In a world so fast paced and technologically advanced, it is increasingly tedious to establish a sense of equilibrium to how we spend time earning a living and giving attention to the most important things in life. I posit that we are in the most technologically advanced era the world has ever experienced; similarly our advances in science and health are at the peak it's ever been.
Clearly, this evolution is meant to make our daily lives easier and our wellbeing optimal. Yet, in many instances we find the contrary. It appears that our advancement has done little to help us slowdown in our pursuit to make a living. People find that they still have to work many hours to make appreciable income while others ensure to have a business on the side for extra income. For some, it is the distance of travel between home and work that does them in and tilts the balance out of their favour.
There are many schools of thought on work-life balance where many deem it unattainable in our present world. Yet, some have found a way around it all; making things work for them as they navigate their path through the phases of life. This article is my attempt at making it all make sense, encouraging us to find our way through life and ensure the scale tilts in our favour.
Work-life balance simply defined is the state of equilibrium in which demands of personal, professional and family life are equal. It is the balance a working individual need between time allotted for work and other aspects of life such that optimum health and wellbeing is preserved. You may also recall the definition of Health as not merely the absence of disease but a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. In our world, we are laden with responsibilities as we grow older, particularly as our circle of influence broadens. Fortunately for many people, these responsibilities begin to pile on well into the teenage years while for some others, the responsibilities stack up at a very tender age. Thankfully, nature designed childhood as a phase of dependence and nurture by the beings who birth us. Still, we find that we grow up rather quickly and then the responsibilities hit on pretty fast. This is when we realise that no one thrives successfully on a laissez faire attitude hence prompting the need to conform.
In the 24 hours one has to daily function, the average adult needs eight of those to sleep, rest and get restored. In essence, the average adult has 16 waking hours to function. So, for someone who works an 8 to 5(6) job, that totals nine or ten hours of active work leaving only six to seven hours at one’s disposal. Six hours sure sounds like an incredible short time to juggle the other aspects of life one finds important on a daily basis. Think about house chores, exercising and caring for loved ones!
While this case scenario may not be applicable to everyone’s work situation, I hope it creates a vivid example of how we expend time for most of our working days. Similarly, if your weekends are mostly free, how well do you expend time in doing other things that are important to you? It is imperative that one cleverly plans so as not to get overwhelmed or squander valuable time such that there is loss of wellbeing as well as other vital things of life. The following are a number of factors that tend to tilt work-life balance out of proportion:
Gender – this is a huge determinant of work-life balance in our world today. Despite all the cultural advancement and civilization the world has embraced, it is glaring that gender inequality remains a major setback particularly in the less developed worlds. Many jobs are still influenced by gender stereotypes not to mention the inequality in remuneration. Being a female still poses huge challenges for women in the workplace. This also goes to affect the types of career or jobs female workers choose to pursue long term. Women also consider the ‘biological clock factor’ which influences career, work and business decisions for those passionate about family life. Essentially, a female is likely to have more work-life equilibrium challenges when compared to men. Nonetheless, it will be partial to leave out the male folks in how gender affects wellbeing because there are men who upon starting families make deliberate decisions to remain in certain jobs, careers or pay grade per time so as to be able to give more time to purposes they hold dear.
Exposure to psychosocial risks in the workplace - In the workplace, psychosocial risks may arise from work design as well as organizational and management structure. It also results from poor social context of work which eventually leads to negative psychological, physical and social outcomes such as work-related stress, burn-out and depression. Stress on its part is multidimensional; it can be work-related and/or non-work related. Psychosocial risks can alter the way an employee feels, thinks and behaves in the workplace. Invariably, this can cause changes in the psychosocial functioning of the individual and eventually lead to poor performance at work, social problems and physical health problems including heart disease and musculoskeletal diseases. Work related stress, one of the many consequences of psychosocial risks experienced in the workplace, have been reported as the second most prevalent work-related problem experienced by workers. An example is found in the European Union where 22% of workers were reportedly affected (European Agency for Safety and Health at work EU-OSHA, 2009).
Time spent consciously working – ‘consciously working’ because these days work can happen anywhere – from the bedroom, to a holiday inn and even a hospital bed. Knowing when to put the work tools down and pursue other aspects of life in a 24-hour period is challenging for many.
.Financial situation – this fundamental factor influences how badly or well the scale of equilibrium leans. Having a job, career or business that pays well enough contributes positively to achieving equilibrium when compared with one that doesn’t. More often than not, being financially secure allows for more options in making decisions that help guarantee a balanced life. Still, one cannot understate the relentless nature of man in the ceaseless pursuit of wealth.
Family characteristics – work-life equilibrium will be influenced by one’s marital status, spousal or partner relationship, number of children or dependants as well as presence of health challenges or illnesses amongst loved ones etc
Other factors that have been indicated in offsetting work-life balance include office policies, government policies, environmental factors, cultural beliefs and practices, religious beliefs and practices, volunteer workand social life. All these factors have their role in promoting or offsetting work-life balance.
Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, a book I assiduously read over a decade ago gave me insights on why achieving my career dreams and goals were not remotely enough in ensuring a happy and most fulfilling life. He says, “It is incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the business of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” Reading this book enlightened me on the need for balance in all I do. It also helped emphasize the importance of prioritizing the most important things in life.
Striving for work-life balance is imperative because a distortion ultimately goes to not only affect one’s health but also the things we come to realise are much more important later in life. While one needs to earn a living in order to make ends meet; good health and balance of all aspects of life cannot be overemphasised as we know, health is our greatest wealth! So, as I journey through life and strive to enjoy a harmonious life, I find that being intentional, deliberate and planning ahead plays a huge role. Here are some things I have learnt along the way:
Prioritise: decide what your priorities are outside of work, business and career. This is important in helping you make plans for different phases of your life. Always prioritise the things that are most important to you at every point in time and determine to spread your time wisely among them.
Plan Plan Plan: a very important step in achieving balance and success in life. It is true that “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. Planning makes you intentional and focused per time. It helps you develop a roadmap to achieving your life dreams and goals through every phase of life. It helps you make room for future challenges that may arise as you go along the way. Things may not always go strictly according to your plans but it sure helps you see clearly and prepare well in time.
Be innovative: don’t limit yourself to the norm, always seek innovative ways that work best for you. Consider different kinds of jobs at different stages of your life. For instance, you may work in jobs that involve considerable travel for a season, a behind the desk job for another season then on to a virtual job for another season. The aim is to use what you have and your circumstances to the best of your advantage.
Be reflective: review your plans from time to time and as often as your situation changes, adjust your plans accordingly. Make the most of every situation you are in but also know when to let go if something isn’t working. There are times you will have to sacrifice but remember not to sacrifice your health because your body is the only place you have for human existence.
Make adequate relaxation a necessity – your body needs revitalisation and healing; relaxation affords you the chance to achieve this. Taking a break also helps you take a step back and assess your life. This helps you take in the world from another perspective and makes you introspective. Everyone needs a break even from the things and the ones they love in order to enhance renewal and productivity.
In conclusion, always bear in mind that you can always live a balanced life without losing your health and the best things in life. Be thoughtful of your wellbeing always, this will help you ensure that the scale of equilibrium tilts in your favour. “The challenge is not to manage time but to manage ourselves...It is our willing permission, our consent to what happens to us that hurts us far more than what happened to us in the first place” Steven Covey.
Dr. Anne Olowu is a Public Health Physician and a Preventive Health Advocate. She writes from Lagos, Nigeria.