Today All Groan Up welcomes Sarah Landrum, founder of Punched Clocks, with this stellar guest-post. Enjoy!
Achieving a balance between working and everything else is increasingly difficult for young Millennial workers – but for a growing number, it’s one of the strongest determining factors in their perpetual and ongoing job search.
While the burden of fostering a work-life balance may be on employers more than employees, there are still a few steps you can take in your own life to achieve equity between home and the office. Here are a few tips for how to level the playing field, and strengthen your work-life balance.
Traditional wisdom positions work and life as two mutually oppositional forces. However, many have begun to call that idea into question. They argue that work is only one small part of life, and characterizing the relationship as a direct binary competition both inflates the importance of work in a person’s life, and implies that work cannot be a worthwhile, fulfilling and enjoyable pursuit.
So your first tip for achieving a strong work-life balance? Don’t. Simply disregard the work-life balance altogether. Reject that dichotomy. Refuse to play the game; pack up your ball and go home. Instead, try to seek a career that fuses your job and your hobbies, your passions and your professional advancement, “office you” and “weekend you”.
That’s all well and good, I hear you say, but what about now? What can you do today to instill some much-needed harmony between your job and all the stuff that goes on outside it?
- Decide What Kind of Balance You Really Want
Work-life balance is a broad semantic umbrella, and it encompasses two very different camps.
On the one hand are people who want a hard work-life balance: firm boundaries, rigidly enforced, and never-the-twain-shall-meet. These individuals want to show up at nine, punch out at five, and God help you if you call them off-hours.
On the other hand are those who want a soft work-life balance: overlap, give-and-take, a movable schedule, the flexibility to respond to changing circumstances. They want a job that allows them to take off two hours early with minimal friction, or a home life that can facilitate working late when necessary. These individuals crave a work and a life that co-exist harmoniously, each capable of shoving over when the other requests priority,
The problem is that even though we use the same term to describe them, these are in fact two very different desires, and describe two very different work environments. The first step in building a stronger work-life balance is to drill down and ask: What do I mean by that?
Once you’ve got that figured out …
- Set a Foundation and Establish Stability
You can’t squeeze blood from a rock, and you can’t build a house on a sinking shoreline. Similarly, trying to create a balance between work and life when the two are in a constant state of flux is at best extremely difficult, and at worst a doomed endeavor.
Consider the retail industry: Plagued by uncertain hours, low wages and poor benefits, retail workers across the country find it impossible to create stability between their work and their life.
To achieve balance in your life, determine the exact shape of the relationship between your work and your life, figure out the rules of how they interact and then figure out which parts of that interaction are vulnerable to unpredictability. Once you’ve got a stable foundation underneath you, with vulnerabilities clearly-identified …
- Draw Boundaries
Time is money, and employers know this. This is why a growing number of employers, seeking to squeeze out an extra dollar, have begun demanding that workers bring work home with them: carrying a company cellphone, answering company emails and generally being on call in the fashion of a doctor or lawyer.
However, doctors and lawyers are paid for being on call. “I may be called unexpectedly into work” is a part of their foundation, which can be relied-upon. “I demand to be paid for that time” is a boundary-setting measure, which makes clear to those at work – supervisors and co-workers – as well as those at home – friends and family – that these are the rules. These are the boundaries. “I can be on call … but it will cost you.”
You might not want or need to establish something like on-call hours at your job, but the principle is the same: Once you’ve identified where work and life are currently butting heads, you need to establish rules and regulate their interaction. Talk to your manager, but also your friends and family. Lay down the law, and make everyone play nice.
- Invest in Downtime
Striving for work-life balance conjures a certain image to mind: hours working versus hours attending to life-related responsibilities; grocery shopping; paying bills. The life part of the work-life equation means more than just work that is done at home. Research shows that downtime, or time spent doing nothing, is vital to maintaining sanity and health.
Set aside some time for yourself. If you think you don’t have any, then make some. Talk to friends and family to see if they can pick up some of the at-home slack – and if they can’t, then pay someone to do it for you. Consider it an investment in sanity. If the lawn needs mowed, pay a neighbor kid to do it. If the shopping needs done, have groceries delivered. If the house needs cleaned, get some help.
Time is money, but that means the reverse is also true, and you can spend the latter to create the former. Then you can use that time you gain back for productive relaxation: active recharging that enables you to tackle both work and things outside it with the energy and passion they deserve.
Work-life balance isn’t about achieving somebody else’s idea of equity, or setting some arbitrary percentage of your time to devote to each. It’s about asking yourself what matters to you, and then taking steps to achieve it.
What does balance mean to you? How do you want your work and life to interact? What does the ideal home life look like to you? What do you think is the ideal work environment? What can you do to make both a reality, and bring them in line with one another?
Achieving work-life balance is not an idle excursion: It requires asking hard questions and taking bold steps. As the research shows, taking those steps will make you not only a more productive worker, but also a happier and healthier human being.
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and the founder of Punched Clocks, where she shares advice on finding career happiness and success. For more from Sarah, follow her on Twitter @SarahLandrum and subscribe to her newsletter.