In recent years, work-life balance issues have been getting more and more attention both from scholars and practitioners. It feels like demands keep increasing, and each of us is supposed to have multiple obligations and roles.
So it is really easy to get stuck in the loop where we desperately try to complete all choirs while we are not having much time (or any) for things that we find meaningful or joyful.
While some people are good at setting their priorities, most of us are not. But to be fair, it is not just our lack of time management or organizational skills that make our life harder. Having problems achieving and maintaining our work-life balance could be rooted in our psychological needs. Namely, it is considered that the three basic psychological needs of all humans are: competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Ryan & Deci,2017). Although those needs could be fulfilled in various settings, it is reasonable to assume that in a work environment, our need for competence would be more often challenged and potentially fulfilled. At the same time, that would be the case for relatedness but in family settings.
So if you are confused, how is it possible that your children are the most important to you, but you are still accepting an additional project that will keep you away from them - this might help you at least understand. Of course, we will try to provide also practical tips on how you can improve your work-life balance.
However, remember that sometimes you have trouble maintaining a work-life balance because demands are exceeded and go beyond your mental and physical capacity. So next time, before you start blaming yourself - check whether this might be the case.
What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance could be defined as the state where each of these domains doesn't interfere with the others, and we are satisfied with both.
That would mean that while we are at work, we can entirely focus on our tasks without interruption, and when we are done, we have time and energy for our family, friends, hobbies, etc. However, in reality, our work and private life are interrelated. Interference could be both positive (facilitation) and negative (conflict) (Andersz et al., 2018).
Some authors (e.g., Bhende et al., 2020) emphasized that there are certain groups for which work-life balance could be harder to achieve. Those are women (especially if they are mothers) but also educated men and younger people.
Some authors, such as Wilensky (1960 cited in Andersz et al., 2018), tried to explain possible family-work associations. Three models were proposed: segmentation, compensation, and spillover.
- Segmentation - this model refers to situations where work and private life are entirely separated, and therefore, the satisfaction with one does not affect the other domains.
- Compensation - this model explains a situation where there is dissatisfaction in one area (work or family), and as a response, a person overly compensates in another area.
- Spillover - this model assumes that work-life satisfaction is interrelated, and it could be positive and negative.
As expected, each possible linkage between work and family could affect life and job satisfaction. The study conducted in Poland (Andersz et al., 2018) showed that negative spillover from work or family harms overall life satisfaction, while negative spillover from work was also associated with lower job satisfaction. Complementary, positive spillover from home and family positively impacted life satisfaction, while positive spillover from home didn't increase job satisfaction. Furthermore, this study suggests that segmentation could increase life satisfaction (but not job satisfaction). Finally, compensation for what is missing from home expectedly increased only job satisfaction.
Tips to improve your work-life balance
Improving the work-life balance could be a challenging task, especially recently with the increased popularity of hybrid and remote work. Although these work models promote flexibility, they blur the fine line between work and private life. Additionally, the widespread usage of mobile devices allows us to have "office" in our hands. While undoubtedly, this is useful in some urgent situations, most of the time - reading generic emails during your free time is not beneficial. Of course, the same applies to watching videos of cute cats while you should be working on your report.
However, the good news is that you can improve your work-life balance by introducing simple changes in your daily routine
Improving work-life balance at work
- Improve your work efficiency
This could be one of the ways to improve work-life balance. Namely, better time management and planning will make you more productive and less stressed; therefore, you will not bring home your work and work-related stress.
2. Avoid distraction
We are all, to some degree, prone to procrastination—additionally, our brains like distraction and additional doses of dopamine. You might think there is no harm in watching a cat's video for 5 minutes, but in reality, disruption will be much longer because you will need additional time to refocus on your work task.
3. Setting clear boundaries
Sadly, most of us are not taught to do that in school or with family. Usually, after burnout or some big disappointment, we start learning the importance of boundaries. To be productive and satisfied at work, it is vital to express your needs and capacity clearly. Also, unless you are working in a toxic environment, your colleagues and boss are probably not trying to bury you in your work duties. Maybe you are the one who is not saying clearly that your plate is already full, and maybe even your self-initially accepting tasks that will require you to work during your free time. So start advocating for yourself.
4. Leave a toxic environment
Somewhere along the way, "work in a fast-paced, dynamic environment" become a synonym for working overtime without any reimbursement and appreciation. Yes, sometimes some unexpected things happen, and solving issues requires additional time and effort. But if it is standard practice, it signals poor management or intentional taking advantage of employees. You should be able to decide whether you want to work overtime and be afraid of the consequences. Also, getting a free day when you need it or mental health day is not unreasonable or unrealistic.
Improving work-life balance at home
- Leave work outside
If you just had a big, nasty fight with your spouse, would you go to the office and rant about it for hours to your colleagues? Probably not. So why are you ranting about your boss? This doesn't mean that it should be forbidden to talk about work at home. It is impossible, especially when something happens. And yes, emotional support from your partner could help you better cope with stress. However, be aware when you stop looking for solutions and just use your partner/friend/pet as a punching bag to temporarily release stress. Others can help you only if you are willing to help yourself.
2. Quality over quantity
Even half an hour of doing something that we are enjoying could be more beneficial than spending an entire weekend doing some activities that do not bring us joy or that they are meaningless. The same applies to your partner and loved ones. If you are truly present when you are together, if you make an effort to do something nice for them in situations when you get stuck at work, they will probably offer not just understanding but also practical help, whether it is doing some choirs for you or making your coffee or just leaving you alone.
3. Chose wisely people around you
Work-life balance in an ideal scenario. However, in reality, it is hard to achieve and maintain that balance. So occasionally, one aspect will be more critical. Therefore it is important to be surrounded by people who understand and encourage your dreams and goals and who are willing to support you when needed.
What are the benefits of having a work-life balance?
From the standpoint of an organization, employees with work-life balance are at less risk of burnout, leaving jobs, or making mistakes. Additionally, by encouraging work-life balance, organizations are setting themselves as desirable employer and increasing loyalty. Of course, there are numerous benefits of work-life balance also for individuals:
- Work-Life Balance Means Less Stress
Being able to manage work-life balance will decrease the level of experienced distress. Namely, the conflict between work and private life will negatively impact not just job but also general life satisfaction. Oppositely, having time for yourself and the things and people you love will fulfill you with more energy and optimism that will benefit your work performance.
- Work-Life Balance Will Improve Your Mental Health
As we mentioned before, both work and our private life allow us to fulfill some of our basic psychological needs. Work-life balance allows us to fulfill different needs but not at the expense of others. Although for some of us (or in various moments) some needs feel more critical (e.g. relatedness vs. competence or autonomy), we need them all fulfilled.
- Having Balance Means Better Physical Health
The constant conflict between various roles puts strands on our physical and mental health. If you are struggling to juggle between work and your private life, it is reasonable to assume that you have increased levels of stress, but also probably you are not sleeping enough, exercising, or eating well. Finally, feeling overwhelmed probably means you don't have time or energy (or both) for regular medical checks up. Work-life balance allows you to take better care of yourself.
One study (Virtanen et al., 2010) that included 10 000 participants showed that working overtime harms our health. Namely, this study reported that working three or more hours overtime increases the risk of coronary disease by 60%.
- Work-Life Balance Enhances Your Ability to Be Present
Struggling to find a balance between work and private life usually results in not being present both at work and during family time. When we are preoccupied with some issues, it is hard not to think about them, even if we are making a conscious effort to do something else. For example, it is hard not to think about the deadline for one important project, even during your kid's school play. But knowing that you have enough time and support to finish the project successfully will help you enjoy time off.
- Being Balanced Improves Your Relationship
We often wrongly believe that we need to be perfect and always to go the extra mile to be loved and respected. In reality, when we are setting clear boundaries, whether with our colleagues or with family, we are improving our relationships. While it is probably impossible (at least for the majority of people) to completely separate work and private life, it is important to set up some rules. Except in case of emergency, do not let your work life interfere with the private one and vice versa. You shouldn't plan your holiday during your shift, but also you shouldn't be working during family dinners. Sound too easy, but how many of us can do that?
- Balance Makes You More Productive
Numerous organizations are starting to recognize that the promotion of work-life balance increases the productivity of workers and the entire organization. Additionally, enabling the work-life balance will result in the retention of the greatest talents and their loyalty.
Some studies (e.g., Perera et al., 2019) showed that employees with work-life balance also showed higher productivity at work. Interestingly this study also showed the connection between good social relationships (both in private and work life) and performance at work. Similarly, another study (Wiradendi Volor et al., 2020) showed a positive association between work-life balance and work performance, and also work motivation.
- Work-Life Balance Brings Higher Levels of Success
Positive spillover between work and private life could benefit both (Andersz et al., 2018). In other words, being satisfied with one area positively impact another. Therefore it is important to not neglect any important aspects of your life.
Undoubtedly, achieving a work-life balance is hard but so worth doing it. Try different solutions and find what works for you.
If you are happy with your work-life balance - feel free to share your tips and tricks.
Andersz, N., Czarnota-Bojarska, J., & Wojtkowska, K. (2018). Strategies for maintaining work–life balance and their consequences for quality of life and job satisfaction. Social Psychological Bulletin, 13(2), Article e27578.
Bhende, P., Mekoth, N., Ingalhalli, V., & Reddy, Y. V. (2020). Quality of work life and work–life balance. Journal of Human Values, 26(3), 256-265.
Perera, U. D., Sampath, J. K. H., & Pushpakumari, M. D. (2019). The impact of work-life balance on job performance of administrative officers of state universities in Sri Lanka.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory. Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness.
Virtanen, M., Ferrie, J. E., Singh-Manoux, A., Shipley, M. J., Vahtera, J., Marmot, M. G., & Kivimäki, M. (2010). Overtime work and incident coronary heart disease: the Whitehall II prospective cohort study. European heart journal, 31(14), 1737-1744.
Wiradendi Wolor, C., Solikhah, S., Fidhyallah, N. F., & Lestari, D. P. (2020). Effectiveness of e-training, e-leadership, and work life balance on employee performance during COVID-19. Journal of Asian Finance, Economics and Business, 7(10).