Work-life Balance

Work/life Balance – is it a Fallacy?

A while back in the 80’s, the concept of a “whole-person approach” gave rise to an entire array of strategies designed to optimize performance and employee engagement in organizations. This ideal has been central to my life work – as both a provider as well as sponsor of health promotion, work/life and well-being services within organizations. There are a variety of ways to frame this, so let’s reflect on how it has evolved our HR and workplace practices over time:

  • Considering policies and programs designed to address all aspects of an individual’s well-being – physical, emotional, mental and financial – to name a few. From this trend, we saw the creation of wellness, EAP and work/life, financial education and other programs offered by employers.
  • Creating a workplace culture that recognizes and embraces employees’ needs throughout the spectrum of their employment life cycle from workforce entry to retirement. With several generations now working side by side, this led to further expansion of programs for a multi-generational workforce.
  • Fostering flexibility in work, especially for those in the “sandwich generation” dealing with both child and eldercare issues, and other societal factors such as technology and commute challenges, are all driving a change in how, when and where work gets done through flexible work practices.

All these dynamics and influences has led to a blurring of the traditional boundaries of work and personal life and a subsequent quest for “work/life balance” at a personal level. A common challenge for many individuals is how to manage the competing demands in their work and personal lives and avoid any negative spillover from one to the other. Most experts agree, however, that this idea of work/life balance – which implies that one devotes an equal portion of time at work and on the rest of your life, whether fitness, family, friends or fun pursuits – is not only a misnomer; it’s a bad idea.

Researchers at Catalyst have coined the term “work/life effectiveness”, which contends that your work and your life can and should be in sync. Striving for work/life effectiveness is the goal – where work and personal life are not enemies, but rather allies. Taking on and refining your participation in multiple roles as employee, friend, parent, partner, mentor, etc. can actually enhance your emotional and psychological well-being, especially when done so in a quality way.

Finding the right “flow” isn’t easy for everyone; it requires focus on the common element – you! Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Define what success looks like for each of your multiple roles. This is very personal, but will help you focus and align your decisions and actions with those goals and your personal priorities. Consider sharing your priorities and success ideas with a key partner in your life to gain perspective and, if desired, buy-in to your career and life goals.
  2. Stay in control of your life. It’s when things spiral out of control that we experience undue stress. Seek out work that is rewarding and meaningful and fits with your passions. At the same time, set boundaries and parameters for your work time and personal time. For example, you may decide to turn off technology when you are with family and friends.
  3. Take care of yourself. Be intentional about taking care of your body and mind, carving out time for family and friends, relaxation breaks – all these help individuals be more productive at home and at work. Block out time on your schedule for these activities. Your calendar is your plan for time, and your time is your life!

As an HR professional, it’s important to “walk the talk” – how does your organization foster work/life effectiveness? Regardless of the policies and programs your organization offers, it’s the norms and practices that really dictate culture.

If you want to have an amazing life, you need to be intentional about it.