It is a well-known ideal that, as humans, we should “work to live, not live to work.” However, one pithy saying does not quite sum up nor provide a solution to the struggle many people face as they try to piece together various aspects of their lives.
Even, or perhaps especially, for those who enjoy their profession, balancing a career with hobbies, family obligations, a social life and physical health can be a daunting challenge. On top of that, life is complicated and we find ourselves randomly faced with emergencies or events outside our control that derail our plans and preparations.
Ultimately, achieving and maintaining an objectively perfect balance between life and work is an unattainable myth. But the story doesn't end there.
You can make deliberate decisions based on self-awareness and analysis to build your own, personalized version of balance that boosts your overall wellness, guides you toward professional achievement and enhances your existence. Additionally, you can urge the professional world and its multi-faceted industries, corporations and organizations to adopt a culture that supports flexibility, personal accountability and independence as opposed to the stress of rigid schedules and the unflinching prioritization of your professional life.
In an article for The New York Times Magazine , Susan Dominus discusses a study by professors and sociologists Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly that examines the interplay among work, family and health. This is what the American Psychological Association and the Society for Human Resource Management now refer to as the “work-life fit,” a term coined by flexible work culture strategist Cali Yost.
Moen and Kelly conducted research that centered on the technology department of an anonymous corporation, which is referred to as TOMO in their published work . About half the employees in the department were put into a control group, which continued operating under the company’s usual policy of flexibility given at the manager’s discretion. The other half were placed in an experimental group where they were provided freedom to work whenever and wherever they chose. The only contingency? That their projects and goals be completed on time. Meanwhile, managers were trained to be supportive of their employees’ lives outside of work.
Moen and Kelly discovered the experimental group performed as reliably as the control group. In addition, those employees experienced numerous wellness-related benefits, including better sleep, improved health and less perceived stress and psychological distress. Over time, the employees in the control group also expressed higher job satisfaction and less interest in leaving the corporation. In general, the study challenged “certain conventions of office culture,” Dominus writes.
“For years, an image of professionalism was closely tied, perhaps especially for women, to a strict respect for boundaries — to the presentation of the self, at the office, as someone wholly unencumbered by the messiness of home life,” she states. “Those boundaries, Moen and Kelly’s work suggested, were possibly counterproductive.”
While the past decade has witnessed more companies shift toward providing at least some employees increased flexibility, it generally is still administered via manager discretion. In contrast, Moen advocates for a complete overhaul of the corporate culture so “flexibility is a living, breathing, vital aspect of work, a default mode rather than a privilege,” Dominus writes.
It is one thing to acknowledge the positive benefits of flexibility, but another to conceptualize its practical implementation across a spectrum of corporations and businesses.
Moen and other researchers, per Dominus, see a language shift as the first step to helping businesses implement flexibility strategies. That is how Yost’s “work-life fit” characterization originated. In particular, Yost found the phrase preferable because it is gender-neutral and supports the idea that flexibility is a way of enhancing the performance and happiness “of both men and women, parents and the childless alike,” Dominus writes.
An interesting, and perhaps discouraging, trend is that many executives consider the work-family tension to be primarily a women’s problem, according to an article for the Harvard Business Review , written by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams. One person interviewed for the article, who remained anonymous, said, “Given that leadership positions in corporations around the world are still dominated by men, I fear that it will take many organizations much longer than it should to make accommodations for women to … effectively manage their careers and personal lives.” Changing the language to be more inclusive, not only of all genders but also all statuses, is a crucial part of appropriately approaching the topic of work-life balance and crafting egalitarian solutions.
Additionally, companies need to normalize flexibility within their culture and help employees understand that not only do they have the option, but management is supportive of it, as well. Research has found that even within companies offering flexibility, some employees don’t feel capable of accepting it without risking their chance at career advancement or promotion within the company.
Dominus provides the example of national accounting firm BDO USA as a company where workers had flexibility but would not use it. In 2008, Marcee Harris Schwartz, now the Flex Strategy Advisor at BDO, partnered with Yost to develop an initiative to change the firm’s culture. The initiative included an internal education campaign; posters of employees working remotely; stories of flexible arrangements posted on internal social-media sites; and other tactics.
Five years later, Dominus noted the percentage of employees who believed that “employees who are on a management or leadership track have the option to move off that track and back on it when they are ready” increased from 32 to 66 percent.
Working for a company with a culture that supports flexibility and making your own hours is optimal, but you also own the responsibility to balance work with life’s other demands – and pleasures.
The Harvard Business Review article examines how 21 st -century business leaders are reconciling their personal and professional lives through deliberate choices. Drawing from interviews with nearly 4,000 executives over five years, the article focuses on five predominant themes: defining success for yourself; managing technology; building support networks at work and at home; traveling or relocating selectively; and collaborating with your partner.
“In pursuit of rich professional and personal lives, men and women will surely continue to face tough decisions about where to concentrate their efforts,” the articles states. “Our research suggests that earnestly trying to focus is what will see them through.”
Two important pieces of advice from the article include: No one can do it alone and there are multiple routes to success.
It is important you have a support network at work and also among family and/or friends. Additionally, you should accept that your success may not transpire in the same way or timeframe as the next person’s. Some people change jobs frequently looking for new inspiration and opportunities; others remain with the same company to build loyalty and in-depth knowledge. Some couples will thrive individually and collectively by having one stay-at-home partner; others rely on their individual success and career advancement to both feel confident as people and partners. Ask questions to discover what the right answers are for you.
Forbes magazine and WebMD also offer practical steps for fitting together the disparate parts of your life that daily compete for your attention and bolstering enjoyment in the areas you can control. Here are some of their tips:
1. Schedule downtime
Plotting out personalized activities that recharge your battery is a helpful way to reduce burnout. According to WebMD , Laura Stack, a productivity expert in Denver, emphasizes the importance of being proactive about scheduling. That includes scheduling personal downtime and nights out with friends. When you don’t include an activity on your schedule and the time is left open, it tends “to get frittered away,” she says. When you’ve finished one time period of rejuvenation, schedule your next and write it in your planner, add it to your phone calendar or whatever method best helps you manage your responsibilities.
2. Fit in daily exercise
Research shows regular exercise is an effective stress reducer that helps you be more energetic, alert and focused. If you can schedule time to go to the gym or take an aerobics class a few times per week, that is optimal. If you don’t have that option, however, you can look for other ways to incorporate physical movement into your day. Stroll around the block during your 15-minute break, bike to work, walk to the grocery store to grab a few items for dinner or just turn on music and groove for a bit as you get ready for work. In general, those intervals of physical activity will benefit you more in terms of boosting concentration and your sense of wellbeing than the work you could have accomplished in the same amount of time. Finally, don’t waste your time on an exercise you hate. There are countless various options for being active – Zumba, yoga, jogging, recreational kick-ball, hiking and swimming, to name a few. Finding an exercise you enjoy and that aligns with your personal goals will help you engage more regularly.
3. Eliminate energy-wasters
Both activities, as well as certain acquaintances and colleagues, may deprive you of valuable energy that would be better spent elsewhere. According to WebMD, Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, a psychologist and author of “The Official Survival Guide,” suggests you “take stock of activities that don’t enhance your career or personal life, and minimize the time you spend on them.” An obvious example of an activity that decreases your efficiency is surfing the Internet and browsing social media sites. Less noticeable ways of spending time on energy-wasting activities include interacting with people who constantly gossip or complain or going grocery shopping without a prepared list of necessary items.
4. Abandon perfectionism
Wouldn’t it be nice to never make a mistake, either in your personal life or at your job? While young overachievers can maintain perfectionist tendencies when there are limited demands on their time, life grows more complicated as you age, according to a Forbes article . To avoid burning out, Puder-York advises letting go of perfectionism and focusing instead on excellence. “As life gets more expanded it’s very hard, both neurologically and psychologically, to keep that habit of perfection going,” she says.
Smartphones are a curse as well as a blessing. Because of our constant access to technology, it is increasingly difficult to leave work behind and focus on the moment. There also is a growing expectation that we ourselves should be constantly accessible. Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School, believes there are times “when you should just shut your phone off,” as notifications and alerts can cause an undercurrent of stress in your system, according to Forbes . Especially when you are spending time with family, socializing with friends or de-stressing during yoga class, disconnecting from your devices will enhance your ability to engage and enjoy the moment.
6. Outsource daily tasks
Another tip from WebMD is finding errands or chores that you could delegate elsewhere. For instance, the article suggests ordering groceries online and having them delivered; hiring someone to clean your house or mow your lawn; or arranging for package pick-up at your home or office so you don’t have to stop at the post office. While you will have to pay for these services, you may find the time and energy you recoup in exchange are worth it. Another method, according to Stack, is trading services with friends who work in particular fields or enjoy certain activities. For example, you could trade some yard work for a massage or exchange house cleaning for babysitting services.
If your vision is to work for a company that supports its employees in a holistic way, consider Symmetry Financial Group, a North-Carolina based company that works with more than 30 insurance agencies to create custom policies. We are committed not only to our clients, but also our agents, who are encouraged to create their own flexible schedules and work hours that allow them to enjoy other equally important aspects of their lives. Learn more career opportunities at Symmetry Financial Group today.