Work-Life Balance: Expert Advice On Why It Matters And How To Achieve It
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the way we live. From feeling more stressed or anxious, heightened feeling of loneliness and increased burnout, we're all trying to navigate the new normal under these unprecedented times. It comes as no surprise that our work-life balance is also affected especially how the traditional way of "work" has changed and how isolation and quarantine have stopped us short from doing things that we enjoy.
To better understand how we can find our footing during these times, we sought two experts––leadership and life coach, Monica Browning and Kathy Caprino, leadership consultant, author and featured contributor for Forbes––on advice on how to achieve work-life balance.
What is work-life balance?
Kathy: Work-life balance, in my view, in 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.
Monica: It is 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.
Why is work-life balance important?
Kathy: Without the ability to balance how you work and how you manage your life outside of work, your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health suffers. One of the most damaging regrets is "I wish I hadn’t worked so hard and missed out on so much". So many men and women in middle age share that they regret what they’ve missed out on in life, by working so hard. They missed so much and sacrificed so much to pursue work goals that now feel meaningless and empty.
Monica: As individuals, without our health, life can be a struggle and can feel hard and be debilitating. A healthy work-life balance can mean reducing or avoiding some of the consequences for the individual for example:
- Fatigue, stress, burnout or other mental health issues
- Ineffective use of time and lower productivity
- Lack of confidence and lower self-esteem, self-belief in one’s own abilities (feeling like you can’t cope)
- Difficulty managing personal relationships or family relationships
- Having a healthy work-life balance can also contribute to us feeling more valued both inside and outside of the workplace. If your employer values that you need time to care for a sick relative (or even care for yourself) and gives you the time and support to do what you need to, you will inevitably feel better about who you work for and even be willing to go the extra mile for them. The same can be said for our partners, friends and families.
Do you think the current pandemic is affecting our work-life balance?
Monica: Yes, absolutely! It’s hard to know who hasn’t been impacted by this pandemic in some way shape or form.
- Physical working environments: For some people, having a clear workplace makes it easier to define or delineate the boundary with work and personal life—or life outside of work. The pandemic has moved many people to work from home, which in turn has massively blurred the boundaries within work and home life.
- Work from home: For many people unaccustomed to working from home, this has been one of the greatest challenges and for a number of different reasons. In Asia, in particular, this has been a particular challenge because 1) many of our homes or living space are small, making it a great challenge to share the space with those forced to work from home 2) with schools shut down and children required to complete their studies at home and online, this has brought particular high stress to parents.
- Technology: While technology has brought speed, greater efficiencies and costs reduction to many, there is also a sense that technology has led to higher expectations in terms of response times and a sense that some people feel they need to be connected 24/7. Being out of sight (not been seeing physically in the workplace) has led to many people feeling that they need to be "seen" to be contributing/productive by either being online longer or sending more emails.
- Job security: The impact of the pandemic globally has unfortunately impacted job security for many people, organisations and industries. As a result, people are working ‘harder and longer’ due to fear of losing their job.
- Restricted movement: With many recreational facilities closed e.g. swimming pools, gyms, beaches and even playgrounds for children many feel that some of their choices have been taken away in terms of being able to de-stress. Restrictions on social gatherings have also meant less movement and less social interactions.
- Vacation: Many people have not taken their holiday entitlement and have worked through the time when they would normally have an enforced or natural break. This is absolutely having an impact on the work-life where people are feeling tired and exhausted from not having taken a break.
What are some ways we can achieve work-life balance?
Kathy: Identify where you can take action to ask and empower others—your spouse, children, colleagues, subordinates, others—to take on more responsibility, wherever possible and appropriate. An essential corollary to this is freeing yourself from guilt and shame about needing and wanting help and remember that getting help is a way of saying "yes" to what matters most.
- Address what you fear the most: The more locked away your fears are from our conscious thought, the more they drive you to behave in unsatisfying, self-destructive, and limiting ways—without your awareness or consent. If you're finding it impossible to enjoy your life and figure out your top life priorities (let alone honour them), I'd take a look at your deepest fears. How are they driving and limiting you, and wearing you out?
- Get help from others: Receiving help from other people in your life is essential. We can't do what we dream of and live happy, rewarding lives without the support. If managing everything on your plate is overwhelming, reach out and ask for help.
- Make joy and fulfilment the barometer: If how you felt every moment of every single day was your barometer for "success," how would you be doing? Is all this crazy running around, exhausting yourself and driving yourself to distraction, bringing any peace, joy, or fulfilment at all? Can you even be present in the lives of your children or loved ones if you're driven and obsessed? The obvious answer is "No".
- Decide once and for all that you deserve to live a joyful, fulfilling and balanced life, and will commit to doing what’s necessary to become the most powerful, impactful and healthy version of yourself. Then get on the brave pathway to becoming that most powerful you, every single day.
- Be clear on your values—what’s really important to you and where do you want or need to be spending your time.
- Clarify what’s important compared to what's urgent and choose wisely.
- Manage your energy and your time. If you know you’re a morning person, try and front-load your day to be as efficient as possible when you know you work best.
- Have a conversation with your employer about what you need and take your holiday entitlement (no matter how big or small)
- If you’re working from home, set up a routine and communicate this to your colleagues/co-workers. Remember to "switch-off"
- Make time to sleep, relax, exercise and eat healthily. Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep and rest, nutrition and exercise to your overall sense of wellbeing, productivity, mood, and efficiency.
- Find time to breathe or meditate. This may seem like a silly thing to say but often when we are feeling stressed or anxious, we forget to breathe (subconsciously). We hold our breath and we go to a heightened level of stress or anxiety. Breathing increases the oxygen to the brain and helps calm down the nervous system—it plays a vital role in our wellbeing and sense of calm. Meditation has a similar impact to breathing so if until now you’ve been meditation-curious and experiencing some stress or anxiety, maybe now is the time to explore a little bit of easy meditation. But as a start, deliberate and mindful breathing can have a very calming and positive impact.
- Don’t be so hard on yourself! This is perhaps one of the most important tips. Many people will set unrealistically high expectations of themselves, their to-do list is a mile long and they are trying to be all things to all people.