The work-life balance became to be a new concept of living in this millennium. Under the pressure of public debate (which is stoking up by a number of studies, articles and lectures) it is slowly and carefully getting into the companies’ strategies and business manuals. So why dealing with the work-life balance is so unclear? Why do we all feel that it really doesn’t work or this is just not “it”?
I believe that this is due to our expectations of a solution coming from the labour market. But it is set exactly the opposite, i.e. to get the maximum from people at the lowest cost. That is how economy works. We now require from our employees not only performance during their working hours, but also we are equipping them with tools to enable them to work everywhere and anytime. Moreover, the rest of employee’s free time can be controlled by activities that support the employer at least indirectly (e.g. informal meetings, family events, training courses etc.).
It seems that you can afford not to work only if you are dead or without signal (however this possibility will disappear very soon from this planet). Therefore, expecting the real solution of the work-life balance issue from the employer’s side is similar to an expectation of a fisherman using a prayers instead of his bait. It is clear from the way the market is set up and what tools we have today (and we can imagine how they will expand and accelerate further) that the gap between work and personal life is completely blurred (in some professions it is already the case). Thus it is up to us to harmonize our working lives and personal lives. Because you know what? The “fisherman” will not let his fishes get away. Modern information and communication technologies can help us just as much as it helps to employers. By the way, home office and possibility to work anytime from everywhere is for employees just as strong and important motivation to work as their remuneration (at least this is what our “job seekers survey” says).
So theoretically, if it is possible, we can work when it suits us. The question is, how much time we spend working, how much time we spend doing other activities and if these activities offer us the feeling of happy life. In my opinion, this is the beginning of a solution to the problem - the feeling of how much time we spend working is actually breaking with reality, and on both sides.
Start with yourself and with your calendar in hands. Write down and then count how much time you spend with particular activity. The week has 168 hours, of that we spend 56 hours by sleeping, 10 hours by eating and 10 hours by traveling. If we work 8.5 hours in working days, we have 49.5 hours of free time. Even if we work 10 hours per day, we still have 42 free hours in a week! On average it makes 6 hours per day! These 6 hours we should devote to our families, friends and, of course, to us. However our feelings are totally different. We feel like we do not have enough time to call to our friend, go to see the exhibition, read a book or to take your child to a football training.
It is all in our head. It is possible that the feeling frustrates us more than the reality. Or we just have high demands on us. I know what I am talking about. I have gone through several situation that prove how little is sometimes enough – you don’t necessarily spend the whole afternoon with the kids, sometimes just a sudden call from school to pick up your son is the right trigger. Because what do you do in such a case? You change your schedule immediately, you rush to the school, on the way you buy him an ice cream, and then you build LEGO together (because anyway you have already canceled the appointment that was originally arranged for that time). Surprisingly, your son will remember this day as great for a long time!
Other day you find out that your bathroom is flooded, you have to call a plumber immediately, in the meantime you are calling to work, you will find that most of what you wanted to do at work, you can do just as well at home, your appointments scheduled for an hour will now be handled in 20 minutes (have you ever noticed that calls are always shorter than meetings with the same person on the same topic?). See? You suddenly have the time. Because you have to. There's the rub!
Set priorities for your own free time. Exercise, kids, friends…and take it as seriously as you take your priorities at work. I do not want to incite anybody to postpone the deadline and go to the ZOO with kids instead. What I am saying is that your work always reminds you to do something. But what about your family, your friends, you – does this have a reminder?
That is why this imbalance arises. Apart from the fact that it could be partly only in your head, it arises mainly because the employer has always some kind of whip that gets those work priorities on the top of your interest. And that is the moment when you have to be strict to yourself and make your time has been balanced because no one will do it for you and you don't want to go through any other disaster that make you to change your priorities again.
The milder way is to make a plan. In your work calendar determine when you take a break, when you leave, plan meetings with friends and pick-up your son from school. The key is to plan ahead and do it regularly, because these two steps will make it a habit. As a result, this is a win-win solution for both sides, because frustrated and sick people give less performance and make higher labour turnover and this is what no employer wants. Thus, the work-life balance topic is turning into the topic of people's satisfaction in each of the 168 hours a week.