According to a 2011 survey of employees in North America, 87% reported a lack of work-life balance. Here are a few things to consider about the phenomena that seems to baffle so many.
Know The Causes
What’s caused the work-life balance of so many to spiral out of control? Research has shown that there are four primary culprits to blame in recent years:
- Technology: This shouldn’t come as any great shock, but the blurring of lines between work and home has only intensified by technology, creating an unspoken expectation of employees being “on call” over phone or email at all times.
- Volume & Pace: The amount of hours that your average middle manager is expected to work has not increased in the last fifty years, but the volume and pace of the workload expected has increased substantially, to well beyond what can be reasonably accomplished in a traditional work day.
- Autonomy, or Lack Thereof: Looking again the the middle manager level, one might assume that they are given a reasonable degree of freedom to manage how they spend their days. However, research shows that senior managers often thwart the best made plans by frequently making last minute demands the effectively eliminates this autonomy.
- (Perceived) Flexibility: Many workplaces offer flexible work options like flex time, working from home, and taking time off to “make up” for overtime. While these things sound great when people are being recruited to their job, it’s not uncommon for employees not to take advantage of these benefits because they feel they are going to be judged negatively for it by their managers.
Work-Life Balance is Personal
There’s no such thing as an “ideal” work-life balance that works for every person because the concept doesn’t necessarily mean an equal division between work and home. Some people thrive by working sixty or seventy hour weeks because of their love of their jobs. Others want to maximize their time with their family and want to stick to a forty hour week as much as possible. Either is fine – there is no right or wrong answer.
Where do you fall on the spectrum? Start by thinking about the way you would ideally like to spend your time – work, family, social time with friends, fitness, vegging in front of the TV, etc. Then prioritize. What’s the most important to you? What’s the next one on the list? Where does work fit into it? Don’t frame your days by the things that others consider to be important – if work is the most important thing to you and it makes you happy, work it up! But if other things take priority, you need to figure out a balance that works for you.
Acknowledge Your Role in Fixing the Problem
Yes, expectations at work have increased. Yes, some managers discourage their employees from taking advantage of options that would increase their flexibility. However, when someone is experiencing a lack of work-life balance, their employer is not the only one to blame for the problem. You need to take a good long look in the mirror if you want to fix the problem. What role are you playing in causing it? Is your employer forcing you to put your work email on your phone? Are they holding a gun to your head to take your computer home at night? Did they back you into a corner to get you to volunteer for that project that is sucking up all of your personal time? If you want to find a balance, you cannot place all the blame on your employer for the lack of it. Establish boundaries for yourself and stick to them.
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Gordon, J. (2012). Appreciate the moment: 7 ways to rethink work-life balance. Public Management, 94(3), 6-9.
Parris, M., Vicers, M., & Wilkes, L. (2008). Caught in the middle: Organizational impediments to middle managers’ work-life balance. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 20(2), 101-117.
Sturges, J. (2012). Crafting a balance between work and home. Human Relations 65(2), 1539-1559.