Work-life balance

FamilyThis week is the national work-life balance week her in Denmark (read all about it in Danish), and in honor of that, this week’s postings will all be about balancing work and life outside of work. This is of course an enormously important skill, and any lasting imbalance in this area is likely to make us unhappy at work and in life.

It’s been getting more difficult for many of us to maintain that balance for a few reasons:

Employment is changing. It used to be a straight swap: so many hours for so much money. Punch in in the morning, punch out in the evening. Today’s more flexible work arrangements mean that you can’t necessarily know in advance how much you’ll be working.

Technology. It used to be that when you went home, you were off the clock. Cell phones, email, faxes etc. have made us reachable everywhere and further blurred the boundary between life and work. The net result has been that people work more and more hours – in fact the number of hours the average employee spends working is steadily rising.

Jobs are changing. As many jobs change from production to knowledge and creative work, they tend to get more interesting, so we want to spend more time at them.

Now, I’m not saying that these things are bad and we should turn back the clock to a previous era of predictable, boring work. I’m saying that this is new to us and we’re still figuring out how to navigate these new waters. What choices are we facing? How can we find answers? What tools do we need? How do others thrive in these conditions?

I have every faith in us finding out over the next decade and good companies and good leaders are one of the most important factors. For a a good example of good and bad leaders, see this recent post: Work less, do more. Who do you think helps employees achieve work-life balance – Tom or Sarah?

It’s crucial that we do learn to find the balance. According to a study in the UK, parents who work full time spend 19 minutes a day caring for their children. Adventuredad has a great commentary on that article:

19 minutes a day? That is absolutely nothing. You barely have time to have a basic conversation with your children in this time. I must really question the point of having children when you see them this little. Parents see their pets more than that.

And one thing is not spending enough time with your kids. Your friends, your family and your spouse/partner might also appreciate spending some time with you once in a while :o)

And last, but not least, there’s yourself. I’m a very extroverted person, but even I need quiet time alone or I get seriously cranky. I need time to read, surf the net, watch Lost, go to the movies and to think.

Another worrisome tendency is the fact that many of us cut into our sleep time in order to fit more work into the day, and that may not be healthy for all of us. Too little sleep will not only make you tired and cranky, it also weakens your immune defence, so there’s a greater change of you becoming ill.

For all of these reasons it’s important for us to learn to find the right balance between work and not-work. I have every confidence we will and that what we’re seeing now is just a transitional phase as we get to grip with all the new opportunities that a changing work life offers us.

8 thoughts on “Work-life balance”

  1. Interestingly, our company has a section on our intranet site called “Work/Life Balance”. It points out the company give us 8 paid holidays a year, vacation and sick time, a paid floating holiday, bereavement pay, and paid military or jury duty.

    You pay the employees for some time off, which is great… but that doesn’t help guide employees how to strike the balance between the two! I recently went on a trip for our wedding anniversary and while on that trip I received a call from a coworker and one from a customer. Both expected help. I had set numerous protocols to help people while I was out, notified people via an outgoing email, out-of-office notifier on my email, and a voicemail on my desk phone. This was the ONLY vacation trip I would get this year and it was only three days long. Still, I was expected to work.

    Unfortunately, its not uncommon. If I take vacation time (even if I’m just sitting at home), I get called at least once. And before the end of it, I usually log in to check email and make sure I’m not blind-sided by too much when I return. Unfortunately, in my position I give out my cell number to everyone when I’m on-call, so its widely known.

    So the question I have for everyone is this: What can companies do to help employees find that work/life balance? I know when one of my employees goes on vacation, I get a list of items that may be coming up that I’ll have to handle, and then I refuse to call the employee or give out any number to reach them.

  2. Work-Life balance?? As you point out in the post with things getting more interesting and creative work is also more interesting, and the line between the tow blurs.
    Isn’t it more about a LIFE balance – work, personal, relationship, family, leisure, etc … all in a healthy balance and how we WANT them to be….
    Work and life are NOT polar opposites and always in competition ….

  3. As bad as I hate wage labor under the direction of a boss, in today’s environment of speedups and downsizing, I’m still glad I don’t work in a white collar job that requires me to be accessible by cell phone. I don’t even own a cell phone, and hate them a little more every time I go out in public and see all the people on their electronic leashes. I prefer an absolute, concrete-reinforced boundary between work and my real life. I’d sooner put a camper shell on my truck and live in it than work at a job that required me to carry a cell phone that could ring and ruin my day at literally any minute of the day. I don’t want my real life contaminated by any communication whatsoever from my job.

  4. am happily surprised as I myself conduct happiness workshops in INDIA and so when my friends (who are my children) told me about you I thought it would be nice to go to your blog.
    my concept of work is as a a place ,where we spend half the
    waking hours of the best of the years of life say 23 to 60.
    how can I be unhappy there and still live my life.So I advocate
    happiness in all areas of life including work and instead of
    spending time at work,start living there.It did wonders for me and will like you to share your experience.

  5. Greg: Life-balance. I like it.

    Kevin: The cell phone has pretty much become the symbol of the “always-available” employee, and many people still don’t have the tools to deal with it.

    I’ve predicted for a while now that soon we will see vacations, hotels, bars that advertise no cell-phone connection – where you have no signal or the signal is jammed. These will be sanctuaries for people who need a break from “always-on”.

    snand: “Don’t spend time at work – live there.” I love it!

  6. Work/Life balance is a tricky thing and really needs to be managed. I think there really is a happy medium out there and to achieve it should be everyone’s goal…

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