important is emotional reflexivity — that is, the capacity to recognize how a situation is making you feel. Awareness of your emotional state is essential to determine the changes you want to make in your work and your life.
Increasing your cognitive and emotional awareness gives you the tools you need to put things into perspective and determine how your priorities need to be adjusted.
- Consider your alternatives
Before jumping into solutions, first, reflect on the aspects of your work and life that could be different to better align with your priorities.
Are there components of your job that you would like to see changed? How much time would you like to spend with your family, or on hobbies? As one respondent illustrated, improving your situation takes time and experimentation.
- Implement changes
That can mean a “public” change something that explicitly shifts your colleagues’ expectations, such as taking on a new role that’s designed to be less time-demanding or allows for a compressed-week model — or a “private” change, in which you informally change your work patterns, without necessarily attempting to change your colleagues’ expectations.
In our research, we found that both public and private changes can be effective strategies as long as they’re implemented in a sustainable manner.
For private changes, that might mean self-imposing boundaries (such as choosing not to work on evenings, weekends, or during holidays and sticking to that decision), or turning down demands typically associated with your role (such as new projects or travel requests, even when you feel pressure to take them on).
For public changes, rather than simply telling your supervisor that you want more time off or more flexible hours, securing support from key mentors, partners, and co-workers, or even better, formally applying for a new internal position or a flexible working scheme is likely to result in more lasting change.