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The concept work-life balance began as researchers studied women trying to balance work and family life. When first identified, psychologists called it work-family life balance. In recent years, changes in work and gender roles have meant that work-life balance is more important than ever for men and women. Work-life balance is not a problem limited to people who have children. Single people and couples without children also find balancing their work and personal lives challenging.

There is no universally agreed-upon definition for work-life balance. Consider work and life as two domains of life. Other domains: Body, Career, Education, Money and Finance, Relationships, and Social, mostly fit into the domains of work or life. One of the earlier definitions suggested that people should be able to commit equal amounts of time and energy to all roles. That is tidy in concept but impossible to achieve. Life doesn’t quite work that way. More recently, there has been a shift as researchers take a new look at work-life balance. The goal is less about balancing work and life and more about integrating work and life. Traditionally people worked during the week and lived on the weekend. One’s ability to integrate work and life can depend on the autonomy someone has over the demands of their roles and their ability to meet these demands. As roles change, our priorities also change.

Many other factors impact work-life balance. Increasing advances in technology have increased the pace of life. This increased pace has contributed to more pressure at work. Today people encounter tighter deadlines, shorter response times, and greater customer expectations. As work demands rise, employers expect workers to work overtime and weekends. The more time people work, the less they have available for their personal lives.

Failing to prioritize life and work can affect your mental and physical health. High stress in one’s job or life can cause numerous symptoms. These include weight loss or gain, loss of sleep, elevated anxiety, and guilt about missing time with spouse, kids, or even parents and friends. I once had a client who was working her way up the ladder. She had a small child and often had to choose between work and life. I met with her when her daughter was twelve. She told me that she had felt guilty for years. Her daughter’s kindergarten graduation coincided with a day and time that she had a management meeting. New in her role as a manager, she opted to attend the meeting instead of her daughter’s graduation and has regretted it ever since. Establishing priorities across domains is tricky. Making good choices and keeping the main thing the main thing is an essential part of keeping things in balance at work and home.

In his TEDx Talk, Nigel Marsh addresses the challenge of achieving work-life balance. He recognizes that the societal habit of keeping up with the Joneses is one of the challenges. He says it is impossible to achieve balance in a day, but a kind of balance is achievable over a longer period. To get better at integrating your work and life, you must learn to set boundaries. Boundaries can mean saying no to extra assignments or unreasonable demands. Boundaries can also mean saying yes to family and even yourself.

Change can be scary. I have worked with many clients who hated their jobs. As unhappy as they were, their fear of change terrified them. I’ve known many nurses working in some of the most demanding environments in healthcare paralyzed by the belief that they couldn’t work anywhere else. It wasn’t easy to convince them otherwise. In truth, they could have easily found a better job somewhere else. Their skill and experience would have given them many choices if they had chosen to seek a different position.

Achieving a work-life balance goes beyond life satisfaction and happier home life. When we integrate work and life, we have more time to take care of their personal business. We can run errands or go to doctor visits. Employers have found that this means fewer sick days and more focused and productive employees. People with more time for themselves report higher job satisfaction and express greater motivation. More time for personal life means happier, healthier people. Work-life balance is good for the worker, and it’s also good for the employer. We got a glimpse of this when the pandemic required many people to work from home. It was stressful for sure, but many experienced a more manageable pace and regretted when they had to return to the workplace. After seeing productivity stable and even improved, many employers have implemented work from home days to increase employee satisfaction.

Achieving a healthy work-life balance is not like other goals. It’s not something you can check off your to-do list and be done with. It is a balancing act, and that takes continued effort to maintain. It is vital to remain aware of your feelings about your work and personal life. This awareness will help you defend against the harmful effects of stress. Being aware of your feelings can help you avoid focusing too much on one domain at the expense of the other.

For successful work-life integration, it is essential to identify, address, and support the demands of your roles, your relationships, and your different responsibilities. You will be better able to outline the rules about behavior in various domains. In addition, it is crucial to identify the resources needed to achieve success. For example, working long hours could cause tension between employees and their spouses. Communication with others can lead to solutions that work for everyone. It may require you to examine what you might need to change or tweak to make work and life take their proper places in your existence.

Self-awareness and self-evaluation are especially important when one is working to balance work and life. The choices you make can improve your work-life balance or disrupt it. We are all part of systems. We can work together and help one another achieve our goals in work and life. I can volunteer to work a little extra when you have a sick child, or you might agree to stay later so I can play in a tennis tournament. When we are open to feedback, we discover things that we can’t observe for ourselves. We can make this collaboration even more impactful by reaching out to others and asking for help. Setting boundaries might also involve unplugging. If others abuse the access they have to you through your phone, consider turning it off or at least leaving it in the car if you go out for dinner. On vacation? Try turning off your phone. If necessary, check and respond to messages once daily. Decide what time works for you and leave a voicemail message letting people know that you will respond later. You’ll be amazed at how often people figure out solutions to their problems when you are not available for every need.

If you are in a high-stress job or are surrounded by chaos, reclaiming your life may seem impossible. By building solid boundaries to keep work chaos out of your personal life (and vice versa) life and work can improve. We deserve to have the best of our work life and personal life, but it is up to us.

Cami Miller is a business coach. She works with executives, entrepreneurs, and family businesses to develop strategies for success. She can be reached at camimiller54@gmail.com or 225-432-0454

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