Work-Life Balance – it‘s become something of a buzz phrase, but what are the facts and myths that surround this topic?
Misconceptions around work-life balance can develop false expectations. These can encourage leaders to set unachievable standards for themselves and their teams, which can result in feelings of disappointment and low morale when they are not realised.
Individuals can chase the concept without appreciating that it doesn‘t really exist. Balance is what you make of it – as a leader and as an individual.
Priorities differ for everyone, and what a balanced life looks like for one person won’t be the same for the next.
April is Stress Awareness month, so, in this weeks post I will be taking a look at some of the commonly held beliefs about work-life balance and asking are they true, or are they setting you up for failure and just adding to your stress levels?
1. It‘s All About Balance
Firstly, let’s deal with the biggest misconception. In truth, there is no actual balance between your work and home life – and that’s because pretty much nobody lives their life in a silo. Life ebbs and flows, and whatever you do, and however hard you try, there will be times when work creeps into your home life and vice versa.
Whether it’s scheduling a meeting or checking your work email in the evening, taking a call at the weekend or booking a personal appointment at your desk – overlap is impossible to avoid. And as a professional, you are likely to nearly always be thinking about work in some way: it’s not so easy to totally ‘clock off’ when you leave the physical office.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos believes the term work-life balance is a “debilitating phrase” and advises thinking of personal and professional pursuits as a ‘circle‘ more than a balancing act. He considers the concept as more work-life harmony, where work and life are integrated, rather than a tradeoff between the two options.
To put this into context, you could make some quick work calls during your daughter’s netball match, or invite a friend along for the ride if you need to pick up some printing for work at the weekend.
Aiming for work-life harmony means that by seeing it as a whole, you will become more energised at work and more relaxed when at home.
2. It‘s Everyone‘s Top Priority
While this may sometimes be true, for your team, there may be other priorities. Flexibility makes the workplace more attractive, but having meaningful work and being aligned to your company method and aspirations is more critical for most people.
Recent studies by PwC found that 79% of leaders think that purpose is central to business success, and research by Gallop found that 41% of employees want to know what a company stands for and that its business goals align with their own beliefs and drivers.
Therefore, it’s crucial that, as a leader, you ensure your team understand where they fit in the bigger picture, and that you build an inclusive and supportive workplace culture where everyone is working together and pulling in the same direction with the same goals in mind.
3. Time Management Is the Answer
Unfortunately, in an age when we are connected 24/7, the concept of time management is outdated.
It’s nearly impossible to disconnect from the world and be free to enjoy downtime without distractions. And as a leader, you are more likely to have to stay contactable – meaning going off-grid is not an option for you.
However, there are ways to deal with this. Time management is possible up to a point. Choose how you spend your time – put your energy and focus into what you are doing at that moment, and make the decision to deal with other tasks later.
Practically, that could mean leaving a voicemail on your mobile saying when you will get back to callers, allocating time to spend with family now, and time later in the day to deal with work-related messages.
4. Technology Frees Up Your Time
Technology has come a long way in the last few years. And it often makes our lives much more comfortable, but it has its limits. Additionally, we are increasingly overwhelmed with distractions flying at us from various devices. Smartphone and tablet use is higher than ever, and we use digital media an average of 12 hours per day. This hyperconnected environment does not allow us to process, recharge and refocus.
At its best, Artificial Intelligence may help you schedule meetings, send out email funnels or handle initial enquiries. However, there is still nothing better than human interaction to achieve productive outcomes.
By the way, on the subject of human interaction, it‘s also worth mentioning that 72 per cent of Generation Z want to communicate face-to-face at work.
So, technology can help make the best use of your time, but it has decreased work-life harmony by permitting constant interruptions.
5. Working Less Makes You Happier
Flying through our workload and enjoying a shorter working week may be seen as the key to contentment, but this isn’t necessarily so.
It’s not about how many hours you put in – if you can achieve your workload in fewer hours or whether you choose to put in marathon sessions at your desk – what matters is: do you enjoy what you do?
If you genuinely love your work, those extra hours will make you happier than someone who resents every minute they spend in front of their laptop.
It‘s Really About Integration
Achieving work-life balance, or harmony, or whatever you want to call it, is really about accepting that it is a myth.
Acknowledging that priorities intermingle is key to understanding the complexity of your life, and by being present in whatever you are doing at the moment will help you gain real balance.
So when you are at work, be present. If you have a home emergency to deal with, make that call. When you are on holiday, enjoy it. But if you need to contact your team, allocate time to deal with any issues – and then get back to enjoying your vacation.
Work-life balance misconceptions create unhealthy, unachievable expectations. Avoiding these will help you bypass undue stress and mental health issues, allowing you instead to operate from a calmer, recalibrated position.
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