All of us have heard of the term ‘work-life balance’. However, not many of us actually have it or appreciate the real need for it. How many of us really sit down and think about how to achieve work-life balance? What does the term actually ‘work-life balance’ mean? And why isn’t it ‘life-work balance’? After all, our life as a whole is surely more significant than our work, which is only one component of it — something that we tend to forget once dragged into the rat race.
Taking the word ‘balance’ in isolation — scale, equilibrium and symmetry all come to mind. It is a fact that when one side of the scale is unbalanced, stress ensues. Life-work balance can also be referred to as personal wellness which signifies both professional and personal life well-being. It is about dancing along the tightrope between your career and personal life, being sure to maintain balance so as not to fall. More often than not, when we are doing what we are passionate about and engaged with, our life shifts into balance. We shift from fear to joy or victim to creator. We become action and solution-orientated instead of problem-orientated.
If you’re not currently in that space where you’re that engaged with and passionate about your work, ask yourself these questions to get clear on where you could move to, career-wise, to get in that space:
· What can you be the best in the world at?
· What makes you giddy — “I get paid to do this?”
· What are you passionate about?
· What do you love to do?
· What does the world need?
· What are you capable of? What are your skills, experience and knowledge?
· What do you want? What’s next and how can you navigate your way to my desired outcome?
You might be wondering what is the value in asking yourself these questions and even considering making the changes your answers might suggest — why is a good life-work balance so important anyway? Lack of it can have a detrimental effect on the rest of our lives – our social lives, our health, family, how we feel about life and the world and so on.
The Mental Health Foundation reports that it is estimated nearly three in every 10 employees will experience a mental health problem in any one year. This is little wonder as, according to the organisation, one in six individuals in the UK were working more than 60 hours a week as far back as 2003.
Findings from a survey the charity conducted give us a good indication of how the UK is feeling about work and how it is impacting us all. The questionnaire looked at the amount of time people devoted to work, their reasons for it and feelings about it. The study found the following:
One third of respondents feel unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work.
More than 40% of employees are neglecting other aspects of their life because of work, which may increase their vulnerability to mental health problems.
When working long hours more than a quarter of employees feel depressed (27%), one third feel anxious (34%), and more than half feel irritable (58%).
The more hours you spend at work, the more hours outside of work you are likely to spend thinking or worrying about it.
As a person’s weekly hours increase, so do their feelings of unhappiness.
Many more women report unhappiness than men (42% of women compared with 29% of men), which is probably a consequence of competing life roles and more pressure to ‘juggle’.
Nearly two thirds of employees have experienced a negative effect on their personal life, including lack of personal development, physical and mental health problems, and poor relationships and poor home life.
It is also estimated that stress related sick-leave costs the British industry £370m each year, or about 91m working days! This isn’t healthy! Too many of us just carry on with the same routine instead of addressing the problem and asking ourselves the earlier set of questions. Even if we know that it is affecting our health and lives negatively — it can take a long time before we decide to make a change and get back in control of our life-work balance. It doesn’t have to be this way. Work takes up such a large proportion of our lives that when it isn’t right it can leave us feeling utterly miserable. If it doesn’t give us time to do the things that we enjoy then what is the point? Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate where you are and what you want. Think about if what you have is really working for you.
Nisa Chitakasem is co-founder of Position Ignition (www.positionignition.com) — career consultancy helping with career change, job search and career choices, and Position Ignition for Organisations (www.positionignitionorg.com), which helps organisations to optimise their talent and senior staff effectively.