Why you have work-life balance wrong?

The first time I decided to take an active interest in work-life balance was when I found out that the Japanese have a word for Death by overwork: Karoshi. Prior to that, the idea that someone could become so invested in their work to the point of neglecting other aspects of life until it literally kills them had never occurred to me. Over the years, I have come to realise that most people reach the point of overwork through good intentions.

At some point, organisations started to expect more than the bare minimum from their employees. Workers seeking promotion and professional recognition went out of their way to do more. This often translated into working beyond office hours and taking work home. Eventually, this started to affect the quality of their lives. Relationships with family suffers. Resentment builds at work. If sustained long enough, this starts to have an effect on their health. Faced with growing evidence that work culture was making employees sick, many HR managers started preaching about work-life balance even when their actions did nothing to encourage it.

Stacked stones
Are your work and life in balance?

Today, many office workers talk about work-life balance. Where they get it wrong is that they think it’s an endpoint. I’d argue it’s more effective to think of the concept as a cycle because as circumstances in your work and personal life change so too do your priorities. Work-life balance is really an attempt to balance those priorities such that you don’t end up feeling resentment at work. There are easy steps you can take to determine if your work and life are not in balance right now.

Start by taking some time to do some introspection. Ask yourself what could be causing you stress? This is important because individuals have different circumstances. A single person with no children might be able to work long hours and bring work home on a regular basis. A nursing mother cannot. Neither of them is a bad worker. They just happen to be at different stages in their lives and have different priorities.

Listen to your emotions. They are key to knowing what aspect of your work you would like to change. If working long hours causes you resentment and anger, it is highly likely you are dissatisfied with the sacrifices you have had to make. Would you rather spend more time in the evening with your families?

Cycle
As circumstances change, so too do priorities

Finally, decide what is important. Then make a change. In extreme cases, this might mean creating an exit plan and looking for another job. In most cases, however, a conversation with a Superior about roles and responsibilities might lead to a new job description. One that allows more time for the things that matter. In a few cases, the person might be in a position where the change they need to make is to simply clock out at closing time and leave all work at the office. This cycle isn’t a one-off thing. You will have to do it over your working life as work and personal circumstances change. Whatever you do. Don’t die for the office.

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