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Monday, Aug. 31, 2015 12:03 am

Work, life, how?

Tips on keeping your balance

PHOTO BY METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION

 

With the prevalence of smartphones (and incoming texts and email from work) on bedside tables and at Little League games throughout the world, people have to be more diligent than ever about keeping work from taking over their private lives.

Work-life balance, the idea that one must plan some leisure time, some real “life” to balance out their work, is not a new concept in the United States. Labor laws limiting the number of hours that could constitute a workday were in place as far back as the turn of the 20th century. The term itself was coined in the 1980s when corporations started to enact policies that allowed for life outside the workplace, such as maternity leave, telecommuting and employee assistance programs. Though we’ve agreed for several years that this is a priority, that happy employees are more productive and loyal, many employers fall short of implementing policies that ensure this balance is within reach. Often it is up to the employee to be his or her own advocate for their work-life needs.

So aside from landing a sweet gig at Google, what can the average worker do in order to stay healthy and maintain a life outside the office?

Glassdoor.com provides some tips: Say no to staying late sometimes. Set your boundaries and be firm when requests press up against them. Make time for your passion outside of work. Find the right amount of stress, a place that challenges you but doesn’t lead to burnout. Dedicate time to personal and professional goals. Blah, blah, blah.

Thanks a lot, Glassdoor. Simple as that, huh? Excuse me while I go make time for my passion.  What should I do about my lifelong quest to lose a few pounds? Eat less? Cool.

Many people quarreled with Sheryl Sanders, the champion of women “leaning in” in the workplace, for speaking only to women in positions of relative wealth and influence. I have the same problem with most work-life tips. Those who need them most are unable to find time for much of anything extra outside of work. They’d just love to get a full night’s sleep and the chance to see their kids for an hour or two each day.

Many take issue with the very idea of work-life balance, and its implication of strictly dividing one’s life into two parts. Changing the phrase to “work-life integration” has been proposed as a more realistic solution. This doesn’t have to mean answering work emails at midnight.  Finding something meaningful about your work will make it feel like less of a sacrifice. To that end, the Harvard Business Review offers suggestions as to how to feel happier at work: Create a list of what you’ve accomplished each day, however minimal. It will give you an emotional boost and help you plan where you’d like to spend your energy in the future. Also, get to know and ally yourself with positive people who believe in their work. Their attitudes just might rub off on you. Finally, become a mentor for others. This will expand your skills and force you to reconsider knowledge that may have gotten stale.

You will know you have achieved work-life integration when you can be authentic and present at work as well as at home. Teresa Taylor, an executive consultant who gave a popular TED talk on the subject, suggests combining your work and personal calendars. This way, you can prioritize and plan around conflict. Make time for events on the calendar that give you energy. When you can, a Harvard Business Review report suggests, involve your family in work decisions. This may help to garner their support at times when work becomes intense, and you are less available. Collaborate with your partner and build support networks at work as well as at home. Put in face time with those who matter in order to build trust with colleagues. If you have a challenging job and a family, you will need their support.

Undoubtedly, you’re going to have to make a choice between events at times, but once you have done so, be completely present where you are. Taylor gives the example of her son being perfectly satisfied with the quality time she gave him on one 10-minute lunch date. More often than not, we are preoccupied with where we are not, and both appointments get the short end of the stick. Accept that the flow of work demands will be cyclical and stay flexible about that. Creating a goal of balance over the course of a year, or a career, is more realistic than it is to expect balance on a weekly basis. There are more busy times and less busy times. They even out.

According to the New York Times, Millennials are more likely than their parents to expect interruptions in their careers (like starting a family) and prepare for them (saving money, switching to telecommuting positions, etc) rather than expecting to successfully juggle all at once. This realism may be the zen-like key to happiness at work and home. Though much needs to be done on the corporate end to make workplaces more supportive of “life”, that’s another story. Taking our own steps to balance, er, integrate our responsibilities in all spheres of life is something that can be done today.  

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