You Do Have a Choice in Work-Life Balance
Work-life conflicts are present for many of us as we move through life in the two major roles of work and home. Child labor was a primary concern that stemmed from the industrial revolution and, in some countries today, is still an issue. Today, even in our affluence, increasingly excessive demands of work are impacting and creating stress in our home. Let’s face it; the greater stress is at work, the more we need to have quality attention on our relationships with ourselves and others. Relationship disaster is a sure thing when something doesn’t give, or an intentional change is not made to ease the increasing burden of work-life stress.
Pressures at work intensified over the past years, even with advances in technology that initially were thought to ease our lives. As early as 25 years ago, the potential issues of job loss due to adopting information technology was a frequent concern blasted in the media. The reality is technology has intensified stress at work and, for many of us, has some minor or major impact at home. I notice the:
- need for speed and success measured by speed keeps staff employed;
- quality customer service processes require constant access to service providers or customers complain;
- ongoing cyber security upheavals;
- instant gratification needs by society; and overall
- increased proportion of high-speed work by humans has increased
An Overwhelming Situation
Last week, I went to curriculum night for 5 of my children, each of whom has 7 periods for a total of 35 teachers to visit in a two-hour period. The kids were so excited about me going to their classrooms and meeting ALL their teachers. My chest started to tighten with a sense of being overwhelmed as they stood, with smiling expectant faces, each with a sheaf of papers detailing their schedules waving in front of my face. The truth was I had flown all night trying to get home from a challenging client situation and had a total of 4 flights either cancelled or delayed and all I wanted to be was a couch potato for an hour or two. The tension between work and personal commitments was very present and this situation had potential disaster written all over it.
I put on my coaching hat because that is my job and asked myself: “To what do you want to say yes? Then, to what do you need to say no?” My chest relaxed, my breath moved through me more readily, and I felt more settled and ready. After coming back to center, the kids and I partnered for success. Each child selected their two favorite teachers and we placed all the schedules on the kitchen table to explore possibilities. The end result was a two-hour schedule that was doable! Long story short, I was able to personally meet all their top two choices and more.
What worked in this situation? I said yes to a centering practice and two hours of teacher visits, asked for support from the kids as stakeholders, and said no to a total of 35 classroom visits and a tight chest with limited breath. Curriculum night was enjoyable and since then, I have emailed and talked with all the other teachers at a more relaxed pace.
Types of Work-Life
Work life and home life are a popular research topic by social scientists, with varying thoughts of what balance in life means. Balance comes in different shapes and flavors. I believe in momentary balance followed by choice. However, knowing we each have a choice whether or not to be stressed many times escapes our attention. Stress spins us and we forget to center.
Understanding where we fall within the framework of the work-life challenge is helpful to increase our self-awareness and good choices in terms of saying YES or NO. Five work-life frameworks are:
- Segmentation model: Work life and home life are two distinct domains, not integrated.
- Spillover: One domain can influence the other domain.
- Compensation: What lacks in one domain is compensated for in another.
- Instrumental: Activities in one influence success in the other.
- Conflict: High demands precipitate conflict in both domains and produce overload and potential burnout for the individual.
Making Sense of Work-Life Balance
However you center, do that for 10-15 minutes. Review the 5 models of work-life balance. Using a blank sheet of paper, take a pencil and draw a line down the middle. Label the first column Yes and the second No. Start notating your choices. In the Yes column you might notice you say Yes to checking email 7 days a week, working long days, and overcommitting. You may say Yes to being tired and grumpy at home. The No column may have you saying No to quality weekends and evenings with your family, a doable workday, and more. You get the picture.
Next, start over with a clean sheet of paper and the same two columns. Add a date on the top that represents by when you will have intentionally made your Yes and No choices. For example, by October 1st, you will say Yes to being in more positive relationships at home and No to extra work projects.
Sometimes we do not know what we are declining until we take the time to understand what our conditioned actions are producing. You do have the choice to have meaningful work-life conversations at work, home, and more importantly with yourself. So, get out your paper and pencil.
Deedee Myers, PhD