I was recently asked to speak on the topic of ‘Work-Life Balance’. The audience was comprised of women exclusively, so I got a sense that women are still eluded by this issue of balancing the demands in the work place and the demands of the home front. I take it that women have a double life, at work and at home. Anyone living a ‘double’ life like these women seem to imply must be burdensome; burden in the office and burdens at home. It is a fact however that Women uniquely have multiple obligations of meeting self-commitments goals for career and personal growth; and that of maintaining relationships with family and friends and performance at the workplace.
What is work-life balance? From Wikipedia there are numerous suggestions offered to achieve work/life balance (W/L balance). Setting goals, observing boundaries, insisting on down time. Greater use of technology, observing health issues, knowing your strengths, learning to say ‘no’; prioritise your time; allowing flexibility, negotiate; be self-aware, take risks; pursue a preferred lifestyle etc. It is clear from the words selected that balance in your work and home is not one thing and one thing only. It offers a whole lot of opportunities in the work place and at home that one can seize for one’s own overall benefit.
Having read through all this material my own conclusion is that is that W/L balance is a lifestyle option. One must make conscious ‘choices that add value to your life’. My understanding of the concept is that there is no perfect W/L balance to aspire for. Each person has their own W/L balance choices at any given time. Further W/L balance is a function of the plans and priorities at the time. It follows therefore that without a plan, an objective or focus on something, it will not be possible to have a successful work/life balance. In the absence of goals, the first casualty in your life will be the imbalance between your work life and everything around you.
When you are younger, you spend more time at the job earning the respect and confidence of your colleagues until you get that promotion. Your balance objective is to achieve acceptance. Much later in your life and career the balance is between keeping personal relationships nurtured. At home your wheel of life might include Your children, your spouse, parents, siblings, friends, relatives, and health etc. in such instance, spending more time with family and friends is more valuable than working extra hours. Your overall balance at home is mutually exclusive from your W/L balance at the office. The two are related in that if you are happy at home you are likely to be stable at the office. You are more likely to have more options to choose from to achieve the aspirations of the job as well as the well-being of the family.
The wheel of life concept is a tool to put your issues into perspective; what is high medium or low in priority. It helps you to make realistic lifestyle choices. Everything that is important in your life must be visible by the choices that you make. Again, to arrive at such decisions is easier if you start with a plan than when you do not have one.
For e.g where you are in your career will determine how much time and overtime you allocate to work. If you are just starting out what sacrifices will you have to make; what are you focussed on achieving as a priority? It may mean most weekends are sold out to your employer to meet those deadlines and generally look good for your bonus or that promotion. Your W/L balance will be skewed towards meeting those objectives and less time at home for family time and leisure. In the long term, the wheel of life priorities is also subject to reviews.
Another factor influencing the W/L balance is income. The lower your income the more you must work to make ends meet. The options that enhance life’s well-being like more family time and health options can be limited.
In conclusion, ‘What is the optimal work/ life balance or indeed how does one achieve work / life balance? Sadly, there is no clear-cut answer. Satisfaction lies in the goals you set and what you must do to achieve them.
The point to note is that there will always be work life imbalances in the immediate and medium term. The imbalances will be driven by the needs that you want to fulfil. A balance will be that place that incorporates those things that matter to you at that moment.
The author is a life coach with a background in financial services. For more access to material on my regular blog please visit my website at mukoye.com