Work-life balance is a self-defined, self-determined state of well being that a person can reach, or can set as a goal, that allows them to manage effectively multiple responsibilities at work, at home, and in their community; it supports physical, emotional, family, and community health, and does so without grief, stress or negative impact.
How do you know when you've got it?
Those who have balance are satisfied with their work and home lives, are able to fulfill their multiple responsibilities at home, work and in the community without guilt or regret, are healthy physically, emotionally, and socially, have a sense of control over their life, and feel that the decisions they make are informed choices as opposed to forced sacrifices.
How do you know when you don't?
You know you've got imbalance when you're constantly tired, feeling like you're running uphill all the time and getting nowhere, when you feel like you have no choices, no control; where life seems to be happening to you instead of you feeling that you're managing your life; when you can think of more things that aren't getting done than are getting done; when you see more negative in your life than positive.
What's the difference between work-family and work-life?
Work-life is a broader, more holistic term that includes your ability to balance or integrate work into your overall life, including your responsibilities to yourself, your community, and your many priorities, which may or may not have to do with family. Work-family balance more specifically references the management of your family responsibilities towards children, aging parents, a disabled family member, or a partner/spouse. Not everybody has family responsibilities, so work-family balance can be less relevant to them. You can have work-family balance—where the kids are taken care of, parents are taken care of, and everything's under control - but you have nothing left for yourself, nothing left for your community, nothing left for your own personal growth and development, rest and relaxation. So it is possible to have work-family balance and still need to achieve work-life balance.
How do I work to achieve balance for myself?
On the journey to achieving the work life, family life, and personal life we want, there are five phases that people go through.
The first one is a struggle stage, where you might not even know and understand what it is that you're missing. You just know that you feel out of kilter, out of control.
The second stage is the juggle stage, which is where you begin to understand what's missing and try to develop tricks and techniques that allow you to create a sense of control in your life. This stage tends to be very precarious, and the skills that allow you to juggle two balls might fail as soon as a third ball is added to juggle.
The third stage is work-life balance where you actually begin to fulfill your multiple responsibilities, where you have a sense of equilibrium, a sense of control, but you focus all your energies on today and getting through the day-to-day, and you really don't have enough energy, resources or time to look at in the future.
The fourth stage is work-life integration, where you're not only able to fulfill all your work responsibilities but you also have energy and resources that you can put towards career planning, career development, personal growth and development. You have a sense of where you're going as well as where you are.
The fifth and final stage is work-life harmony, where you've got a sense of control of all aspects of your life. You're managing your physical well-being, your career, your household, your finances, your relationships. As well, you have the energy and resources to harmonize your community involvement, your sense of spirituality, and your sense of well-being, at home and in the community at large.
Where do you begin?
First you have to recognise where you are. If you're struggling and you're trying to reach spiritual awakening, you're going to set yourself up for disappointment. But it you're at the struggle stage and your goal is to reach balance, it is achievable and manageable. Second, you need to recognize that you can't evolve between these stages on your own. You have to have certain things in place. You need to be depend on your a family or personal network or supports, you need to make use of community supports, you need to exist in a supportive environment at work, or know how to help create it if you don't have it. The more that's there, the faster and further you'll be able to move along the continuum.
What are the consequences of living in imbalance?
The more out of balance and out of control your life is, the longer hours you work, and the more intense your work experience, the greater the likelihood is that you pay a physical and emotional price. You probably won't eat as well. You'll consume more caffeine, more alcohol, more sugar, more fat. You are less likely to exercise on a regular basis. You are less likely to be getting enough sleep. You are less likely to have a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment and commitment to the organisation. You've got a greater likelihood of either getting sick, getting sick more often, or being sicker whenever you get sick. You have a greater likelihood of having relationships that are either unhealthy or unstable, and that are more prone to breaking apart.