Work life balance
September 21, 2016
How do you define your work-life balance? And by the way – where did that phrase come from?
It first appeared in 1986 in the November 10th edition of Industry Week (at least in the US, as it is rumored to have been first coined in the UK in the 1970s, but I have no proof of that). Minneapolis consultant, Dick Leider talked about the balance and counter-balance of work versus family and personal interests. He said, “It used to be that work-and-life balance was a boutique issue…you know, something that would be great to worry about whenever – and if – one had some free time. But imbalance is killing people!”
So how do we achieve a good work-life balance?
There is no right or wrong answer because it’s an individual thing. What I think is a perfect balance, a perfect dance between my personal life and my work life, will likely be different for my co-corkers and for my friends. And it drives me nuts when someone tries to tell you how to achieve a “proper” work-life balance. A person’s choice may be dictated by so many different things, such as a dying parent, care of a child, the need for more money to pay for college, the desire to spend time doing hobbies, or the thrill of a deal.
Ultimately, it is up to the individual to define his or her own work-life balance. I a not naïve, I understand companies have something to do with it. In a perfect world, companies would work with their employees to make certain concessions, etc. Those concessions might come in the form of flex-time, working from home, casual Fridays, providing lunches on Mondays, opening a day care in the building, and the list goes on. But not all companies are able to make concessions or offer perks that perpetuate this idea of a work-life balance.
Exclusive of company offerings, how can you achieve an acceptable and healthy work-life balance? As I said, it starts and ends with the employee. It is important to you to know what you want and need from the very beginning. For example, if you are someone who lives in Boston and loves to ski during the winter, then you should not take a position where weekend work is expected on a regular basis. Even if there is additional compensation for that work (in the form of bonuses, etc.), you will miss the skiing too much and will likely become unhappy and feeling unfulfilled.
Assuming you have made the right over all career decisions, there are other things you can do to maintain a healthy “work-life” balance. Here is a partial list:
Set and respect boundaries, in other words, work hard while at work, and then leave your work at work
Disconnect your work email from your cell, you can always set times to check your work email from a computer if needed
Take all of your vacation time, but try and leave a few days for an occasional long weekend
Use your sick time once in awhile for an occasional day to re-charge your batteries
While it is important to do fun things outside of the office, leave some down time as well
Get a little exercise during the work day - go outside for a quick walk, climb the stairs when you return from lunch, etc.
Regardless of what you do, first assess your life and think about what it is that brings you joy, peace, and fulfillment, and then you can better determine how to achieve a balance between work and your personal life. Don't be afraid to approach your boss to discuss your thoughts on a healthy work-life balance because this balance is important for your overall health and well-being, but it is also important for your overall productivity.
Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Studies