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Work-Life Balance: Real or Fiction?

by Kylie McLean ASEBP | July 5 2018

At some point, we’ve all said it or heard it from others, “I need to improve my work-life balance. The question on my mind is not how to achieve work-life balance, but rather, is work-life balance an achievable goal or a mythical fable, only dreamed about but never achieved? Work-life balance (WLB) is often spoken about as a coveted state of being—a dream of working adults that have both personal and professional ambitions, deadlines and responsibilities. Is successful balance dependent on becoming a time management expert or is there another way to thrive at juggling work, life and everything in between? Let’s explore why most of us have trouble creating this sweet state of living.

Bringing Work Home

Who here has brought work home at some point in their career? (Likely, all hands raise). This is common, as it’s reported that nearly 50 per cent of employees bring their work home¹. If it happens on a regular basis, bringing work home can take away precious time and energy from things in the “life” column that bring us joy and happiness like spending time with family and friends, recreation, hobbies, etc.

Bringing Home to Work

Who here has observed in themselves or a colleague bringing stress from home to work? (Again, likely all hands raise). You’re not alone. Behind work as the most common source of stress reported by Canadian workers, the second and third major stressors come from finances and time. You can imagine that stress—regardless of the source—can influence wellness in many areas of our lives, crossing the imaginary line we sometimes like to draw between work and life.  

So, is it realistic to strive towards a perfect balance between work and life or can we reframe our perspective and expectations to achieve success together?

Harmony > Balance

WLB implies that those two segmented parts of our lives must exist as a 50/50 split. To balance the equation, the two siloed domains of work and life compete for our time and energy. If we focus on one, then we must be neglecting the other. I’d like to bring forward a new term I’ve recently discovered and find intriguing: work-life harmony. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? A study² introducing this concept describes that with work-life harmony—either applied to the individual or organizations—all roles and responsibilities are interdependent and co-exist. The ultimate goal is not to always put equal energy towards both, but rather, that the time and energy we devote to work and life is free to change, adjust and adapt according to needs at any given time—guilt-free.

Off Balance on Purpose

To further challenge the idea of WLB, in a TED Talk, Dan Thurmon speaks to the idea that perfect balance is unrealistic. In fact, imbalance fuels us individually and as part of our work teams to grow, learn and create. His notion is that we should intend to live our lives off balance, on purpose because the resulting energy and intention creates the ideal environment for growth and creativity. I encourage you to think about this in your workplace.

Harmony for the Win

How are you contributing to a harmonious workplace environment? Here are a few quick and easy ways to get started.

  1. Know what supports are available. Ask your employer about the Employee and Family Assistance Program. My personal favourite is HomeWeb.ca, with all of its handy resources, readings and e-tools.
  2. Lend a helping hand. It’s the little things that go a long way. A health champion once told me that their staff embodies a healthy workplace by supporting each other during stressful times, helping each other out with photocopying or recess supervision.
  3. Laugh together. Laughter is known to bring people together. Begin a staff meeting with a quick 10-minute activity such as Self-Care A-Z, bringing energy to a seemingly ordinary meeting.
  4. Take a moment. Take time to practice self-care so you’re able to bring the very best of yourself to work each day.

Comment below on how your workplace and colleagues support each other to foster a culture that encourages work-life harmony.

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Sources:

  1. Schieman, S., Glavin, P., Milkie, M. A. (2009). When Work Interferes with Life; Work-Nonwork Interference and the Influence of Work-Related Demands and Resources. American Sociological Review, 74(6) 966-988. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F000312240907400606.
  2. McMillan, H., Morris, M.L., Atchley, E.K. (2009). Constructs of the Work/Life Interface: A Synthesis of the Literature and Introduction of the Concept of Work/Life Harmony. Human Resource Development Review, 10(1).

Kylie McLean

As a Registered Dietitian, “Snow White” (as Kylie affectionately calls herself) is a food superhero—protecting her fellow eaters from the most complex of food labels. Her super skills have given her the ability to bake a banana chocolate chip muffin that will leave you speechless—which more than makes up for her inability to execute a whistle or comprehend the consistency of sidewalk chalk. It’s so chalky!