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We live in a culture where the best employees are often seen as the people who work the longest hours. We often make sacrifices when it comes to family, friends and the things we enjoy in our free time all in the name of workplace success.
The concept of work-life balance seems nice in theory, but is it possible to make it a reality in our current workplace culture?
Where is the “Life” in Work-Life Balance?
Most of us don’t need to read studies that show Americans work more hours and take fewer vacations than workers in other industrialized countries because we live this reality. With the convenience of technology, it has become even easier to work remotely. It is rather commonplace to send and receive business email at 11 p.m. or even on vacation.
This makes our jobs feel like we are on-the-clock 24 hours a day. Add to this our increased emphasis on our work lives, and many of us are so exhausted at the end of the day that we can do little more than stare at mindless reality shows on TV.
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I find that the longer I work, the less effective I become. I have also worked on teams where this has happened. We sometimes become like a bunch of cranky toddlers in need of a nap when we are pushed to work long days. Even though we know that shorter workdays and more time for leisure make us happier and more productive, we still put in long hours.
Encouraging a Balance
I have often pushed myself to work to the point of burnout. At my last job I ended up with laryngitis and had to postpone a new employee orientation I had scheduled. Having no voice limited my options for the presentation to interpretive dance or pantomime, and I don’t think the new employees would have wanted to see that. My boss sent me home with strict instructions to rest. When I started responding to email from home, she admonished me and told me to shut down my computer and hide my iPhone.
This was not the only time my boss told me to stop working, and I appreciate that she did that. Supervisors set the standard and must lead by example. Go home on time, and make sure to remind your employees to do the same. Accept that deadlines sometimes need to be extended. Many of the things we think have to be done right away are not always that urgent in the grand scheme of things. If an employee asks you for more time to do something, allow them the time if possible. Save the late hours for the projects that are truly time sensitive.
Don’t assume that your workplace needs to be one where long hours are the norm just because everywhere else is like that. Be the exception, and dare to set a new standard for a work-life balance.
How I Have Found a Work-Life Balance
If you regularly read my posts, you know that I quit my job last year so that I could devote myself to growing an HR consulting business full time. My partner and I have put a lot of energy into our business. This means working at odd hours, on weekends and even on the road. Because I don’t have the structure of a regular workday, my partner often has to remind me that I don’t have to be working at all hours.
Amidst finding clients, scheduling presentations and writing blog posts, I have had to make an effort to schedule time where I am not in front of my computer or responding to email on my phone. For those of us that work for ourselves, it is crucial that we schedule time where we “clock out” from our work.
I am still learning that I have to be OK with not finishing everything on my to-do list in a day. As my own boss it also means that I need to give myself permission to read a book or to work on writing the next chapter of my novel. Doing so keeps me sane and makes me approach my work with more energy the next day.
How do you encourage a work-life balance for your employees? How do you create a work-life balance for yourself?