How to find the perfect work/life balance

“Can I really do this job well and have a life?” If you’ve found yourself asking that question, you’re not alone. It is not unusual to hear staff say they feel they have too much to do and not enough time. In a world with expectations of service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, staff often feel pressure to put in long hours, to work from home, and to be constantly on call, online, and available. At times of great stress this question of balancing work and home life is bound to come up. Contemplating a new job where the levels of responsibility will increase also raises the issue.

“Can I really do this job well and have a life?” If you’ve found yourself asking that question, you’re not alone. It is not unusual to hear staff say they feel they have too much to do and not enough time. In a world with expectations of service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, staff often feel pressure to put in long hours, to work from home, and to be constantly on call, online, and available. At times of great stress this question of balancing work and home life is bound to come up. Contemplating a new job where the levels of responsibility will increase also raises the issue.

Recent studies show that IT workers in particular have more difficulty with work/life balance than their non-IT counterparts do. In casual conversations we often hear people express the feeling that they have not achieved what they consider an acceptable balance between work and personal interests. International research supports these perceptions. Working long hours, working on the weekends, and bringing work home are most often noted as the major disrupters to work/life balance. Many studies have also pointed to the perceived variability in the work/life balance depending on gender, generation, culture, income level, and type of job.

A growing trend in today’s workforce puts a greater emphasis on living a successful, happy life versus simply achieving success at work. A recent study found that employees who place a similar priority on family life and work (“dual-centric” people) had advanced more in their careers than those who are “work-centric” or “family-centric.” Dual-centric and family-centric employees also exhibited a greater satisfaction with their jobs and lives than work-centric employees.

Does trying to balance work and personal life have to cause problems, conflicts, guilt, and tensions both at work and at home? This balancing act can be done successfully, to the benefit of both job and family. Commitments to family, church, community groups, and others make our lives rich and rewarding. Performing well in a challenging position, at an interesting place with friendly colleagues also brings satisfaction. The pressure to do it all and do it well is strong in our society. Finding ways to bring a sense of balance to your life—to feel successful in your job and happy in your outside activities, is what we address in this chapter, suggesting strategies for both the supervisor and the employee and making a call to action for the IT leadership at higher education institutions.

Personal Values—What Drives You?

Whether or not you realize it, the decisions you make are influenced by what you value—the beliefs, attitudes, and ideas you think are important. These values shape the choices all of us make in our lives, and understanding more about them helps us make choices we can live with, both for our careers and our personal lives. Identifying and understanding your own values is a first step toward understanding your current position and helping you make adjustments to achieve the balance you desire.

Evaluating the Gap

Looking at the values you have identified as most important to you and then reflecting on how you spend your time, do you see any gaps? How have the values you ranked most important influenced your career choices and your life choices? Might you need to make changes to bring your work or your personal life more in line with what you value? Prioritize the multiple roles you perform so that you make decisions and set limits between the demands of work and your home life. To focus, organize your life priorities.

Managing Priorities

You can take two simple yet important steps to limit the demands of work and manage priorities. Understanding the job and knowing the schedule can clarify and simplify the overwhelming list of things to do.

Understanding the Job—for Employees

•Know the goals. For a staff member, knowing why something must be done can be very helpful. A good deal of frustration from having too much on your plate can be relieved by understanding the project goals. It is also easier to discuss how to balance workload if you have the whole picture.

•Understand expectations. Make sure you understand your job description and the expectations of your supervisors. For example, a frequent point of contention is after-hours communications. Are staff members expected to check e-mail in the evenings or on weekends? Do you have to carry a work mobile phone? What are the policies covering off-hours? If you take responsibility for meeting communications expectations, you should be able to take time off without guilt or recrimination.

◦•Publish clear policies on after-hours coverage. If you expect staff to check e-mail at regular intervals on weekends, make it part of the job description and orientation. Do not assume everyone knows what he or she should do.

Managing Time—for Employees

•Create a schedule. Follow a schedule as much as possible. If your work offers a shared calendar facility, use it—it’s easier to schedule meetings and make effective use of everyone’s time. If you can keep to a routine schedule and mark blocks of time for regular tasks, you can better plan and execute your work. Once you get into a routine, you will see how long it actually takes to do something and become better at predicting your schedule.

•Plan some uninterrupted time. Reserve an hour of quiet time every day, and close your office door if you can. Use the uninterrupted time to catch up on e-mail, work on projects, or return calls. Marking that hour a day in your calendar will keep others in the department from scheduling you then. If taking that time during the day is not possible, try to schedule it at the end or beginning of the day. Know the flow of work around you, and adjust to it.

One of the places where conflict arises, for women in particular, comes during childbearing years. The decisions on having children, whether to interrupt career plans, how soon to return to work, and how to manage ongoing child care are a source of conflict for many workers. As a woman enters the labour force, not all of her home responsibilities will be transferred to others. These dual work and home responsibilities can strain a woman’s limits on time and effort.

Strategies to Promote Balance—for Employees

•Take time off. Work has been hectic for months and things at home have been busy. Tension has been building for weeks. What should you do? Plan a holiday and take it! Your break can be a day in bed with a good book, a picnic by a river or lake with the kids, or a trip to a far away location. The point is—it is not work. A break in the routine, even a small one, can bring back perspective. Relaxation is important for good physical and mental health.

•Take a lunch break. This may not always be possible, but no one should work through lunch every day. Get outside into the fresh air. Take a 10-minute walk. Take care of yourself, and then you can take care of others.

•Exercise. Working up a good sweat eliminates lots of frustration and has many other benefits. It takes time to make the commitment, so work on managing your calendar and your time. Make exercise a priority.

•Volunteer. Join a committee and get a new perspective on the organization. Meet new people and give yourself a new challenge. Volunteering can lead to a new job, help you contribute to your organization or community, and break up your routine.

•Learn something new. Teach a class or take one. Can you use the class to make your job easier? Or to help you get another job in the future?

•Laugh. Keep your sense of humour.

•Get help. Ask for help if you need it.