This month’s blog discusses life balance and gives tips and external links to practical strategies to enhance life balance, and particularly the impact of work on life balance.
Work Life Balance or Life Balance?
Although the term ‘work life balance’ makes sense to most of us, this is a misleading term because it implies that the work role has priority over other roles that make up life. In my view, life balance is a preferred term. It implies that life roles per se have equal value. It accounts for individuals who may indeed give priority to the work role over and above other life roles, but also those for whom one or more other life roles such as being a partner, parent, religious or spiritual participant may be equal to or have a higher priority than the work role.
Understanding Life Balance
Many people who work in schools and other organisations struggle to maintain life balance. Throughout life people fill up their lives with a variety of different life roles. At some stages a person’s life may be constructed of a small number of life roles and at other times a broad range of different life roles simultaneously, e.g., partner, parent, homemaker, sibling, friend, spiritual or religious participant, worker, person at leisure and volunteer sports coach all at the same time. Filling up one’s life with multiple life roles simultaneously can lead to life satisfaction. It can also lead to role conflict and perhaps stress when managing competing role expectations.
In 1980 when Donald Super wrote about life roles from a career development perspective he could not predict the rapid rate of technological advancement and its impact on blurring the boundaries between life roles. Smartphones, cloud technology and laptop computers and tablets enable you to engage in work activities, keep in constant contact with family and friends and attend to household tasks such as paying bills anywhere, anytime. That is, there is a tremendous blurring of life roles and spillover of one life role into life domains associated with different life roles. This adds another level of complexity to achieving life balance.
The Work Role
As mentioned, work is one of many life roles, no more or no less important in itself than any other life role. Yet the impact of the work role on life balance is a major concern for many workers.
An article on Virtual Medical Clinic listed evidence-based factors that hinder the achievement of life balance because of the impact of the work role. Examples of these include:
- The workplace and working conditions, including hours worked, extent of flexibility, leave provisions, and availability of support structures such as childcare support or breastfeeding facilities. The article noted that in Australia the number of hours worked per week has steadily increased since the 1980s, whereas, the number of hours worked per week in other high-income countries has declined. Added to this, there is now a temptation, to work anywhere, anytime. Or is it becoming an expectation?
- Government policy, e.g., regarding subsidizing childcare or parental leave.
- Number of simultaneous life roles.
- The increasing casualisation of the Australian workforce, and the lack of holiday and sick leave provisions for casual employees.
- ‘Anti-social’ work hours such as working weekends and weeknights.
Schools, school systems and unions have responded to life balance issues in the workplace. Holiday leave, sick leave, parental leave, maternity leave, compassionate leave, part-time work, long service leave, salary sacrifice schemes that allow a sabbatical from time to time, leave without pay, flexible work hours, etc. are all attempts to support staff members in achieving life balance. Despite access to various life balance conditions of work, life balance due to the impact of the work role remains a problem for many.
Strategies to Improve Life Balance
From the Mind Tools website you can read an article on finding balance in your work. Follow the links to complete the ‘Wheel of Life’ activity to get a visual representation of your current life balance, or lack thereof. You will then be guided in defining your ideal life balance and constructing an action plan to make progress to enhancing your life balance.
A number of other credible websites provide information and tips for enhancing life balance, and particularly for reducing the negative impact the work role can have on life balance. In summary, these recommendations include:
- Self-care – exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, time out for people and activities you enjoy most.
- Setting limits, e.g., how long you will spend planning lessons or marking student work per day, limit checking emails to 3 times per day maximum, etc.
- Creating boundaries around home and work.
- Create “to do” lists that include work activities and events from life roles other than work and stick to it.
- Delegate tasks where possible and consider outsourcing household chores, bartering, e.g., childcare for lawn mowing or shopping online.
Of course, don’t forget to go home on time on National Go Home on Time Day. Keep an eye on the website or see your your union rep at your school for more information.
For additional information and tips check out the life balance information on the following websites: