Work-life balance—a phrase that we hear used all the time. It’s something that almost everyone I speak to seems to be struggling with. However, if we’re honest about this, we aren’t struggling with work-life balance because, for many people, the balance is nonexistent. We’re actually struggling with getting life back into the phrase.
But what if you reversed the order and instead started seeking life-work balance—a world where all the aspects of life are respected equally and where work isn’t getting the priority above all things. Don’t get me wrong, work is important, but the key is knowing why it’s important, and the role it plays in your overall well-being so that it serves you and your individual goals in life.
Understanding Work’s Role in Your Life
According to the world’s largest study on well-being produced by Gallup, your work is the single biggest influence on your overall quality of life. This is primarily because it’s what takes up most of your time, and because you may often feel that “who you are” is synonymous with “what you do.” And this work influence can be positive or negative, depending on how well you manage it. Here’s what I mean:
When work is having a positive influence on your life, it can look like this:
- You find a sense of purpose in the work you do.
- You have a great relationship with your manager or boss.
- You have colleagues who are committed to doing quality work.
- You feel that your opinions count.
- You have opportunities to use your natural talent on a regular basis.
- You do your work within reasonable hours (no more than 45 hours per week).
- You have the mental space and time to do “thoughtful and focused work.”
- You are able to disconnect from work and engage in other aspects of your life so that you can recharge.
But when work is having a negative influence on your life, it can look like this:
- You’re working purely for the money.
- Your boss treats you more like a subordinate than an equal.
- You feel disconnected from your colleagues.
- You don’t feel heard.
- You aren’t using your natural talents or strengths—just being a worker bee.
- Your work is bleeding into all hours of the day and night. You are just getting through endless meetings and tasks without focusing on priorities.
- You feel unable to disconnect from work, and you find yourself thinking about it all the time no matter who you are with or what you are doing.
What Can You Do About It?
The first step in life-work balance is to put work in its place. Have it be a positive influence on your life by reviewing the lists above and making some adjustments in the positive direction. Pick one item to start with and share what’s not working with people in your life—family, friends, your manager, or colleagues. Vocalizing your commitment to making a change helps create accountability and action.
The next step is to understand and know, at a profoundly deep level, that your life matters, and that all aspects of your life truly matter—your kids, your health, your travel plans, your leisure time, your spouse, your alone time. It all matters, and often, this is where the juiciness of life exists.
You’ve got to convince yourself of this. Because the last thing you want is to get to the end of your life and wish you had realized that sooner. It happens all too often. And research shows that more people regret things they didn’t do than the things they did, with the single biggest life regret being an action not taken that would have helped them realize their ideal self. So ask yourself this question: “If I continue to neglect these other areas of my life, where will I end up? What’s my predictable path? And is this path bringing me closer to my ideal self?” Then, listen for the honest answer.
Now I know some people need an extra incentive to prioritize these other aspects of life, so hear it is. Research shows that having these other elements in your life will actually make you better at work! If you need to justify it that way, you can. In fact, employees who are both engaged in their work and feel good about almost all the areas of their life, are 27% more likely to report excellent performance in their own job at work. But I’d rather you not need the proof. Your life deserves to be respected, protected, and coveted by you and your employer—with or without research.
Your fulfillment in life is not a selfish pursuit. Remember that your stress or happiness is contagious. If you suffer, so does your family. If you’re happy and satisfied with your life overall, your family and friends feel that to. You owe it to yourself and them to love all aspects of your life.
The Role Employers and Leaders Play in This
This same logic holds up at the leadership level and is perhaps even more important because it’s the leaders, the c-suite, who can easily fall into the trap of convincing themselves that their jobs are way too important to take a back seat to anything. Even if it’s their children begging for their time and attention.
So if you’re in a leadership role, I encourage you to start practicing life-work balance—for your own sake and for the sake of your employees who will then be able to follow suit.
Remind yourself as often as possible that nothing is more important than people’s health and well-being. And try to ground yourself in what that actually means. It means that nothing is more important than people having the time to step away from their laptops, to get a full night’s sleep, to spend unrushed mornings or evenings with their children, to have weekends filled with outdoor activities, or just to have the time to catch up on the laundry.
You never know what employees are going through, who they’re taking care of, what mental or physical health condition they have, or sadness they are living with. And they need actual hours to attend to those things.
Don’t forget that there was a time when we didn’t have laptops, smart phones, or the internet, and when we left the office, work was over. And believe it or not, the world didn’t fall apart. Adopt a life-work philosophy, and “workplace well-being” won’t need to be a program, it will just be a natural part of the culture.