We are busy people. We have jobs, families, hobbies, pets–and at some point amidst it all we need to eat, sleep, and pay the bills. In a world that has become so career-centric, it is easy to believe that being stressed is synonymous with being successful.
Such is not the case.
As we make progress to absolve one another of gender roles, allowing men to spend more time with their families and women to pursue careers, the challenge of finding work/life balance is evolving. Many of us wear more hats now, and unfortunately still feel the pressures of the gender norms that we’ve grown up with weighing heavily on our shoulders, although leaps and bounds have been made. There are still a lot of cultural expectations around motherhood, and I think it’s safe to say that in regard to either motherhood or career, many mammas today suffer some form of FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
The work-life balance is a harsh reality for so many women, who are forced every day to make impossible choices. Do they take their kids to the doctor…and risk getting fired? Do they work weekends so they can afford to send their kids to better childcare…even though it means even less time with their families? Do they take another shift at work, so they can pay for piano lessons for their kids…even though it means they have to stop volunteering for the PTA? It just shouldn’t be this difficult to raise healthy families.
And the world just isn’t slow these days. It takes intention and hard work to remind yourself to slow down. But without finding work/life balance, we are not likely to feel fulfilled.
It is clear that practicing self-care and setting boundaries is pivotal in establishing balance. We are responsible for setting our own priorities and managing our time in a way that feeds into our hearts. And beyond seeking work/life balance in order to feel fulfilled, happy, and alive, we need to make time for the more challenging parts of life as well. When can I run my errands? How can I manage my child care? What about elder care? My family relies on two incomes, so it is not an option for one of us to stay home and run our household; we have to find balance in order to squeeze all of that in the mix as well.
When it comes down to it, seeking work/life balance shouldn’t feel like you’re doing something wrong or failing at your job. We shouldn’t feel guilty when we don’t answer work calls after hours, because we’re spending time with our families (or by our damn selves if that’s just what we need that day). We shouldn’t have to worry about tending to our children or elders; we should be able to manage our lives and our jobs without feeling like a failure at either one. To that end, companies need to value the balance offered to employees as an investment in human capital.
Humans that have achieved work/life integration are happy humans.
I mean, at least I’d imagine so–I’m still working on it.
But the proof is really in the pudding (great, now I’m hungry).
Fostering work/life balance by offering flexible work arrangements has been known to reduce absenteeism, lower turnover, improve employee wellness, and increase productivity (Council of Economic Advisors (U.S.), 2014).
Higher job satisfaction and loyalty are reported in employees granted flexible work options. Additionally, it has been observed that having access to flexible work is highly correlated with greater worker engagement and higher well-being. Turnover, as employers and HR professionals are probably aware, is a costly thing. It’s just plain expensive to lose an employee, as recruitment and training are not areas in which you want to skimp. Flexible work arrangements decrease turnover by allowing employees to remain working even after a major life event, such as bringing a new child home (Council of Economic Advisors (U.S.), 2014).
You may recall a relevant blurb from my post “About the Wage Gap” about promoting equality in parental leave policies and solving childcare cost problems. In addition to the role of parental leave policies and childcare options in closing the gender wage gap, I also believe these are vital tools in fostering work/life balance.
Offering and encouraging the same parental leave policies for new mothers as well as new fathers can be beneficial in re-shaping the way we think of gender-roles and expectations regarding work/life balance, while giving fathers the same opportunity to bond with their children as mothers. Beyond that, helping parents find childcare options to suit their needs can encourage equality in time management, commitment, work-life balance, and career advancement. Given the means, I encourage business owners to offer childcare services, but if space and staffing won’t allow for that, then an allowance, flexible work options, or another form of discretionary benefit may help tremendously. Even if the employee does not opt to use the childcare assistance provided, having the option shows that the employer is in support of him or her pursuing parenthood and personal enrichment.
“About the Wage Gap”
It is worth noting that according to the 2014 publication Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility, 89 percent of high-skilled working fathers reported that paternity leave was an important consideration in seeking new employment if they were to have another child (Council of Economic Advisors (U.S.), 2014). If that number doesn’t speak volumes to you about beefing up your parental leave policy, at the very least on the basis of talent acquisition and retention, then I don’t know what will.
A few other ways that HR professionals and employers can make an impact in creating exceptional employee experiences and happy humans:
- If employees are on vacation–and please do give them paid vacations–let them be on vacation. Do not send them work emails, text messages, etc. Let them unplug so that they may come back totally recharged and excited to be back at the grind. You will feel the difference in their presence and productivity when they return; guaranteed or your money back (oh wait, my advice is free–who’s the joke on then?). A colleague told me about her workplace vacation policy including two weeks of paid vacation with just one a caveat–no work while on vacation, including checking emails. Yes, please.
- Please use discretion when contacting employees. While it may feel fabulous for you to check tomorrow’s delegation off of your to-do list, respect that late night or weekend emails and such can be stressful and distracting for an employee (Shapiro, 2014).
- Additionally, it is important to be respectful and strategic with your communication means. A phone call says to an employee, “SOS, this needs your attention now.” A text message may prioritize as, “Sometime today,” while an email says, “Sometime this week” (Shapiro, 2014). Of course, each workplace culture may have different expectations regarding communication. No matter the workplace, however, when you’re reaching out to an employee, put yourself in their shoes and imagine the way that you would best appreciate to receive the information.
- Be realistic and give your employees the tools and time necessary to complete tasks. Communicate with them about their workload. Show that you care and want to give them an exceptional experience. You will not be expected to implement every suggestion, but you may have a better idea of how to support your people and grow your organization.
But what can we do as individuals to take care of ourselves? I have a few suggestions:
- Set boundaries. Technology today allows us to be connected 24/7. It is okay to set boundaries for when you will be reachable for work communications, just so long as you do so in advance and communicate clearly. Don’t be ashamed if you want to be intentional and present with your family on evenings and weekends; but if so, make sure that you are also intentional and present in your work while you’re on the clock.
Recognize that the lines get blurrier the higher you climb up the ladder, so prioritizing is a vital step in deciding how far to advance your career if boundaries may be important to you.
- Prioritize. This starts with defining what success means for you personally and professionally. When you have a clear vision of what successful you looks like, you will be more apt to achieve balance that supports that vision. Then you will need to flex your prioritization muscles daily, choosing where your attention is best suited each day.
I recommend Passion Planner. These planners are fabulous! They begin by helping you map your passions in order to set goals; this could be a fabulous tool for defining what success means for you. Then, as you use the planner, you will notice that it actually has sections for work and personal life, so you may set goals and create to-do lists for each. I enjoy that I can then reflect on my use of the planner and see if I’ve been leaning a little to heavy towards work or play. I can’t recommend these highly enough, and they give back to incredible causes, including empowering females.
- Say “no.” We all have limits to what we can take on, and if you’re pushing that limit, you’ve already taken on too much. You do not need to live at work. You are not helping yourself or others by spreading yourself too thin. It’s much better to do one job incredibly well than three jobs half-assed. Sometimes, a confident “no” really is the best help you can offer.
- Communicate. Tell your supervisor if you’re not feeling in balance. Let them know how they can help you, and be open to their ideas. You can ask about flexible work arrangements, let them know that you plan to use your vacation-time email free, or ask them for more time or resources if you are feeling buried in your work. If you don’t let them know there is a problem, they will not try to fix it. Recognize that they may not take your suggestions or have the means to offer a solution–but they also just might.
Additionally, be sure to communicate with your partner or family. Let them know when you are anticipating a busier week at work or if you need any special support from them. Having a support system and keeping one another in the know can help keep a healthy household. Remind yourself that the gender roles and cultural expectations you may feel burdened by do not need to belong to you. You and your family get to decide how the work and love are distributed in your household; nobody else.
- Practice self-care. Do things that feed into your well-being! You may read more about self-care and stress management here.
Please, leave a reply to share how you achieve work/life balance.
Does your workplace participate in flexible work arrangements? Are you able to unplug when you’re at home? How do you practice efficient time management? I’m excited to learn some tips from you!
Council of Economic Advisers (U.S.). (2014). Work-life balance and the economics of workplace flexibility. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/documents/updated_workplace_flex_report_final_0.pdf
Dresdale, R. (2017, August 29). 20 inspiring quotes on work-life balance by successful women. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelritlop/2017/08/29/quotes-work-life-balance-women/#4d46231a3fc1
Shapiro, G. (2014, May 28). 10 ways to establish a better work/ife balance. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/10-ways-work-life.aspx