Work-Life Balance – moving towards a more integrated approach.

Maintaining a work-life balance has grown to mean maintaining a strict separation between your work life and the rest of your life. As technology has developed we bemoan the blurring of that separation seeing it as both the cause and a symptom of stress.

Some of us do jobs where the distinction is an absolute. We work in jobs where we have to be in a certain place during our working hours. We don’t have flexibility or autonomy. But many of us do. We work flexi-time, or part of our time from home, we are in creative roles, we work for ourselves or we are lucky enough to work for an organisation that focuses on our achievements and not the hours we are sat at a desk.

For these roles I think we need to move away from a strict distinction between when it is time for ‘work’ and when it is time for ‘life’ and begin to see the 2 as being more integrated. What that looks like is going to change. It can be determined by where we are in life, or even by the day and the hour. When we have a young family or caring responsibilities we may chose to focus more on ‘life’; when we are first starting out and trying to establish ourselves in our career we may focus more on ‘work’. If we are facing a particularly knotty challenge at work then maybe we select to focus our energy there. If I have a challenging and full week ahead, I may choose to spend time at the weekend preparing with the knowledge that it will make my week run more smoothly. If work is under control I might decide to go for a bike ride on a sunny morning.

Being in tune with ourselves and knowing what our early warning signs of stress are allows us to get and maintain a balance that works for us without needing a strict distinction.

The trick (the stumbling block!) is choice – some organisations have developed cultures where it is expected that you be in touch with work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Where people keep their coat hung up or their computer switched on in the evenings to give the illusion of working even longer hours then they are, where line managers perpetuate the culture of around-the-clock working by sending emails late at night and in the early hours of the morning (I have no issue with people writing their emails outside of working hours if that is their choice and if it helps them to manage their work. My issue is with them sending them to their colleagues at this hour and inflicting that expectation on everyone else), where there is a clear expectation that people are available and responding to messages outside of contracted hours, where meetings routinely start before or after the working day – where a balanced life remains a dream at the top of your perfect-life to-do list.

A few things to ask yourself: where do these expectations come from, you or your organisation? What are the career consequences of turning off your smartphone in the evening? What are the life consequences of not? Where is your choice in all this?

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