Work-Life Balance – The Impossible Dream

Work-Life Balance
Work-Life Balance

Managing work-life balance is impossible. Speaking from my own experience it is not possible to get it right and there is almost always guilt either way. What I do know is that I try. And that is all we can ever expect of anyone. On its own, parenting is an enormous job with many delicate responsibilities. However, it’s essential to find a system that balances work and parenting. Feeling unfulfilled on both sides can lead to a relationship breakdown (or lack of one) between a child and a parent, career stagnation, or job loss altogether. Working is not a choice for many of us, but a necessity. As you read this article remember two key things: a parenting plan must be joint, in other words, both parents must agree and help out. Secondly, the amount of time is not the same as quality time, two hours ‘with’ your child is worth more than four looking over a laptop as they watch TV.

Thankfully, most companies now recognize the place of family and the sensitive task of raising children. There are now provisions for paid parental leave to strengthen family bonds. A study led by Jasmina Žnidaršič, a researcher in human resource management and organizational sciences, found that corporate practices such as support from leaders, co-workers, and family-friendly policies positively impact the individual’s work-family balance. This suggests that the approach bodes well not just for individuals but even for organizations.

What is Work-Life Balance?

At least once in a lifetime. Many people come across someone in their circle. Who says they regret having worked so much and missed out on other important things in their life. Kathy Caprino, a leadership coach, writer, speaker, and educator dedicated to the advancement of women in business, defines work-life balance “as an embodiment of our ability to manage and negotiate our many (often conflicting) desires, wants and responsibilities in a way that enlivens us rather than depletes and drains us. It requires strong boundaries and a strong sense of self-love and self-acceptance, as well as the ability to say “no” to what we don’t want, without drowning in guilt and fear.”

While Monica Browning, a certified leadership and life coach based in Hong Kong, has a slightly different definition. She defines it as “the ability to find an acceptable and happy equilibrium between time and energy spent on ‘work’-related activities versus how we spend our time and energy outside of ‘work’ (and this ‘work’ may be paid or unpaid). The ability to create a life or lifestyle that is optimal for you.”

Both definitions speak to the well-being of the individual. When you are “depleted” and “drained,” performance and productivity suffer both at work and in your personal life. Fatigue, loss of confidence in one’s abilities, fractured relationships, and mental health problems can all set in. Despite these glaring repercussions and how hard people try to put up work-life boundaries, technology continues to make it hard to detach from work. A single email or a message on a company’s slack channel can pull you right back into work, even outside working hours.

10 Tips to Managing Work and Family Life

If you’ve been wondering how to balance work and family life, below are ten tips to bear in mind. They include the following:

  • Your family is a team. Often, just one member of the family feels that they are making all of the compromises. It is essential that if there are two of you at home, that you both make equal compromises or that if it is not similar in terms of careers or ‘free time, this is agreed. For example, if one partner always stays late at work, it is entirely reasonable that they either do more at the weekend, or the other person has a day off during the week. It is a fine line between compromise and abuse and can lead to deep seated resentment.
  • Accept that there is no “perfect” work-life balance. First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that there is no “perfect” work-life balance. Unfortunately, an image often pops up in our minds when we hear “work-life balance”- a productive day at work, early departure from work, and getting to spend the other half of the day with family and friends. While this seems ideal, it’s not always possible. So instead of working towards a perfect schedule, go for what’s realistic for you and your family. There will be days where you may have to focus more on work and others where you will have more than enough time for family. Balance is achieved over time and not each day.
  • Set priorities and goals. The numerous tasks you have to juggle to fulfill the demands of your role at work and at home require time and energy. Sometimes they’re conflicting and can leave you drained. One way to counter this is by prioritizing and setting goals. If, for example, you prioritize “being an involved parent,” you could set aside each night to play with your children instead of working overtime to get a bigger home. You can also set goals by using time management tools, analyzing your to-do list, and deleting anything of little value.
  • Set work hours. This is beneficial for people who work full-time as managers or the head of an office. Set boundaries and work hours for yourself and your employees to prevent burnout. Tell yourself that as you leave the office, all office matters would have to wait till the following morning when you’ve resumed. To help, consider having a separate phone or computer for work, which you can switch off at the close of work. Where this is impossible, you can use different emails, filters, or browsers for your personal life and work.
  • Build a team at work. The saying “No man is an island.” applies to the workplace. Most people take on more than they can handle, and this is not advisable. If you have too much on your plate, share some of them with the people you work with and trust them to deliver. This way, you’ll create more time for what is most important, which is your family.
  • Negotiate part-time hours or flexible hours if possible. Are you a mother with minors? You could negotiate for part-time hours at work. Your family members will see the benefits of this new flexibility in your work life. It may mean less financial freedom in some cases, but it could also lead to greater daily rewards and quality of life. Another option is to negotiate for a work-from-home option so you can have some more time with your family and still enjoy financial freedom. What’s most important is for you to put your values into consideration and set your priorities. This will help you make the right decision that will benefit your family life. With COVID employers are now more comfortable as seeing a job by work shifted rather than hours worked. Therefore evening or early morning working are far more common-place than before.
  • Join a support group. As a parent, you share a lot in common with other parents. Some neighbors and friends are also trying to balance their work and family life. You could have a support group of friends with whom you can share your issues. Aside from benefiting from the mutual support, you can also share ideas on managing your busy schedules. For example, parents could take turns walking children to school or babysitting each other’s children.
  • Eat together as a family. This may not be possible every day, especially on days you are away on a trip, but it’s an excellent way to spend time with your family and promote togetherness. To ensure you always meet up with dinner time, you can set a work time that allows you to come home early. If you’ve been wondering how to manage family and work, this is a significant first step to finding a work-life balance.
  • Take a vacation. In a  study carried out by the U.S Travel Association, 52% of employees said they had unused vacation days remaining at the end of the year. Most employees are often worried that taking breaks from work will leave them with a pile of backlog, disrupting their workflow. However, this should not stop you from taking a break. Whether it’s a one-day or two weeks trip, take time away from work to refresh and recharge physically and mentally.
  • Create time in your calendar for your children. You can fix a time for your children in your calendar. This often gives you a target, which helps you focus and get your work done in time so it doesn’t interfere with the time you’ve designated for your children. Balancing work and family life is in the little things we do.

Working full-time and being present for your family will not always be a smooth ride. Also, consider if the problem is from you or your workplace. There are organizations where it’s practically impossible to establish a healthy work-life balance. “The root problem is not how the two pieces of work and life come together,” says Erin Kelly, professor of work and organization studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It’s that we have unrealistic expectations of what we’re asked to do on the work site.” In such a situation, consider other opportunities where you will be able to create a work-life balance. Here we have a guidelines article for helping your child understand the world of work as it is important that your children understand that there are conflicting priorities.

Final Thoughts on Work-life Balance

For me, the way I cope is to work in the evenings after the children go to bed. I don’t watch TV for an hour or two in the evening but that is fine by me. I am fortunate that I can leave work most days when the children do. I then try and focus on them till bedtime. One or two nights a week a fail. The emails on my phone are my biggest downfall. However, I have taken the pressure off myself. I have two great children who know that I adore them and I do my best. I more than pull my weight at work. I will never get it perfect every day, but 90% is good enough! I appreciate that I am my child’s role model and I want to show them that it can be better, not just tell them.