Nowadays, work-life balance is much more than just a popular concept. Companies and employers around the world are actively exploring this topic and implementing appropriate practices. And according to numerous studies, happy people are more productive workers. This is evidence that personal well-being directly impacts professional performance. And since one of the keys to a happy life is to have close relationships with other people, it is important to have enough time and energy to build them. As a result, everyone wins—you get more satisfaction from life because you don’t have to sacrifice personal interests for work, and your employer gets a more motivated and engaged employee.
In this article, we’ll explore the origins of the work-life balance concept, the reasons why work-life imbalance can occur, and share simple tips on how to stay productive and spend your free time with maximum benefit and pleasure.
Some history of the “work-life balance” concept
Let’s face it, the idea that work takes up a third of your life can be upsetting. Many of us would probably like to have more time for ourselves. But just imagine that until the beginning of the last century, people could only dream of such things, as they worked 70 to 100 hours a week. And often, this was true even for children. In the United States, the 9-to-5 workday was introduced in the 1920s. However, the idea of an eight-hour workday appeared much earlier. Back in 1817, Welsh manufacturer and founder of the socialist movement, Robert Owen, formulated the slogan “eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
In 1926, Ford Motor was one of the first companies to announce the five-day and 40-hour workweek. As a result, worker productivity not only did not decline, but grew considerably. As early as 1940, the forty-hour workweek was enshrined in U.S. law. This practice has since been adopted by many international companies. Thus, we see that the path from the idea of work-life balance to its realization took more than a century.
The term “work-life balance” appeared in the UK in the 1980s as a slogan of the women’s liberation movement. One of its goals was to attain flexible working hours and maternity leave for women who had to work, run a household, and raise children at the same time without any indulgence. Over time, the work-life balance concept lost its original gender reference and has become very popular in modern psychology. This was especially facilitated by advancements in technology, which accelerated many work processes. With Internet and cloud services, employees today are almost constantly in touch, which can significantly blur the lines between professional and personal life. So, the topic of work-life balance has become even more important.
Work-life imbalance reasons
We’ve probably all had times when we’ve worked overtime or sacrificed our vacation time. And while there are usually good reasons for each of these situations, such decisions lead to the neglect of personal interests. On the other hand, problems in one’s personal life, such as conflicts with a partner or health issues, also strongly affect the quality of work. A person who is going through a breakup or feeling unwell will hardly be able to work efficiently.
However, when it comes to work-life imbalance, the one sacrificed is often personal life. After all, no one measures or evaluates your success in personal matters. At the same time, in a professional environment, you have to maintain a certain level of productivity if you don’t want to lose your job.
Let’s look at the reasons that can lead to work-life imbalance. The most common include:
1. Excessive workload
This problem is often caused by improper work organization when employees are given more tasks than they can manage. As a result, they have to overwork themselves. Such situations also occur when an employee cannot refuse a new task, even when they realize that they do not have enough time for it. This, in particular, can cause imposter syndrome.
2. Company culture
We have talked about how toxic hustle culture is with its main ideals of productivity and extreme workaholism many times. It definitely won’t help employees feel happier, and therefore is unlikely to make them more efficient. Of course, sometimes there are days when you fail to finish an important project or report in due time, so you have to work overtime. However, if a company considers such practices acceptable or even desirable on a regular basis, this can easily disrupt work-life balance and even lead to burnout.
3. Lack of flexible work schedule
Everyone has situations in their lives that are difficult to coordinate with a standard office schedule. For example, an employee wants to start their workday later to make it to a party at their child’s kindergarten. Or, on the contrary, to leave early to celebrate their birthday with friends. If this is not possible, then it can create an imbalance between professional and personal life, as it sends a signal to the employee that his or her interests are not very important to the company. The modern world demands flexibility in everything, and most importantly, this applies to the work process.
4. Lack of autonomy
Any strong relationship is built on trust, including working relationships. Hardly anyone will like constant supervision by a manager unless you are an intern and just starting out. If an employee doesn’t have enough autonomy, it can severely undermine their self-confidence. This will again drive them into an imposter cycle, where they strain themselves to the utmost to prove—to themselves and their manager—that they can handle everything.
5. Unstable market environment
In our unstable world, it is very hard to be confident in the future. The issue of career security has become especially relevant amid the pandemic, war, and crisis. When your mind is preoccupied with obsessive thoughts about the possibility of losing your job, it can easily result in taking on more workload to demonstrate your motivation and commitment. It will almost certainly lead to an imbalance between work and personal life.
6. Blurred boundaries between work and personal life
A good example of no boundaries between work and private life is when a manager or a client writes to you late at night or on weekends; all in order to ask you to work late and redo a task. This may be the norm for a freelancer who is used to working anytime when there are orders. But in other cases, it is important to clearly define the boundaries of your work and personal life, and not let them interfere with each other.
What can a lack of work-life balance lead to?
1. Less personal time
We have already mentioned that when the balance between professional and personal spheres is disrupted, the latter is usually affected. By taking on too much work, you are essentially stealing precious time away from yourself—the time that you should be spending with family, friends, doing your favorite hobby, or just having some rest. In other words, you deprive yourself of the things that bring you the most joy.
2. More stress
When you work too hard and don’t get enough rest, your body can produce more cortisol, also called the stress hormone. Heavy workload and increased demands also make employees feel stressed. Another reason is the above-mentioned lack of boundaries between work and personal life, when a person is constantly worried about missing an important message or work call.
3. Health issues
An imbalance between professional and personal life can have a negative impact on both mental and physical health. Research has shown that working more than 55 hours a week increases the risk of stroke by 35% and the risk of coronary heart disease by 17%. Other common problems associated with high workloads and overtime include sleep problems, irregular eating habits, and lack of physical activity, which in turn only worsen your health.
4. Lower performance
The more you work, the lower your performance is. The efficiency of overtime work quickly diminishes and eventually disappears altogether. Moreover, according to a study by ResuceTime, employees spend an average of 5 hours at the computer during the workday, but only 2 hours and 48 minutes of them are truly productive. In the case of overworking, you shouldn’t expect high efficiency, because when the resource is already exhausted, it’s hard to get good results.
5. Deterioration of relationships with your loved ones
When you put your work first, it will certainly affect your personal relationship. With such an imbalance, there is a high chance you will miss important events in the lives of your loved ones. Ultimately, you may grow distant. If you’re always busy and can’t find time to talk to your friend, they may have a valid reason to question whether you truly value your relationship.
How to maintain work-life balance
1. Set clear boundaries
The balance between professional and private spheres is based on a simple principle that you leave your work at work and your personal life at home. This will help you to build clear boundaries and understand where your 8 hours of work or 8 hours of leisure begin and end. Of course, if you work from home, things get a bit more complicated. If this is the case, let your family know when you cannot be disturbed, so that you can focus on your work and not be distracted by household issues.
2. Create plans and track their progress
In organizing an effective workflow, you can’t do without plans. You can plan your day, week, and month, and even set long-term goals for the year ahead. This will help you realistically assess your own workload and develop an optimal work schedule to complete all tasks on time and with the highest quality possible. To track your performance, create lists of completed tasks that will allow you to evaluate your progress.
3. Don’t be afraid to say “no”
We have mentioned various reasons why an employee may agree to take on additional work without having enough time or energy to perform it. The desire to improve one’s position and image in the eyes of your manager and team is understandable. But is it worth it to drive yourself into the productivity trap? There is a risk that by working at the limit of your capabilities, you will not only fail to effectively complete the tasks undertaken, but also create additional problems.
4. Practice mindfulness
The main advantage of mindfulness is that it helps stop the constant flow of restless thoughts and allows you to better understand yourself. This, in turn, develops self-awareness and improves your attention. You start to notice different emotions and feelings, including those related to work. Therefore, signs of overwork, stress, or even burnout will not escape your attention. This means that you will know when to stop and give yourself a break to prevent these conditions from developing.
5. Take a rest
What you will never regret for sure is not having worked enough. But you will regret the opportunities you miss by neglecting your rest. This applies to both your free time after work when you can meet friends in a cafe or go to a concert, and to your vacation when you can completely disconnect from work and enjoy your leisure time. Rest and new experiences allow us to recharge and fill up with energy, and without this, productive work is impossible.
6. Do something you love to do
Everyone has an activity that gives them special pleasure. Think of things that give pleasure and joy to you. Maybe you love cooking, painting, or have been dreaming of learning to play the drums for a long time? Choose this special activity and fit it into your daily routine. A hobby will let you gain new vivid emotions and more pleasure from life. This applies to work as well; it is important that it makes you happy and allows you to realize your potential. Otherwise, you will constantly be working through the roof, and in such circumstances, there is no chance to achieve any balance.
7. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is crucial for achieving a better work-life balance. It’s about taking care of your health, including establishing a sleep routine, maintaining a balanced diet, engaging in regular physical activity, practicing meditation, and having quality rest. A healthy lifestyle will help you feel more refreshed and energized, which will definitely affect your work efficiency in a positive way.
To wrap up
A balance between professional and private life allows you to harmonize all aspects of your life. By achieving balance, you can improve your motivation and productivity at work, while still having enough time for family, friends, and, of course, yourself. Take advantage of our tips to help you align your personal needs and interests with your professional goals, and live a fulfilling life without having to sacrifice anything.
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