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Work Life Balance: Walking the Tightrope

Posted Nov 16 2009 10:02pm

With American’s working more than their counterparts in nearly every other developed country in the world, it’s no wonder that work/life balance is such a hot topic! When’s the last time your boss said, ‘It’s 7 o’clock! You’re going to miss your yoga class. Now, get outta here and go work on your chakras!’ Ummm – never?

My point is that, first and foremost, work/life balance is a choice and it’s up to you. No one is going to pry you away from your computer and force you to engage in leisure activities (I feel like I just stumbled upon a lucrative new business idea) – sadly, the ball is entirely in your court. So, are you ready to re-claim your free time? Steal back your sanity from the clutches of The Man? Embark on a journey of self-empowerment? Wooohoooo!

Not to oversimplify a complicated topic, but work/life balance boils down to setting realistic boundaries and sticking to your guns. Here are a few things to think about:

What does it mean to you?
The balance between work and life means something different to everyone. For some, it can be as simple as being able to leave work in time to meet the girls for cocktails once a week. For others, it’s a taller order, like significantly reducing the number of hours you work each week so that you see the light of day every once and a while. If you asked me 2 years ago, I would have said it meant being able to sleep in my own bed every night (not in a street walker sort of way – no offense to street walkers). You need to figure out what it means to you before you can make it happen. You may even be surprised at how little it would take for you to be more satisfied with your work/life balance.

Clearing the path
Armed with this new-found clarity about your needs, it’s time to ask yourself: ‘what’s keeping me from achieving this?’ Your answers may range anywhere from ‘My boss is the Devil on Red Bull’ to ‘My name is (insert name here), and I’m a crazed workaholic.’ How difficult this is depends entirely on your obstacles.

If your obstacles involve your manager, nature of your work, workload, or a combination of these, I would encourage you to think creatively and realistically about how your personal needs as well as your work requirements can be met. Then schedule some time to chat with your manager to express your concerns, and share your thoughts on solutions. I understand that these conversations can be uncomfortable, but I’m sure your manager would prefer to address this now, rather than remaining blissfully ignorant as you rapidly lose your marbles, or worse, quit. In case you haven’t heard, there is a talent crisis in the works – and I’m not referring to the lack of quality TV entertainment (thank you VH1, but the world doesn’t need another ‘Shot at Love with Tila Tequila’). I’m talking about the lack of high-quality talent in our workforce. Assuming that you’re in good standing with your employer, there is an incredibly strong business case for not wanting to lose you, which translates into making reasonable accommodations to keep you satisfied in your job. So chances are you’ve got nothing to lose!

If, on the other hand, you’re the one standing in the way of maintaining a healthy work/life balance, you face more of a challenge. You need to start creating boundaries for yourself and putting some of your fundamental needs first. Start small: practice saying ‘no’ to requests when you’re feeling overwhelmed, delegate tasks when you can, make plans with friends at a reasonable time after work – and for once, keep them. Once you get comfortable with these steps you’ll be on a roll – you’ll be throwing caution and spreadsheets to the wind in order to take advantage of your free time.

Staying Strong
Once you’ve agreed to measures that will enhance your work/life balance with your manager or yourself, it’s game time! Keeping this commitment is entirely up to you – everyone at work would be more than happy to have you toil away ad nauseum. My suggestion? Find yourself a cheerleader. Ask a friend, colleague, spouse, family member to help keep you honest. Give them permission to give you pep talks when you begin to stray – reminding you that this work/life balance stuff is important! Not only that, but you can be a real grouch when you’re stressed out all the time because of work (they told me to say that).

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