By Melanie McGregor, Specialist, Communications and Advancement, Canadian Mental Health Association – Halton Region Branch
“Work-life balance” – that elusive, idealized goal that is talked about like it’s the stuff that dreams are made of. But is it really possible? And if so, how?
“Work-life balance” can be defined in many ways, but overall, it is feeling that work and life aren’t competing and that we are able to successfully manage our multiple roles and demands in each area. There’s a lot to cram into our days as workers, partners, parents, caregivers, family members, friends, and people with interests, needs, and healthy habits to maintain, and being overloaded can have a huge impact on our overall health and wellness. We may feel out of control, have trouble keeping our mind on things, feel guilty, neglect self-care, and feel tired or run-down.
To address or even prevent these impacts, we need to first think about our own expectations. I like to think of “work-life balance” as more “work-life management”. Balance suggests that the two things are equal, stable, in proportion, but in fact, there are times when work will dominate or life away from work will require more of us. Coping during these times is about managing our demands and doing what we can to feel more on top of things and like we can bring our whole selves to work and back home at the end of the day.
Work-life balance also does not mean that work and life become completely separate realms that don’t influence each other. Work is an integral part of our lives, and what happens at work is bound to affect our feelings, moods, and thoughts outside of work and vice versa. It also doesn’t mean that we will never feel stressed or overwhelmed or have competing demands. It’s a question of seeing these times as signals that we need to do something differently.
So, what can we do to feel more in control and balanced? Consider these ideas as a start:
- If you are an employer, your flexibility can go a long way to creating more productive and satisfied employees. Consider arrangements like flexible work hours, working from home, or day off usage and communicate these to your team. What happens if an employee has a sick child or a medical appointment in the middle of the day? If they and you know what to expect and do in these situations, it can reduce stress and anxiety.
- If you are an employee, talk with your employer about what would help you manage your balance. For example, if you are caring for a parent who needs you more in the next week, discuss ahead of time what options are and are not available so you can plan accordingly.
- Create and stick to boundaries that work for you. Expectations do vary from role to role, but we often create unnecessary expectations for ourselves. Do you really need to check your e-mail after the workday is done, or is this just a habit you’ve built up that’s cutting into your family time? Try marking the separation between your work time and your personal time more clearly by, say, chilling out with a cup of tea after work or doing a short meditation when you get home.
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish. An unreasonable to-do list is a sure path to feeling overloaded and out of balance. At both work at home, think about the time you have and what you can reasonably fit it – not what you’d like to fit in, but what is truly doable. And remember that you don’t need to “be productive” all the time – down time is vital to wellness and well-being.
We are bound to feel out of balance now and then, but some reflection, planning, and management should help tip the scales back towards wellness.
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