By: Caitlin Gibson
When it comes to work-life balance, plenty can be and has been said. From competing advice about honing time-management skills to arguments that a balance isn’t actually realistic, we can agree on a few things—first, we place a lot of importance on this theoretical state of equilibrium in which we equally prioritize the demands of both our work and personal life. Next, there’s no one right way to achieve it. Finally, it has numerous benefits for employees and employers alike, including but not limited to:
- avoiding burnout
- enabling productivity
- decreasing stress
- increasing retention rates
- preventing errors and accidents
- and fostering employee empowerment, organizational agility, and alignment
Whether you view it as a balance or a blend, we can also agree that a work-life balance is more important now than ever, especially as millions of us navigate what it means to work remotely for the first time while striving to maintain some degree of separation between our work and personal lives.
The Truth About Work-Life Balance
What makes this especially tough? We’re not socialized to do it well. From unrealistic expectations portrayed by social media, the news, TV and movies, and even our own friends and family, we’re constantly shown new things we could be doing, ways we could be improving our lives, and things we should be trying. And when we’re directly and indirectly being told that we could and should always be doing more, it’s easy to feel like what we achieve is never enough. Over time, this creates stress, which can lead to fatigue, a weakened immune system, and more.
But guess what. It’s not possible to do all of it, and it never will be. By thinking that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything, you’ll constantly feel behind and demoralized, which pushes you further away from, not closer to, a work-life balance.
So, what can you do in the face of all this pressure? Know that work-life balance looks different for everybody, and it’s hard to achieve under “normal” circumstances, much less during a pandemic when so many of us are telecommuting. Accept that your personal approach to balancing work and life will evolve and change. Some days, you’ll need to focus more on work; on others, you’ll need to center your personal life more, and that’s okay! By accepting that it’ll be fluid, you can prevent the pursuit of work-life balance from becoming a stressful thing in itself.
The Two Tenets of Balancing Work and Life
Now, how do you deal with such fluidity and flux?
- Set clear goals, boundaries, and priorities for each facet of your life, not just at work.
When you only set goals at work, it can quickly seem like work is the only thing worth prioritizing. Instead, set goals in every area of your life, including your health, relationships, and hobbies. If you’re not sure where to start, begin by setting achievable daily goals. Break them down into a reasonable to-do list and focus on completing essential tasks first. If you don’t get to the non-essential ones, don’t stress. There’s always tomorrow.
- No matter what’s thrown your way, always put your wellbeing first.
That means, if you need to sign off early to make your therapy appointment, communicate with your manager and do it. If you have a chronic illness, take the day off when there’s an especially rough flare-up. In these ways and more, putting your wellbeing first will help you prevent burnout, feel more balanced, and be more productive when you’re working. If you’re struggling to take care of yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out for support. Take advantage of your EAP if you have one and know that, even though it can be hard to do, asking for help is a sign of strength.
Everything you do beyond these two core tenets will be personalized to you and your specific boundaries, priorities, and needs.
How to Facilitate Work-Life Balance for Remote Employees
To help employees in this effort, employers can:
- Have a flexible, but specific remote working policy.
Your policy should be specific in that it clearly outlines remote working expectations, including what working hours folks should observe, how employees should log or otherwise account for their time, and how performance and output will be measured, but your policy should also be flexible. Know that many employees are most productive outside of a 9am to 5pm schedule, and by allowing employees to work flexible hours, you can actually bring about an increase in loyalty, productivity, and focus across your workforce. However you shape your policy, be sure to communicate its details, so everyone knows what’s expected of them and what options they have.
- Use an internal communications platform.
Part of what makes balancing work priorities tough is that they’re not always communicated well or consistently. Think about the lengthy performance review email that seems to come out of nowhere, absent of helpful context or resources, that asks leaders to make key compensation decisions in the next two weeks. Along with thoughtfully-executed communication journeys, an internal communications platform can help you get the right information to the right people at the right time, keep employees connected to the larger organization and aware of ongoing or changing priorities, and enable effective communication with remote employees.
- Encourage employees to prioritize their health.
Employees need to know it’s not only okay to put their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing first, it’s crucial. You’ll need to remind folks of this often because it can be a hard thing to learn. Let employees know it’s okay to take breaks and step away from their computer for a bit to do the things that help them take care of their health. This includes taking mental health days; if this isn’t part of your remote working policy yet, it should be, and make sure your employees know about it.
- Check in often.
Even when employees can recognize that work-life balance is important, it can still be really hard to take the necessary steps to achieve it. Encourage managers to take advantage of regular one-on-ones to talk to their employees about both their work-life balance goals and how they’re taking care of their health. These regular check-ins will help employees stay accountable to their boundaries and priorities and know they have a way to get support when they need it.
- Set a good example.
Your employees will take their cue from their managers. So, if leaders consistently respond to emails late at night, employees will think they should do that, too. This type of behavior might seem like admirable dedication, but it can quickly lead to burnout and negatively impact engagement. Encourage your leaders to work sustainably and not at the cost of their physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing, and their employees will model their approach accordingly.
The truth is a perfect work-life balance doesn’t exist. It’ll constantly be in flux for each of us, and that’s okay. What we can do is set clear goals, priorities, and boundaries in each aspect of our life, put our wellbeing first, and leverage the support of our employers. In doing so, we’ll be able to achieve a blend that reduces stress, enables us to reach our goals, and helps us feel our best. And when your sense of balance gets off-kilter—and it inevitably will—pause, take a breath, and adjust…and remember there’s always tomorrow.