Work-life balance is a term that we see EVERYWHERE. We have a pet peeve that work-life balance can often seem like another achievement. For that reason, when people are seeking to find balance, it might feel like a chore. That’s because we are told that balance has a specific formula, or that it’s about equally splitting time between work and life. Balance can make you feel like you have to excel at work, do it all at home, and still have time for hobbies. That’s not realistic.
So, what is work-life balance actually? It might not be what you think, or what you have read about before. Find out what work-life balance is, and what it’s not, below!
Defining Work-Life Balance
First, it’s key to understand what work-life balance isn’t, before defining what it is. You might have heard of the concept of “work-life conflict” before. We have talked about it on our podcast as well. Work-life conflict is the idea that your work interferes with your life in some meaningful way. This could be because you don’t have enough time to complete life tasks due to necessary work hours. It could also occur when stress from work makes you feel stress outside of work. Or it can happen when you feel like your work forces you to act in a way that is at odds with who you are outside of work. Taken together, work-life conflict is about how work gets in the way of life.
In contrast, work-life enrichment occurs when your work makes you better in your life somehow. Perhaps you’re learning new skills you can also apply at home. Or maybe you’re energized by your work and that makes you energized outside of work. In all, work-life enrichment is also different from balance because it occurs when your work directly improves your life.
Balance is different from conflict or enrichment. Work-life balance occurs when you feel you have the right mix of work and life activities in your daily life. In other words, you feel satisfied and effective in both domains. When you feel that your work and life are fitting together harmoniously, you have work-life balance.
Avoid a One-Size-Fits-All Approach
It’s important to recognize that work-life balance is different for everyone. Since it’s about a feeling of harmony, there may be different ways to achieve that feeling. Work-life balance is also about the value that you place on each domain. If your work is extremely important to you, and your life outside of work is not as valued, working more hours might put you in balance. If your life outside of work is extremely important to you, compared to your career, spending more time with family and friends might lead to balance. If they are both equally important, you may need to find more of a split between the two.
Because work-life balance has a lot to do with your own needs and values, your balance may look very different from others. You might see friends working more hours than you would find enjoyable. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are out of balance though! Similarly, you might think that your friends are not working enough hours, compared to you. Yet, while you might favor working longer hours, that may be stressful for your friends.
Takeaways for Understanding Work-Life Balance
If you’re an employee who doesn’t have managerial responsibilities, it’s important to recognize what drives your own balance. It’s crucial to think about what you actually value and what drives feelings of harmony. Sometimes you can convince yourself that you enjoy overworking, for example, but you are actually just being pressured by others to spend more hours working. Similarly, if folks need a lot from you in life, you could justify your hours spent on activities outside of work by thinking of those who need you. Overall, if you’re trying to tell yourself that you favor work or life activities more than you actually do, it’s important to be honest moving forward. Otherwise, you won’t achieve balance!
If you’re a manager, remember that everyone doesn’t define balance the way you do. When employees are balanced, they perform better. Make sure to recognize that your working preference may not drive balance for everyone. And, while it’s good to check in on employees who appear to be working at off times, if they tell you that’s their preference, you should try to honor that. In sum, it’s important not to make assumptions about what will drive balance for others. What drives your work-life balance may not be the same for other employees!