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Work life balance is always a hot topic, even though the reality is that it’s a bit like a unicorn, leaving most of us wondering if it actually exists anywhere except in fairy tales and our imagination.
We hear the warnings about how working too much can lead to burnout and exhaustion. We nod and agree and then turn our attention back to the to-do list that seems to have grown even larger while we were contemplating whether we are in fact, on the burnout track. We wonder what “working too much” even looks like. Is 50 hours too much or not enough? 60? 70? Where is the line between dedication and fatigue?
I was inspired by a quote I recently read from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who believes the two should converge. He said that, “Work is life, life is work. When work is something you are passionate about it’s not about work or life; it’s just life.”
I like that philosophy and think it’s true for most of us who are truly passionate about the Credit Union movement. Although in truth, loving what you do might actually make work-life balance even more elusive. Think about it. If you hate your job, are you willing to go the extra mile and put in a few extra hours? Probably not. But, when you love what you do, the line between dedication and becoming a complete workaholic gets a little blurry. When you love what you do, you don’t mind coming in early, working late and even taking work home. And no matter how much we love our job, if we are neglecting our families and not allowing for enough down time, we are probably headed for trouble.
The 2014 White House report, Nine Facts About American Families and Work, disclosed that 46% of working Americans said their job demands interfered with their family life “sometimes or often.” That’s a 41% increase since the same report was released in 2002.
All of which brings me back to my original question…
What is work-life balance and does it really exist for the vast majority of us?
The answer is this: I don’t know. Probably neither do you. Part of the problem is that work-life balance really is different for all of us. It’s also different for each of us personally, depending on our current stage of life. When you’re fresh out of college and single with few obligations to anyone but yourself, work-life balance looks a lot different than when you are married with a couple of young children.
So, perhaps the real question should be this: What does work-life balance mean for me, at this time, and at this stage of my career? If you are concerned that your personal work-life balance is a bit out of whack, here are a few tips that might help you reevaluate and readjust.
- Take personal responsibility. Regardless of how demanding your job is, you chose it. You continue to choose it. And, you probably have more control over your working hours than it feels like you do. If you feel that the expectations and demands of your job are breaching on the extreme, recognize your role in those expectations and take the responsibility necessary to making improvements.
- Take the adage of “working smart rather than working long” to heart. Good time management is a real thing, and a must-have skill for most professionals. Good time management is also an ongoing struggle and something that that most of us have to keep improving year after year. If you think you don’t have the time for ongoing development of this skill, than ummm….
- Draw a clear line between work and the rest of your life. We live in an age when we really can be connected to our work 24/7. This can be a problem. It’s just too easy to say you’re going to answer a few emails after dinner, only to resurface 3 hours later after the kids are in bed and our spouse is dismayed. One thing that can help is to designate an area of your home for work and only go there when other obligations have been met. Treat that area as if you were in your office and leave it completely when you are done.
- Understand the reality that stress can have on your overall mental health. Stress is a real thing that can actually make us sick, particularly when we can’t cope with it well. It’s linked to several leading causes of death, including heart disease and cancer, and claims responsibility for up to 90% of all doctor visits. Every one of us needs strategies for dealing with the inevitable stress in our lives.
One more thought… I’ve found that a lot of people think about self-care as a luxury rather than a necessity. It’s easy to think about exercise or time with our family as something that isn’t important enough to pay attention to right now. And at times, that might even be true. I’d like to challenge you by trying to see your particular situation from multiple perspectives in order to gain a deeper understanding of the impact your work might be having on the rest of your life. Balance, in the end, probably just means that we are able to consider various sides and opinions with an open mind, thereby achieving some level of objectivity.
What are your greatest challenges with finding work life balance right now?