Work/life balance - Reality or myth? - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

Work/life balance - Reality or myth?


How often have you heard people talking about work/life balance and have you wondered whether this really exists?
The dictionary defines the word balance as “a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportions.” Looking at this definition it would be fair to wonder whether there is a point at which there is balance between work and the challenges this creates and personal life, family and wellbeing. Perhaps accepting that “balance“ is an unrealistic expectation and it would be more appropriate to describe the aim to achieve a state of “harmony”. Harmony has different meaning to each person and if  the aim is to achieve “work/life harmony”, this will be different  for each person and will vary as circumstances change.

What can you do to find your harmony?  

It is well known that the battle with all the challenges executive management throws at individuals brings with it much stress. Not only is it the anxiety of meeting the goals of our work, but at the same time being concerned over the wellbeing of our families that causes stress and the destruction of work/life balance. The stress this creates has significant impact on performance and also on personal health and makes the work/life goal become a vague unachievable desire.

Emails, cell phones, key performance indicators and demands of bosses are just some of the factors that executives in modern businesses have to contend with.  

Studies have found that there is an expectation that people need to respond to emails at all hours of the day, whether this is during work hours or not. The expectation may be there, but does this mean you should passively accept it?

Realise that these demands are often unreasonable, and unless there is a crisis, resisting dealing with work issues outside of normal work hours is something you should strive to do. Consider switching off your cell phone, your tablet and your computer when you are not at work. Many people have a private cell phone that they leave on all the time, so they can pick up and respond to personal matters.

Should you have a boss who expects you to be on call at all times, resist this and discuss this with your boss and point out that you need your own personal and family time. This is not always simple, because some bosses feel very strongly that their staff work for them 24 hours a day. This is not an acceptable attitude and don’t just accept this attitude, seek a give- and- take solution.

Your family should be a very important factor in your life. Take care that you do not justify working unreasonable hours on the basis that you are doing this for your family, to earn more money so that you can better take care of them, afford to pay for high quality education, buy a bigger and fancier house, drive smarter cars and go on exotic holidays.

Consider whether this is what your family really want from you, or is more of “you”, your time, your love and your attention that they seek.

Have you ever thought how important it is to your child that they have you there to watch them playing sport, representing their school, or performing in the school play, playing the musical instrument they have been practicing for hours, at a school concert or just being able to spend quality time with their parent?

Your children and family want you, not just the money you are earning and most importantly they want you healthy and alive. A memory of a successful parent who died being successful is not what your children and family will value.

An executive handling a stressful job involving extensive travel and many late nights, needs time out to regain their strength and sanity. Taking personal time is not something that you should feel guilty about, it is rather a case of feeling guilty if you fail to create “personal time” This time can take on varied forms; going to the gym and working out; going for a run, a walk or a cycle ride; playing or listening to music; meditating; engaging in a yoga session; working in your workshop; repairing a motor car or anything that will take your mind off the work stresses and allow you to recharge your batteries.

You may be thinking that this all sounds very nice and idealistic, but with the huge work load and high expectations that the organisation has of you, these “soft” matters are just pipe dreams.

This may be your perception, but if your aim is to achieve a successful, well balanced life, don’t allow yourself easily to fall into the trap of “I have to focus on my job before anything else and if I find time I will deal with “soft“ issues”  Rather than adopting this stance, look at what and how you are conducting your job. Questions such as “ is it essential that I do this, or is there somebody in the company who I should delegate it to, because it is actually their job?” “Do I need to attend all the meetings I am invited to? What will I gain and what will I add to the meeting by attending or would it be better for me to have someone from my team attend and put forward the views and opinions of our department or just listen so that the department can be aware?” “If I take an hour or two to go and give my child the pleasure of performing whilst I am watching, even if I have to find time to do a task I would have been doing, won’t this be time well spent?”

Sensibly and pragmatically asking and answering these questions will often result in looking at things differently and consequently doing things differently and ultimately move closer to achieving “work/life harmony.

It is worth a try!

Les Weiss is a Partner at Change Partners.

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