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Natalia Rossingol

Beyond the Grind: The Transformational Impact of Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance can get you a long way. Here's why it's important and what benefits you can expect once you've reached a happy medium.

How often do you get a feeling that work takes too much room in your life? Probably more than you'd wish. Balancing your professional and personal life can be challenging in a hectic modern world. Today, work is not just a way to make a living – it’s an instrument of self-expression and gaining a social status, which often turns into a rat race. Of course, harmony is an unattainable ideal. Yet, losing too many precious hours of our life is regrettable, so we should consciously try to reach a balance. Work is important, but often, we overvalue its role.

What is work-life balance?

The challenge of work-life balance is without question one of the most significant struggles faced by modern men - Stephen Covey, an American author

The term “work-life balance” can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Basically, it stands for the arrangement of your personal time and the time you spend at work, which includes a certain level of prioritization. It’s a state of equilibrium that allows you to pay sufficient attention to both the demands of your career and your private life.

Defining a work-life balance as spending equal amounts of time on everything is pretty idealistic. Such a perfect schedule is a utopia. The truth is that some days you will focus more on work, and other days you will have other priorities. That’s normal. Balance is achieved over time, by accumulating little effort.

You can have it all. You just can’t have it all at once. - Oprah Winfrey

Maura Thomas, an international speaker and trainer on productivity, provides an interesting definition of work-time balance, calling it “not working too much.” It may sound too vague, but there are specific figures to support her argument:

  • A study conducted by Laura Vanderkam, an author of management books, showed that the optimal number of work hours per week is 38 hours.
  • A study conducted by John Pencavel, a professor of economics at Stanford, showed that productivity declines after 50 hours worked per week.
  • According to World Health Organization, working more than 55 hours leads to a 35% risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

Why do people struggle to achieve work-life balance?

The reasons why people overwork can be different. It can be something very down-to-earth, like a desire to improve your well-being. Work can be an escape from personal problems, too. And believe it or not, some people just find pleasure in working long hours, seeing it as a main tool of self-realization.

In today’s world, the problem of work-life balance has been aggravated by technology and social media. Working from home is the new normal, especially after the Covid 19 pandemic. But the boundaries between work and personal life have been blurred. We get work emails at night, answer phone calls during dinner, and take laptops on a weekend trip.

The blessing of not having to wake up at 6 am is balanced by the curse of being online 24/7.

Poor time management is another reason for an unhealthy work-life balance. Your responsibilities need to be taken care of, and if you are not good at setting priorities (especially when you work from home and are in charge of your own time), you will have to stay up late finishing work that could have been finished hours ago.

No matter what the reason is, sacrificing other parts of your life to work is dangerous. Eventually, it causes too much stress and burnout, which, in turn, causes diseases, both mental and physical. It will have a negative impact on your personal relationships. Finally, it will steal your precious time that could be spent on something you really enjoy doing.

Poor work-life balance is unhealthy. To have a full life, we need to take the trouble and see whether our life scales work properly.   

The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities. - Stephen Covey, an American author

The benefits of having a work-life balance

So what is the positive impact of work-life balance?

It helps maintain our mental health

The more you work, the more work-related issues you need to solve. Being constantly busy, you don’t have time to process your negative emotions, this way letting them build up. This will lead to chronic stress and mental issues, like insomnia, anxiety, and depression.

Besides, chronic stress may cause burnout – fatigue accompanied by mood swings, irritability, and, as a consequence, a lack of productivity.

A good work-life balance helps avoid these unpleasant symptoms. Leaving work at work, after you close the office door at 18:00, you let yourself recharge and don’t overburden your own mind.

Read on: 50+ Burnout Statistics That Will Shock You into Action

It improves our physical health

Stress and burnout may lead to serious health conditions. Heart diseases, high blood pressure, problems with eyesight, weakened immune system – this all can be caused by stress and a sedentary lifestyle.

We should never neglect our health. One of the horrible mistakes we make as a result of poor work-life balance is a lack of sleep. Sleep deficiency is linked to many health issues (like diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease, among the rest), as well as increases the chance of injury. We know it – we sure do – yet, we stubbornly refuse to sleep more, afraid to waste time.

But look at these examples.  

Jeff Bezos, Sheryl Sandberg, and Jason Fried sleep 8 hours. Malcolm Gladwell – from 8 to 9 hours. Alison Felix – from 7 to 8 hours. Lebron James sleeps 12 hours, including naps throughout the day. As you can see, working well and having healthy sleep habits are not incompatible.

After all, it’s kind of ironic to earn money and then spend it on trying to get your health back, isn’t it?

It increases productivity and engagement

Putting in too much effort is counterproductive. You can work just so much before you exhaust yourself. Overworking, you may get a false impression that your productivity is high – however, it will drop down before you know it. The quality of your work will suffer, too.

The importance of pauses is especially noticeable with knowledge work. You've probably heard the phrase that you get your best ideas in the shower. It’s not a joke: our brain needs time to process the information and produce the best result. When you keep it constantly occupied, you lose an opportunity to find the right answers and ideas. A healthy work-life balance positively influences your creative thinking.

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your work is not work! - Maura Thomas

If a line between work and private life is drawn, employees are also more engaged. Firstly, they are not exhausted and have more resources to get things done. Secondly, they don’t have to solve their private issues at work, because otherwise, they don’t have time to do so. Focusing specifically on your work-related tasks, you give them your undivided attention and achieve better results.  

It leads you to success

You don’t have to make yourself miserable to build a great company. - Andrew Wilkinson

Andrew Wilkinson, a co-founder of Metalab, says that “by most measures, I’m a lazy bastard.” He wakes up around 1 pm, getting 8 hours of sleep, and works for some 5-6 hours a day. He never works on weekends.

His routine wasn’t always like this. During his first years of Metalab, he spent every waking hour on the business, taking care of the company finances, managing projects, and recruiting new team members. Was this productive? Of course, not. Relationship problems, lack of social life and leisure time – these were the results of such a hectic workaholic lifestyle. The company culture didn’t win from that, either.

Wilkinson decided to change his work routine, taking evenings and weekends off. Now he spends time only on tasks that he’s good at and tasks nobody else can do. He hired talented people to make important decisions. This is what he calls “lazy leadership.” He focuses on the most important things, and delegates the rest, being in charge of 30,000 people.

Wilkinson is a leader - yet, his story is an example of how a wise approach to your routine can release your resources and bring you to success.

It lets you live a fuller life

Don’t confuse having a career with having a life. - Hilary Clinton

Life is not just about work. There are friends and family, hobbies and self-improvement, new places to see and books to read. Completely immersing yourself in work, you miss out on the opportunity to live a colorful life, letting it pass you by.

Sounds like a banality, but when was the last time you went for dinner with friends? 

The positive impact of work-life balance on employees

For employees, a healthy work-life balance is a necessary condition. The benefits we just mentioned boil down to three main things: physical health, mental well-being, and productivity at work. Can people possibly demonstrate high performance without any of these? Definitely, not. 

Physical and mental well-being are interconnected. Mental issues caused by work do not impact us immediately. They develop over time, eventually impacting our bodies.

A better work-life balance can prevent these issues. Less stress means fewer health problems. Think about it: if you sleep well, you will be more active and productive – and less grumpy, so you won’t get involved in conflicts. You will come up with fresh ideas. You will be genuinely involved in the project, not hating it because it steals the time you want to spend with your family. Everyone wins – you, your employer, and your loved ones.   

With a more balanced routine, employees can achieve much higher productivity, being able to do more in less time. It benefits team health, too, reducing the level of conflicts within a team. Employee-friendly policies improve employee motivation and morale, making them more committed and loyal.

Continue reading: Work-Life Balance Initiatives - Examples From Orgs That Got it Right

Work-life balance also has a positive impact on employee retention and, consequently, helps save costs that an organization may need to spend hiring new employees. Besides, it helps reduce absenteeism (caused by health issues or burnout) and has a good impact on job satisfaction.

This way, work-life balance increases the chances of your company to get a competitive advantage and strengthen your reputation. 

How to maintain work-life balance

Building a culture of work-life balance takes the efforts of both employers and employees. Let’s see what exactly should be done by each of the two:

Tips for employers:

  • Let employees work from home. This is one of the first things that comes to mind once you mention work-life balance. Every time work can be done remotely, let employees stay home. It will save the time needed to get to the office and back.
  • Arrange flexible work hours. Let people pick hours to work, instead of 9-17 (for example, it can be 8-16 or 10-18). 
  • Make sure you’ve got paid time off policies.
  • Provide manageable workloads.
  • Implement mental and health-promoting activities (like mindfulness sessions or gym membership).

Tips for employees:

  • Take small breaks throughout your workday. Take a walk, if possible, or have coffee with a colleague.
  • Set boundaries between work and personal life. Don’t take work home to finish it in the evening. Let your work problems go once you come home – that is your personal time.
  • Take leaves. It’s not a waste of time – it’s an investment into your healthy future. You will come back renewed and inspired.
  • Work on your time management skills. If you struggle with that one, make to-do lists and set time limits for specific tasks. Procrastination will bring you to burning deadlines. Having your head in the cloud during the day will leave you no choice but stay up late to finish a task.
  • Just accept the philosophy of work-time balance.

We need to learn to stay balanced in our personal and professional lives. The stakes are too high – it’s a matter of our health and overall personal happiness. Having a balanced lifestyle, you will be able to spend quality time with your loved ones and friends – and at the same time, you will add value to your organization. So sleep more, rest better, and work harder!

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