Today, Friday 11 October 2019, the last day of “National Work, Life Balance Week” prompted me to think more deeply into what this means, why it is important and how it can be achieved, taking account of the barrier or obstructions to living a balanced life. 

What does Work/ Life Balance Mean?

The required balance between work and life means different things to different people, but for everyone, it recognizes a duality in the needs of humanity to allocate time between the personal and the professional.   Much of the decision on how time is allocated is often within the control of individuals.  However, there are also external pressures that can take choices from individuals, to the detriment of their work/ life balance.  

The most obvious detractors from maintaining a good work life balance for many people are financial pressures and lack of job security.  In the last decade we have seen stagnant wages across the developed world while the cost of living has risen relentlessly, especially in relation to some of the basic necessities of life, such as housing.

When we consider “Work/ Life Balance”, it is usually an examination of how “work” takes from “life”, not visa versa.    When life takes precedence over work, it is often to nurture children, pursue an educational goal or expand horizons on some level.   These pursuits are regarded in the “life” category because there is no renumeration attached to them, even though there is often a considerable amount work involved.   We would not describe a nanny as unemployed but we use the word “unemployed” to describe a mother looking after her children.   The correct terminology is really “economically active or inactive”, not “working or unemployed”.  

In the case of the nanny and the mother, the nanny fulfills the role of “work” because she gets paid and it does not benefit her own needs, but the needs of her employers.  However, the mother puts her energy into serving her family and so, despite doing similar, or more, work to the nanny, her endeavours fall into the category of “life”.

 Why is it important to aim for a work/ life balance?

Whether people are single, married or parents and regardless of what stage they are in their lives, the concept of having a work / life balance brings a perspective that the life of a person belongs to them and them alone.  It gives them time to consider how they want their lives to evolve, to spend time with those they love and cherish, and make plans away from the busyness of work.

Preserving a good balance between work and life helps families, especially children.  In our driven world of ambition, children are often left too long in care when they would be better served by being with family members, who do not view them as a job.  Prioritising a balance means putting a high priority, and value on life over work.

Society benefits as much as the individual or family from a good work/ life balance. It is enabled to be more cohesive when people have time to meet in parks, volunteer or network in their locality and create an environment where a common identity exists.

How to Achieve a work/ life balance

Both employers and employees have a role to play when creating a good balance in life.   Employers could look at how to implement better objective setting and time management into their companies.   There is a lot of unnecessary work undertaken due to tasks that are badly defined, adopting a culture of blame when something goes wrong and an assumption that people who don’t stay late in the office are uncommitted.    Over time, this working approach can contribute towards stress, unhappiness, mental health issues, substance abuse, high blood pressure and other illnesses and disorders. 

Employees, too, should look at how they contribute to a good work/ life balance in both their own and their co-worker’s lives.  If you are an employee, consider how you could help create better, more efficient, work-flows without being unnecessarily perfectionist in your approach.   Do not volunteer for new tasks if you are struggling to complete existing tasks and learn to say “No” in a diplomatic way.   Be kind to your fellow workers and avoid scapegoating and blaming them when things inevitably to wrong.

Life is for living, for sharing and for personal growth.  Part of life is our need to feel that we make valuable contributions – which many of us achieve through our work.  But this is only one part of our lives, a part that should not claim the time needed on developing our close relationships, taking care of our health and personal development and standing back from the crowd to really think about what is important to us in life.

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