When most people hear the phrase “work/life balance,” they think of maintaining a 50/50 relationship between their job and their life outside of work. But is that really what work/life balance means? Depending on our stage in life, the combination of our desire to succeed professionally, contribute to our communities, maintain our health, and care for our families can feel like a constant juggling act. It is at best an intricate dance of logistics. At times, the juggling is completely overwhelming. As business leaders, we want employees to be productive, happy, to achieve work/life balance. Or perhaps better stated, work/life INTEGRATION, is key.
It’s an important goal and one we’re continually working on at Continental. It helps to remember that creating harmonious work and life balance improves not just our physical, emotional, and mental health, but also our career health. So what, exactly, is work/life balance? And how do we achieve it?
A HEALTHY WORK/LIFE BALANCE
We’ve come to realize that there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all formula for work/life balance. Every person is unique as are their priorities and circumstances, so even attempting to define this is nearly impossible.
It’s also unrealistic to think of work/life balance as devoting equal amounts of time to work and personal activities. We realize that life is dynamic, and we all need to allow for day-to-day and year-to-year fluctuation of work and life priorities. Everyone’s individual balance will vary over time, often even on a daily basis.
When a big project comes up, you might work late for a few weeks to meet the deadline. During your child’s sports season, you might telecommute in order to make it to all their games. Welcoming a new baby? A flexible schedule or working from home can help ease the transition back to work. If you’re going after a big promotion, you might take on more responsibility to show you are ready.
Effective work/life balance allows for flexibility. It’s a combination of daily achievement and daily enjoyment for all aspects of your life. Work, family, friends, self, hobbies, community, etc.
It’s vital to incorporate both achieving and enjoying. Don’t just focus on what you accomplished at work each day; take time to delight in the aspects of your job that bring you joy. When making yourself a priority, don’t just focus on enjoying yourself; include the things that you can accomplish for yourself.
Cecelia Bagshaw, future construction exec
It can feel like there’s so much to get done at work and at home that there isn’t enough time to enjoy anything or achieve anything beyond the “needs” list.
Technology has further blurred the lines by creating an expectation of constant accessibility. You can check your work email from your phone, so there can be pressure to respond to emails even when you’re not working. Or family and friends may expect that you’ll engage on social media, texting, or email even though you’re at work.
There’s no “right” formula for achieving a healthy work/life balance. It’s about finding what works best for you in this stage of your life, in your work environment. We’ve put together some tips for creating a healthy balance.
- Take a Step Back. You don’t need to do it all. What can you let go of to make your life easier? Focus on the things you specialize in and the things you value and try outsourcing or delegating the rest. Talk to the “key stakeholders” in your life – colleagues, employees, a spouse or partner, other members of a community project – and see what they can do to help.
- Be in the Moment. While work/life integration sometimes feels like a convenience, it can also be detrimental. Find time to put devices away and talk to the people around you. At the dinner table, for example, institute a no phones rule, and stick to it. If you grab lunch with friends, allow yourself to not check your emails … they aren’t going anywhere. And conversely, when there is deep work to do, turn off email and social media notifications for a few hours, and truly focus. Our ability to multitask is taking away our ability to produce creative and accurate work, and to connect with our loved ones.
- Take the Time to Unplug. You don’t have to unplug from work the moment you leave the office. But carve out some time every day when you’re not reacting to every ping from work, family, and friends.
- Prioritize Your Health. Putting your health first will help you in every corner of your life. You’ll miss less work if you’re healthy, which means you’ll spend less time playing catch-up, and have more time for personal activities.
- Set Goals and Priorities and Stick to Them. Set achievable goals in the areas of your life that you want to focus on. Find ways to be accountable to your plan so you stay on track and build healthy habits.
EMPLOYEE/EMPLOYER COLLABORATION FOR BALANCE
It is not solely up to employees to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Increasingly, employers recognize that they have a big role to play, too. The most successful companies talk to their employees about what they need to maintain that healthy balance. Here are a few activities and employee benefits that support a workplace culture of work/life balance.
- Company Outings. These are a great way to boost morale and help employees get to know one another in a non-stressful way. Outings can be tailored to fit your company’s culture. (At Continental, we tend to favor happy hours and charity projects!)
- Exercise Benefits. Exercise is one of the most positive ways to reduce stress. Employees who eat well and exercise have a lower risk of getting sick. At Continental, we don’t have a gym on-site, but instead offer our employees a membership discount for a nearby fitness center.
- Support Flexibility – Encourage short breaks throughout the day. Encourage employees to use their vacation time, as well as allowing for unpaid time off for special life events. Allow schedule flexibility. At our company, we proudly offer flex hours to accommodate child care, difficult commutes, and continuing education opportunities.
- Childcare Services. Every parent knows that childcare doesn’t end just because you’ve left for work. There are various ways for employers to help with childcare access: onsite childcare, a discount for local childcare services, or flexibility in schedules to allow parents to do the things they need – and want – to do. We feel our family-friendly environment and flex scheduling benefits both Continental and our employees.
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is not about putting equal amounts of time into everything that’s important all the time. It’s about striking a balance between achieving and enjoying the most important aspects of your life.
One of our employees put it quite well: “Work/life balance is the ability to fully align all aspects of your life with the way you want to live. It includes using and developing your potential in all areas.” We agree! And at Continental, we’re working on it!