Coping Amidst the Chaos; Finding the Elusive Work/Life Balance

Coping Amidst the Chaos; Finding the Elusive Work/Life BalanceUsage of the phrase ‘work-life balance’ only started in the United States in 19861, so it’s no wonder that we’re still struggling to figure it out 20+ years later.  Many business cases can be made about the benefits of work-life balance within an organization, but let’s face it, there are so many looming deadlines, impending projects and shortage of personnel, it can be easy to work yourself into a tailspin.  Don’t think you’re alone though:

  • According to a survey conducted by Northwestern National Life, 4 out of every 10 employees state that their jobs are ‘very or extremely’ stressful.  This level of stress kills; too much stress can result in high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.3  (Are you at risk?  Spend 10 seconds and take this quick stress test.)
  • Another study by the Center for Work-Life Policy (a NY based think tank dedicated to this idea) indicated 1.7 million Americans consider their jobs and their work hours excessive because of globalization.   Today more than ever, it’s likely you’re working for a company with international presence, meaning a late email to a client in China, followed by an early morning conference call with colleagues in London.
  • In a study by Harvard and McGill University researchers, the United States misses the mark when it comes to family oriented workplace policies such as maternity/paternity leave, paid sick days, maximum work weeks and bereavement leave.4

Simply put, US companies fall behind other countries when it comes to making sure employees can create balance between work and home.

Meaning, it’s up to YOU to seize control of your life and try to force some balance in there because your company is not going to help you out.  A couple things to try that have been helpful for me:

  • Schedule down time on a regular basis, even if it’s merely a day or two at home where you catch up on laundry or other sundry tasks.  Feeling like you’re in control at least in your home life can help alleviate your stress levels.  Of course, a vacation away is the best option, but not always financially practical.  The key is, get out of the office and unplug for a while (yes, unplug as in set the blackberry or ipad down and focus on something else).
  • Take a moment and remind yourself why you work in the first place. Consciously look at your bank account or mortgage statement and remember why money is important.  Travel too much?  Look at your ever-growing airline miles account and think about using miles to go away somewhere fun or use as a gift to bring friends or relatives to you.  Remembering the financial benefits and other perks work provides may help you at least put things in perspective and get through challenging days.
  • Employ the five-year rule.  Will this client’s behavior bother you in 5 years?  Or those poor office politics?  Heck, in today’s environment of rotating staff, will your boss he here in a year?  Remember that daily stresses are often not long term, so grab a coffee (or a cocktail!), step out of your current environment and assess the situation at 35,000 feet.  Hopefully life’s daily stresses won’t matter as much as we think in the grand scheme of things.
  • As much as I’ll tout having a few cocktails to relax, it’s not a long-term strategy for coping with hardcore daily stress.  You MUST take care of your health.  Getting sick (or being perpetually hungover) is not a long-term strategy and can help tip your stress level into the red.  Take vitamins, eat fruits and veggies every day and get in a stress-busting workout or even just a 20-minute walk during lunch at least 3-4 times a week.  I’ve started boxing with my trainer and the pleasure of punching someone (even virtually) who truly deserves it can be quite satisfying and the impact will be immediately balancing!
  • Re-connect with your friends, family and community.  As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved.  Turn to your support network to problem solve or even just to vent.  Better yet, get out into your community and volunteer.  You’ll do good while putting your own problems into perspective.
  • Have kids?  Our advice is to simplify.  Children don’t need things – they need you.  Keep toys, meals, furniture, and clothing as simple as possible and focus instead on the TIME you spend with your kids.  This is a much larger discussion and one that Lisa Belkin tackles perfectly in her blog, Motherlode.

Remember, this is your life we’re talking about.  Unfortunately no one but you can do anything about the stress in your life and your work/life balance.  So commit to just one of the above for 4 weeks and see if it makes a difference in your life.

1 – Wikipedia – Work Life Balance

2 – CDC Study: Stress…At Work, 1999

3 – BBC – The Consequences of Too Much Stress

4 – Survey: U.S. workplace not family-oriented 5.22.2007

Check back to my next blog for information on Managing across Cultures.

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