What is “work-life balance”?

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This guest post was written by Kristina Swope, a full-time Market Research Project Manager in Philadelphia and NU student pursuing a Master of Science in Organization and Corporate Communication.

In April 2013, I officially became a part-time Graduate student in addition to a full-time employee. I was so excited about starting my Masters that I didn’t even realize how difficult it would be to have a life outside of those two aspects.  I work in the Market Research industry, where just like any job where you have clients, the hours can be rather unpredictable.  I quickly found myself having to schedule in my grown-up activities in advance, such as getting groceries, doing laundry, and even buying cat food.  I’ve committed myself to being a great employee, and a great student – but it’s really hard to do them both at the same time.  As I sit and reflect on how I haven’t done my best figuring out the delicate balance between the two jobs, I find myself wondering – what does “work-life balance” really mean?

It’s a phrase thrown around constantly in the workplace, usually in a defensive nature; and yet, from what I’ve seen, few definitions of this phrase are the same.  In my experience, half of work-life balance is defending the fact that you actually need it, and the other half is completely ignoring it by working 12-hour days.  The balance between work and other activities (especially in my case, school) is important to identify, and create a plan for, right from the start.  It’s not only important to an individual’s well-being, but it’s proven vital for success.

Businessweek.com posted an interesting article back in 2009 on the growing requisite for work-life balance, and found through studies that “work-life balance now ranks as one of the most important workplace attributes – second only to compensation…and employees who feel they have a better work-life balance tend to work 21% harder than those that don’t.” (CEB, 2009). A workplace environment that creates a supportive culture for employees and focuses on work-life balance will likely be more successful overall based on the findings by Businessweek. Isn’t greater production quality and quantity what matters most for profit strategy anyway? We get so caught up in the day-to-day grind, focusing on the end goal that we forget to take care of the people who have to get us there. Contrary to popular belief, forging ahead with non-stop working hours will have very little benefit for the individual, and further yet, the company. Overworking will certainly act as a barrier, causing physical and emotional exhaustion, completely burning yourself out. By the time you get home from a 13-hour day and realize you have three discussion posts to do, you’ll be kicking yourself for not sticking to your plan of leaving at 5:30pm a few nights this week.

It’s easy to talk about work-life balance and how important it is – but without actions, it’s a useless concept.  Work-life balance is tough, as it often is mirrored down the totem pole; if your boss works 5:30pm, travels home, and gets back online at 7:30pm until midnight, you are going to feel really guilty about wanting to leave even remotely on time; especially if it’s for an outside activity such as school.

Bottom optionAt the end of the day, it’s important to take a deep breath, look at your workloads for the week (both school and employment), and dice out which days you’re going to work on what. Managing your time in advance for the week helps to ensure that everything in your life receives equal attention, and most importantly, that you don’t work late after night. Be sure to include some days in that schedule that you only do your favorite activity, and do nothing even closely related to work or school. After all, we are all human, and we all need a break.

Kristina is a full-time Market Research Project Manager living and working in Philadelphia and a full-time student at NU pursuing a Master of Science in Organization and Corporate Communication, with a concentration in Leadership. Check out her LinkedIn profile here.   

REFERENCE

The Staff of the Corporate Executive Board. March 27, 2009. The Increasing Call for Work-Life Balance. www.businessweek.com. September 9, 2013. http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/mar2009/ca20090327_734197.htm.

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