Balance between private and work life

by Shachi D. Shantinath, Ph.D.

Originally published at www.Stress-Info.ch, 2003.

For many people, a major source of work related stress arises from having to balance the demands of work with the demands of their family life. Reducing this source of stress calls for action on the part of both employer and employee.

Traditionally, balancing the demands of work and home life have focused on two aspects: women’s needs – especially as they relate to family demands and work, and looking at what an individual can do to promote balance in his or her life.

However, emerging trends in the work-life field indicate two ways to broaden the discussion about this topic: balance is something everyone- including men and singles need, (not only women who are married with children); and that balance also has to do with an employer’s policies and practices.

Employees who are able to achieve a good balance between work and private life tend to be healthier, happier and less stressed. This in turn means increased productivity and fewer absences for the employer.

Information for the Employer: Recognize the needs of a diverse work force

Employers and employees need to keep in mind that balance can mean various things for various people. Many employers forget that men too may want to spend time with their children. The atmosphere at work may be such that it is acceptable for a woman to adjust her schedule to the needs of her child, but the same liberties allowed a woman may not be offered to a man.

Employers need to re-think how they view commitment and seriousness on the part of the employee. Employers need to look at their assumptions and see if they negatively judge (and penalize) workers with diverse needs. When an employee says he or she needs to be able to adjust their schedule in order to meet other demands in his or her life, it does not necessarily mean that they do not value work. Most likely, it means they are trying to maximize their time and resources to meet various demands in their lives.

In some workplaces, it is not only the amount and quality of work produced, but the willingness to spend long hours at work place that is measured as a sign of being serious (and later also taken into consideration when people are being reviewed for promotion or pay raises). Thus the emphasis is placed upon “face time” spent at the office rather than the actual output. A committed and competent worker may not be able to attend meetings scheduled early or late in the day due to conflicts with family demands – such as taking care of children or an ailing parent. In such instances, the employer should seek to find other times that might be more suitable for meetings – and not just assume that the worker is not taking his or her job seriously. So long as the worker meets his or her obligations and gets their work done, then it is unfair to make unreasonable scheduling demands on someone who is otherwise productive.

It is also important to bear in mind that single persons may want time for their social networks, sports or church activities. People may have social obligations other than childcare. With the increase in the number of people who are aging, it is possible that an employee has to attend to the health needs of his or her parents. He or she may be a member in civic organizations that contribute to the overall welfare of the community. Employers should consider these aspects of people’s lives as well, when discussing work-life balance and related policies.

Depending upon the atmosphere at work, employees may or may not feel comfortable expressing their needs, especially if they fear that bringing up this topic might lead them to be judged negatively. Thus it is important for employers to proactively pursue this topic and explore what can be done within the workplace to facilitate balance in the lives of the employees.

Employers need to bear in mind that competing demands such as family or other commitments do not mean that employers are any less committed to their jobs. Various studies (including the one cited below) show that juggling multiple demands simultaneously does not mean that an employee is any less committed. In fact, many people in such situations seek to increase their efficiency when at work in order to make the most of their limited time.

Employers need to be sure that they are in fact judging the employee on the basis of his or her productivity, rather than judging someone negatively just because they juggle various roles and responsibilities in their lives.

Information for Employees: Strategies for increasing balance in your life

While many of the things a person can do to increase balance in one’s life may seem intuitive, results of a recent study conducted in the US offer significant clues into the matter.

This pioneering effort looked at what successfully balanced couples did that allowed them to achieve balance, as opposed to documenting problems among couples. The strategies that these couples employed cut across a range of incomes and professions. Although this research was conducted with couples where both persons worked outside the house, these ideas are applicable to couples where one person stays at home, or for persons who are single.

The first set of strategies can be categorized under the heading of setting priorities and values directed towards a vision. Successful work-life balancers stated that family was their highest priority and supported this by their action (e.g. such as making more time to be with children, taking jobs with less prestige in order to have more time with their families). These couples also made family fun a priority in scheduling their time and limited outside activities and television watching in order to spend more time with each other. By scheduling shopping and cleaning during the week, they were able to free up more time on the weekend to be with one another. Couples who experienced balance tended to report living more within their means rather than striving for more material goods. These people also likely to think through the consequences of various actions and choices upon their private life.

When faced with problems such as paying bills, they tended to view “the big picture” and focus on the greater purpose of their relationship. They adopted a view of “living in the present moment” as a way of increasing enjoyment.

Valuing of work was also important, and people took pride in the work they did and derived meaning from it. It gave them a sense of purpose that helped to counter the low energy they might feel at times due to the various demands. While they were at work, they focused on their tasks and worked hard to be productive. They also were able to create boundaries between work and home life, communicate this to their employer, and if needed, were able to negotiate more flexible conditions from their employers.

Attitude was also an important factor among those couples who were successful in balancing work and family demands. They tended to view their situation as one of choice rather than chance and were likely to say no to situations of overload. They also took pride in the fact that both persons in the couple worked outside of the home.

Within the couples, one of the most important factors was having a sense of equity and true partnership between both persons. This included a fair distribution of household work, equal participation in decision making, and showing respect, support and appreciation for one’s partner. Perhaps this is not surprising, as the equality between partners is important for a happy marital relationship.

The most striking finding of this study was the extent to which various couples reported similar views. The key message from all this: persons who wish to have more balance in their life between work and family would benefit from clarifying their values and priorities, spending time in accordance with their values and priorities, making conscious decisions about how their time is spent and the kinds of activities on which they spend their time. For people in a partnership, it is important to engage in actions such as sharing of tasks, and showing respect and appreciating for one’s partner.

Remember!

A happy worker is a productive worker. Achieving work life balance is the responsibility of both employer and employee. Employers seeking to promote balance in the lives of their workers need to look for ways to foster conditions that promote balance – (such as creating work conditions that allow a worker to be efficient while at work). Employees who feel their lives are not in balance can look at some of the strategies described here and begin to apply them more actively.

Copyright S.D. Shantinath, Ph.D. All rights reserved.