Wherever I go lately, people tell me they want better work/life balance in the new year. My response is to ask, “What does work/life balance look like for you?”
Finding a balance between work and personal life is not like reaching balance on a scale with equal weights. It is not about working less. It is about spending your time in a way that brings satisfaction. In a survey by the University of Scranton, one of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2014 is to enjoy life to the fullest. In a society where stress levels have soared, that’s a good goal for all of us.
As 2013 came to a close, I heard such statements as this: My family life and my health have suffered because of work, and I am not going to let that continue. I also heard the opposite: I want to acquire language skills or get a certification to finally advance at work.
Experts say we need to get more specific about what personal fulfillment looks like and define our path to find it because less than half of us will keep our resolutions past the first six months. Does fulfillment and better work/life balance mean eating dinner as a family a few nights a week? Does it mean reclaiming Saturdays to take rides with a bike club? Or taking on a new project at work that excites you?
“Narrow it down and set one important intention, because behavioral change is hard,” says Shani Magosky, executive coach and owner of Vitesse Consulting in Fort Lauderdale “Our brains are hard-wired to reinforce habits that exist.”
Once you know exactly what a better work/life balance looks like, Magosky suggests you figure out what you need to do to make it happen. Remember creating a habit or breaking an old one takes time and practice. It requires change. What specifically are you going to do to make sure that change happens?
If your goal is to eat dinner more often with your kids, post a photo of you doing it somewhere you will see it each day — maybe on your computer desktop. “You need some kind of reminder to keep the intention in the forefront of your mind,” Magosky says. Digital reminders with built-in alerts are catching on, too, and often provide the nudge to get a late-night dweller out of the office at a scheduled time.
If you find yourself spending a Saturday at the office instead of with your bike club, don't fret or give up. Change the background on your mobile phone to yourself on your bike as motivation for making it happen the next week.
The key is to examine what is at stake if you don’t make a change. For example, if you are on the phone or online all the time, will your health suffer, your relationships become strained, your children become resentful? “Considering the consequences will help you get clear on why you should put forth the effort to make that change,” Magosky says.
Judy Martin consults stressed employees who want to feel better, work better, and live better. Studies highlighted by the American Institute of Stress show that jobs are by far the major source of stress for American adults, and that job-related stress levels have escalated over the past decade. If your work life has you feeling pulled and anxious, Martin, founder of Work Life Nation, recommends taking baby steps toward change in 2014. “The secret sauce is in the planning. Plan out the change you need to make and the actions you need to take.”
For example, Martin says, one client in middle management felt stressed every night by trying to get home early enough to spend time with his family, yet complete his job responsibilities. Together, they came up with a plan for him to go to the office an hour earlier, use the quiet time to more strategically plan out the day and work while it is quiet, and leave an hour earlier to enjoy family time. “It wasn’t just about changing work hours,” she explains. “It was also about giving him time to switch modes and start the day more positive.”
Business consultant Nigel Marsh notes: The companies we work for aren’t going to create work/life balance for us. We have to take control of and responsibility for the life we want to live.
Often in January, people become convinced they need to change jobs to feel like their work and personal life are more in synch. Tom Connelly, an executive recruiter with Boyden global executive search in Coral Gables, said he already has seen a flood of résumés from people who feel unfulfilled in their current jobs.
“It’s not just a pondering about their professional situation, family stuff comes into play. Over the holidays, people are spending time with family and everything bubbles up into a volcano and they think if they find a new job everything will be OK.”
If you do feel that way, Connelly suggests you network and find a business coach to help identify your weak areas and improve on them as steps toward a job search. The economy is expected to show more life in 2014, which will present workers with a number of opportunities, he believes.
But Connelly cautions that a new job does not guarantee better work/life balance, regardless of whether you work fewer hours. You can have satisfaction with work, despite having a work profile that would scare the living daylights out of the 40-hour work week.
Christine Denton, a Miami Mary Kaye executive sales director, said accomplishing her work goals fuels her. She enjoys inspiring her team to become a million-dollar sales unit and that motivates her as she puts in nights and weekend hours. This year, she will keep a photo of a pink Cadillac Escalade on her desk as she aims to hit her sales goals and become a national sales director even while giving birth to her first child in April. Denton said the baby, the Escalade, and the idea of leading by example are motivation as she resolves to use her time wisely in 2014 and establish the boundaries that will allow her to feel satisfied at work and home.
As many of us have learned, you can have more personal time but spend it in ways that aren’t fulfilling. If you’re coming home from work just to pick up where you left off, it’s time to draw a line in the sand. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. As a blogger on WallStreetOasis.com notes: “Having more ‘free time’ won’t make you happy. Having a job to which you want to contribute and a life that you're enjoying every minute of will.”
It will take some planning and discipline, but if work/life balance is your resolution, you really can accomplish it in the new year.