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The Battle for Work-Life Balance

Ah... the ever elusive concept of “work-life balance.” It’s something we talk about frequently, and more often than not, it’s to complain about the lack of balance we have between work and the other areas of our lives. Not only do I find it somewhat ironic that I’m writing a post on this topic, but a few of my co-workers do too. I left work today well before the traditional 5 o’clock quitting time. Not because I was finished with all my work and had nothing left to do, but because I needed to pick my kids up from school and get my daughter to her soccer practice by 5, accounting for rush hour on top of it.

I am fortunate. I work for an employer that allows me to have this type of flexibility. Being around for my kids and their activities is important to me. I have also, whether intentionally or not, identified a lot of what makes me consider my life to be in balance with my work. Now, many people that know me would laugh because I am often (if not perpetually) stressed out and frazzled. There is one concept to that “balance” I haven’t mastered: over-commitment. But that’s a topic for another time...

The MacMillian Dictionary defines work-life balance as: the relationship between the amount of time and effort that someone gives to work and the amount that they give to other aspects of life, such as family.

I like this definition because it leaves the opportunity for each individual to determine what the right balance is for them. And, make no mistake, balance will change over time. The things that are important to you when you’re young and single are bound to be different than when you are older and maybe married with children. Your priorities shift over time. So, whatever that balance is for you at the moment, you will more than likely need to re-assess it from time to time.

Here are a few fairly simple things to keep in mind as you go through this process:

  • Identify the areas of your life that you want to devote time to
  • Prioritize those areas
  • Set boundaries
  • Recognize what you are willing to give up to find balance
  • Be flexible and recognize that things will get out of balance sometimes

We are solely responsible for defining and creating our own work-life balance, not anyone else, including our employers. However, there are things that employers can do to encourage a work-life balance for their employees. Here are some examples:

  • Offer a flexible schedule
  • Don’t allow employees to carry over PTO, or severely limit the amount they can
  • Let employees know it’s ok to unplug from time to time, especially on vacation -- have management model the same behavior
  • Be more tolerant of life needs crossing over into work needs
  • Set expectations – extra hours can be expected, but not all the time

Hopefully you work for an organization that recognizes the value of striving for balance. If you don’t, this balance will be harder to find, but not impossible. Finding it, or at least seeking it out, can be life changing.

In the book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” a hospice nurse chronicled the five biggest regrets they heard from the dying patients they cared for:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

If I have any regrets at the end of my time on earth, I hope it’s something like, “I regret that I never got to go sky diving.” Achieving work-life balance is a never ending, ever changing process. And as Jack Welch said, “Control your destiny, or someone else will.”