The demands of work and life can often overlap creating stress. When work and life are out of balance we feel definitely feel the pressure. We may also feel like we don’t have time to relax or enjoy time with our family and friends.
Our ability to de-stress, socialize, unwind, and live a happy and healthy life is compromised.
In this post we’re going to explore some of the many challenges that can make it difficult to strike a balance between life and work. Then we’ll dive into 10 strategies you can use to organize your time, feel less stressed, and welcome more time for enjoyment in your life.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What is Work Life Balance
- Work Life Balance Challenges
- Benefits of Work Life Balance
- Work Life Balance & Our Values
- 10 Strategies for Overcoming Work Life Balance Challenges
What is Work Life Balance
The term work life balance is used to describe the idea that all of us need time for work, our pursuits outside of work, and our personal lives. It relates to how we schedule our days – the number of hours we spend at work and how much time we have outside of work for relaxing and personal activities.
We are said to have good work life balance when the relationship between the hours we work and the hours we devote to our personal lives is balanced. Meaning, we don’t feel added pressure from either angle and our schedule allows time for both our job and developing our interests and relationships outside of work.
Striking this balance is considered to be an integral part of our positive well being and ability to lead emotionally happy lives.
However, it can look very different from person to person and there isn’t a single formula that works across the board for everyone. Our perception of balance and the way in which balance is achieved can vary by lifestyle, age and our personal goals.
When we are younger, we are typically just starting a career. Our priorities thus far has been going to school, building our skills and knowledge, and having fun. Our lives have practically revolved around school and friends. We get our first job and start to learn how to balance work and play.
As we get a little older and are more settled in our jobs, we may start building a family and our priorities shift as we begin to learn how to balance work with new family demands. We may also begin to place a higher focus on our career advancement. We start to learn how to balance personal time with work so we don’t become a workaholic.
While work life balance is important throughout our lives, it is typically during the timeframe from our late twenties, thirties and into our forties, that work life balance can be the most difficult. Stress and pressures from both work and our personal lives tend to be at their peak during this time.
Mid-life on, we are typically more established in our careers and start to become less job oriented. We become more focused on other aspects of our lives. Activities we were less able to prioritize in the past such as personal goals, hobbies and travel usually start to take a higher precedence.
Work Life Balance Challenges
For most of us, we are aware to some degree of this balance even when we don’t intentionally focus on it. We get signals both physically and emotionally that alert us to adjust our schedules or shift our priorities to regain a feeling of balance.
Sounds pretty simple. When we start to get the signals by either becoming overworked, stressed or physically tired, we just adjust our schedules right? Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. While we may get the signals, and see the red flags, it’s not always so easy to take action on them. There are many challenges that can make it hard to keep our feeling of balance in check.
Demands from Work & Personal Life
Outside demands that threaten our ability to maintain a healthy balance can come from both work and our personal lives.
At work you may have unreasonable demands placed on you that eat into your personal time. Maybe you have unrealistic goals thrown at you that require you to skip lunch, work late or even over the weekend on a consistent basis.
That said, personal demands at home can be just as great. You may be the main source of travel for children with busy extracurricular schedules or you may have a partner who either doesn’t contribute or has conflicts with their own schedule requiring you to pick up the slack. There may also be additional expectations placed on you that have been set by other family members or friends such as frequent get togethers or a family member or friend who needs assistance.
Too many demands from both work and/or life can quickly add up to what feels like (or actually is) an insurmountable level and threaten our ability to balance it all.
Things That Are Out of Your Control
No matter how well we plan and schedule our time there are always going to be things that are out of our control. In our work lives it could be a new boss or supervisor who comes in and makes large sweeping changes to the work culture, or a large project with unrealistic demands. Out of nowhere additional pressure can fall into our laps.
In our personal lives, it can be family issues or emergencies that pop up and need to be dealt with including; illnesses, issues with an aging parent, or kid issues just to name a few.
These situations can be even harder to deal with because it’s not easy when we feel we have no control. It often brings about feelings of insecurity because it’s hard to know when the situation will end and how long the stressful circumstances will last.
Lack of Supportive Relationships
Unsupportive relationships can manifest in many different ways. It can be in the deliberate actions of someone to make someone else feel isolated or to keep them from getting the credit they deserve. It can also manifest in someones unwillingness or negligence to offer help and support when needed.
Regardless of how the unsupportive relationship came about, the end result is always a feeling of isolation. When we feel isolated we feel unheard which creates frustration and unhappiness.
Another challenge is a lack of resources. While this one may not sound as bad as some of the other challenges mentioned thus far, it can be the source of many work life balance issues.
At our job, there may be insufficient resources for training and helping us gain new skills that are needed to do our job well. There may also be a lack of leadership or a literal lack of resources, for example the many teachers who must purchase supplies for their own classrooms.
In our personal lives it could be insufficient childcare resources or limited funds which require you to take on more work.
Being Stuck in a Rut
We can often reach a point when we are stressed and overwhelmed where we are no longer able to see another way. We get “get stuck in a rut”.
Being in a rut can keep us at a job that is really not a good fit. We may eventually develop a belief that this is just the way life is. That we are not supposed to enjoy our job, or not work overtime, or whatever the work challenge may be – we have the attitude, “that is just the way it goes”.
We can also reach this state of what you might even call apathy in our personal relationships, and keep obligations because we don’t think we can do anything about it.
Lack of Life Skills
There is a certain level of personal awareness that is required to acknowledge and manage all of the challenges discussed thus far. If we are lacking skills in the practical areas of life such as the ability to communicate well and with confidence, this presents another challenge.
When we feel like we lack the skills needed to manage work and personal challenges it can produce additional stress and affect our work life balance even more.
We may put up with behavior at work that really should be reported to HR or put up with behavior in our personal relationships that should be addressed by communicating our needs.
Benefits of Work Life Balance
Now let’s take a look at some of the benefits of work life balance and what it can look like in the workplace as well as in our personal lives and relationships.
Balance in the Workplace
When there is balance with our work we are able to better manage both our responsibilities at work and at home. Keeping our commitments is easier because there is not one side that is pulling against the other.
Additionally, if our job is at a supportive workplace, we feel more valued, there is a higher trust level among employees, and we are more open. We are more likely to discuss issues with our boss. If there is a scheduling conflict, we are more likely to speak up about it and strike a balance that works for our employer as well as our ourselves.
Balance in our Personal Lives
When there is balance in our personal lives the same holds true. We are able to more easily keep our commitments because there is no guilt or regret or scheduling conflicts associated with our job.
We have much less stress and we are able to take care of ourselves and rest and relax when needed as well as make time for fun.
We have time to focus on our health, spend time with our family and friends, travel, participate in hobbies and/or sports, and do volunteer work in our communities.
Work Life Balance & Our Values
I talk quite often on this blog about knowing what your values are and having a sense of purpose. Working on our work life balance is no exception. In order to know what the ideal balance is for us and our personal situation, we have to understand what we value.
We need to understand where our priorities lie in all areas of our lives including; work, family, health, and spiritual to name a few. If we don’t have a clear picture for each of these areas it will be difficult to identify the right balance for ourselves and our health and happiness.
If the answer is not jumping out at you, and you are unclear on what you value, the next section will help shed some light by learning more about how we view work.
What is Your Work Orientation?
As stated earlier in this article, our goals for our career are going to change at different stages of our lives based on varying factors such as our age and our current life goals and priorities.
Determining how work fits into our life can be a great tool for getting a clearer picture and examining what our values are.
Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale researcher, has determined that in general, there are three ways that people generally approach work and that we usually resonate with one of the ways more than the others.
The three job orientations are:
Some of us are job oriented. Meaning we view our work as strictly a job. The only purpose of work being to support our personal lives – family, recreation, home, etc. We typically place more value on our personal lives and our relationships.
Some of us are career oriented. Meaning we value work as a way to earn external validation. Climbing the ladder of success is important as well as earning a certain degree of prestige and career status is what we value. We typically place a high value on our career as well as our personal lives.
Some of us are calling oriented. Meaning our work is closely tied into our identity. Work is viewed as an integral part of who we are and we seek fulfillment on a deep level through our work. We typically place a high value on both our work and our personal lives and most likely they are very intertwined.
What Does Work Life Balance Mean to You?
It gets very interesting once you start to evaluate work life balance from the perspective of job orientation. At least for me it was. When I first came across the job orientations it was quite obvious to me that I fall into the calling oriented category.
Having this knowledge makes it much easier to define what work life balance means to us personally. It can help us understand where there are imbalances and give us a better idea of how to fix it.
10 Strategies for Overcoming Work Life Balance Challenges
Now that we’ve explored what work-life balance means and have dug into some of the common challenges, here are some strategies we use to work towards achieving a balance that works for both our jobs and our lives.
1.) Know You Employer’s Policies
I’ve listed this as the first step because it is most likely your first consideration when considering what your options are. Make sure you understand what the policies are regarding work hours, flextime, PTO, and working from home.
You may discover there is room to negotiate and your employer is willing to work with you on setting flexible work hours. On the flipside, you may also discover there is little to no wiggle room which could mean you need to look for another job with policies that are more aligned with your needs.
Knowing how to communicate is an essential life skill. The ability to communicate helps us convey our ideas, feelings, and values to our employers and our who we are closest to in our lives.
It is normal to be nervous when it comes to having discussions perceived as confrontational, but we must find the courage to have those conversations. The only way to get better at it is to practice.
At work, it is important to let your employer know up front if there our certain times you can’t be available or when there are personal issues that need your attention.
In our personal lives, it is also important to keep the lines of communication open with your loved ones. That way when uncontrollable issues arise that demand your time you are able to openly discuss it and find common ground that works for everyone.
It all boils down to being clear on what it is you want and need, making sure your expectations are realistic when asking for support. This is especially important when dealing with issues that are out of our control. While we can’t make the issue go away we can often negotiate and find a compromise that saves everyone’s sanity and well-being.
3.) Say “No”
There are times we are asked to do things that we just don’t want to do. At other times what is being requested of us is unrealistic. In both circumstances, it is ok to say “no”. Afraid you may feel guilty if you don’t say “yes”? Consider what you gain by saying “yes” and also the price you pay.
Compare your answers with the price others may pay as well as what others will gain. This will help you put things into perspective and make a choice. When we make non-guilt based decisions we feel much better about the actions we take.
4.) Schedule Personal Time
Whether your work orientation is job, career, or calling oriented make sure to schedule personal time for yourself. Giving yourself “me time” or moments to just enjoy personal time alone is important for balance and not getting burned out.
Need some ideas, see my article on avoiding burnout which provides multiple “me time” suggestions as well as strategies to avoid burnout.
5.) Don’t Feel Guilty
Although I mentioned the importance of not feeling guilty in relation to saying “no” I felt it needed to be mentioned here again with it’s own number. There are many decisions you’ll make on your path to finding balance between work and home. Some of these decisions will involve saying “no” to others, but many of them will involve saying “no” to yourself and also saying “yes”.
Recognize that it is impossible to do everything, be everywhere, and be all things to everyone. You are going to miss some things in favor of other things and that is ok. Being intentional with the obligations and activities you agree to take on should alleviate feelings of guilt.
6.) Delegate and Get Help When Needed
There is no rule that says you have to be superwoman or superman. There is nothing wrong with asking for help when needed.
Tackle the things you are to tackle on your own and when possible delegate or outsource the things that you are not.
7.) Stick to Your Work Hours
Working overtime is sometimes unavoidable. Large projects come up that require extra effort to finish up and that is understandable. However, working overtime to make an impression or because you just want to personally give a task your extra effort shouldn’t be something you do on a consistent basis.
While it doesn’t seem so bad at first, overtime this behavior can turn into a habit that is hard to break and worse yet it can become an expectation. If your employer isn’t aware you are working additional time to produce the amount of work you are, you can find yourself in cycle whose only outcome is burnout.
8.) Plan Ahead
This one is so simple it is easy to overlook, and that is, plan ahead, as far ahead as you can. Schedule in work commitments, family commitments, birthdays, holidays, etc. and as mentioned above, “me time”.
That way there are no surprises on either the work front or the personal front when things pop up.
9.) Use Your PTO
If you’re like me, you relish your PTO and have no issues using every bit of it. However, I’ve had employers in the past who attempted to make me feel guilty if I actually used it. I’ve also worked with many people who rarely take a day off and take pride in it.
Whether you’re a career focused person who lives for working or a job focused person, I urge you to use your time off. Even when we do have a pretty good work life balance on a regular basis, breaking up our lives with some unscheduled free time can be just what the doctor ordered for relaxing and de-stressing.
10.) Make Time For Things You Love
Lastly, make time to do things you enjoy outside of work. Learn a craft or start a hobby. Studies have shown that crafting has many therapeutic benefits including improving mood and heading off cognitive decline and hobbies have the ability to calm you, inspire you, bring out your creative side, and give your life more satisfaction.
Life is ever changing and our needs are going to change with the times. However, no matter where we are in our lives, it’s important to maintain a balance that supports our emotional well being. Figuring out what balance looks and feels like or us at all stages of our lives is key.
I hope you found this information and strategies useful for guiding you on your path.
Whatever you do, enjoy your lives. Here’s to work life balance!