Why is it so Hard to Find a Work/Life Balance?
Work seems to have infiltrated every aspect of our lives these days. We used to be limited with the amount of work we could take home; however, with technology giving us the ability to work from almost anywhere, there seems to be this expectation that we respond to everything right away. Many of us crave time where we can be free of work obligations, but unfortunately the way we work makes the coveted work-life balance seem almost impossible.
The 24-Hour Workday
The biggest culprit in thwarting our efforts to find a work-life balance is the 24-hour workday. I know I am guilty of this. In my current line of work as an HR consultant, I will respond to client emails while on vacation and take calls when I am out running errands. This is a carryover from my corporate HR life where I would do the same thing.
When you have the urge to respond to an email late at night or finish up a report on your laptop while sitting at your kid’s dance practice, ask yourself, “Is it really necessary to get this done now?” Even in HR where workplace drama can pop up and demand immediate attention, only a small number of things actually require an instant response. I had a wise boss at my last job who had to regularly remind me, “Just because the manager asking you for help is leading you to believe that their request is urgent, it doesn’t mean it actually is.” We need to remember this and prioritize accordingly. Step back and figure out a reasonable timeframe and communicate that to the requestor. It is OK to say, “I can’t do that this minute, but I will get it done by the end of the day tomorrow.”
We need to keep work from creeping into every aspect of our personal lives. Sometimes the best thing we can do is turn off our phones and computers. Remove them from the room, or lock them up somewhere. Take away the temptation to check in via technology.
Changing the Way We Manage Employees
For those in HR and those who manage a team of employees, we need to establish practices that encourage a work-life balance. Lead by example and avoid sending out email late at night, on your days off or while on vacation. If you are doing these things, employees will think they need to be just as connected to work in their off time.
Watch for your hard workers who send you email at 10 p.m. when they should be home with their feet up. Give these employees a friendly reminder that they do not have to work late at night. We need to remember that excessive hours at work do not usually lead to productive employees. Make sure your employees are taking the time off that they need. Otherwise you will end up with a staff that is tired, burnt out and stressed to the point where they are not that effective at doing their jobs.
Learning to Say No
Sometimes the most important thing we can do is say no. As much as we sometimes act otherwise, we do not have to say yes to every request that comes our way. I know I am always worried that saying no will let the requestor down. In reality, by saying yes when I am stretched to my limit, the person I am letting down the most is me. When I end up scrambling to keep up with tons of commitments, I end up stressed out and run the risk of doing mediocre work just to finish everything up on time.
It is also important to schedule time for yourself. Put it on your calendar if you have to, and do not cancel your personal time because a meeting came up. Treat your personal time as being just as important as a meeting or a project. Doing so will help you move toward the elusive work/life balance.
About the Author
Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the owner of Hammerwold & Pershing Consulting and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs and The HR Gazette, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.