“Work-life balance.” What used to be heralded as the promised land now is looking more like modern woman's special kind of hell. With startling headlines like “Is Work-Life Balance Even Possible?” and "Work-Life Balance is Dead" featured in major media outlets the past couple years, the debate is ongoing. The core of the argument is this: to be productive and happy, do we need a better on-off switch to divide the personal vs. professional parts of our lives, or do we simply need to better integrate them?
I spoke with Kendra Davies, Professional Certified Coach and speaker and owner of Stellar Life Coaching, who spent over a decade in corporate H.R. She shares her thoughts on evolving work-life balance, and how we can equip ourselves if we're struggling to find balance.
How has work-life balance changed over the past decade?
Davies: Work-life balance has changed as a response to technology. Our society as a whole has created a ‘busy = productive’ culture, and nurtured a FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality. This change has shifted our perspective away from wellbeing and onto scarcity and insecurity.
So balance is more necessary than ever. What about those who don't draw a hard line between work and life?
Davies: Work is not life. Work is simply the energy, time, and effort we choose to put into a job. The common denominator between work and life is the person/employee. The average American will spend some 91,000+ hours working; that is just Monday-Friday 9-5 from ages 18-65. As we know, many of us are clocking way more hours than that.
When we factor in email, phone calls, texts, overtime, weekend work etc., the only thing we will do more of is sleep—that is, if we are not too stressed about our work. The necessity of work-life balance is to remind us that the lives we lead (i.e., our relationships, personal feelings, and self-care outside of the office) deserve as much energy effort and time (as much as we can) as work.
What are some signs that you’re doing “work-life” balance wrong?
Davies: If you...
- Respond to emails late at night.
- Find that you cannot be fully present with your family or friends because you are distracted by the what-ifs or deadlines for a project
- Use your work phone as a personal phone.
- Keep your work phone by your bed.
- Have not set a cut-off time to checking work emails on all devices.
- Have missed multiple events in a quarter or a year, for people whom you care deeply for, because of work.
- Are consistently sleeping less than 6-8 hours because you can’t stop thinking about work.
- Have had a lot of work successes/achievements, but you lost friends, gained weight, started smoking again, are taking a new medication, or have been criticized by people who love you for not being around.
What are some practical tips to gain more sanity in this balance?
- Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.” So do something different. Set boundaries and time restrictions on your devices.
- Buy a relic of the early-'90s called an alarm clock, and don’t keep your phone (personal or work) next to your bed.
- Develop self-care rituals. Some common self-care choices among my clients are: Youtube Yoga in your living room for 15 minutes or less, guided meditations for 5 minutes at lunch or before bed, writing thank you notes to the people who contribute value to your life every week, physical activities or other hobbies like salsa dancing or joining a bowling league, volunteer regularly for a charity.
- Trying everything you can until you find something that works to get you to sleep 6-8 hours a night. Your body requires sleep to heal, to process, to rest, and to help you function another day. Lack of sleep can contribute to all of the same physical ailments as stress. Blood pressure, heart health, kidney functioning, weight gain, fatigue and even depression.
- Write down your personal mission.
How can having a personal mission create better work-life balance?
Davies: Here is the deal–I have an awesome first-time executive as a client. She wants to be like Olivia Pope (from the popular TV Show Scandal), and she wants her team to feel like Ms. Pope’s gladiators. She wrote a mission to communicate her vision. That vision includes flourishing personal lives, compassionate support for each other, and goal-smashing work ethic. Do not take work at face value. Decide what “work” is to you, and have a clear vision of the life you want to live outside of the office. Live and work to meet that goal for yourself.
Equipped with these tips, think about your own work-life balance. There's no one-size-fits-all equation. Balance, in such simple terms, may be unrealistic, but each and every one of us can work to achieve a routine that allows us to flourish both professionally and personally.
Photo Credit: Belathée Photography