It’s a new year, and many of us are making resolutions.  Does your list include that elusive “work/life balance”?

Employers highlight their commitment to it on their careers website pages, or may talk about it during the interview process.  You might think it is just one in a litany of corporate-speak phrases that lack substance.  That’s an understandable point of view – especially if you have worked for a company that touted their devotion to work/life balance but whose actions directly contradicted it.

One piece that makes this a challenge is that work/life balance looks and feels different to different people, based upon their individual situation.  You may not be able to put into words what it would be for you, and it may modify over time as your life changes.

Understandably, that variety makes it difficult for companies to have work/life options that satisfy every single employee.  It simply isn’t one size fits all, and they do have a business to run with customers to serve after all.  However, some common concepts include:

  • Ability to self-adjust schedules and/or work remotely
  • Regular schedules that can be planned for with exceptions posted with adequate advance notice
  • Limits to “on call” scheduling
  • Workloads that can typically, and reasonably, be completed within the assigned schedule with limited exceptions
  • Reasonable expectations on response times to emails and phone calls

That last item is one of the major stumbling blocks to finding balance in the work place today.  The technology we use, and carry with us 24/7, makes unplugging harder and harder to accomplish; especially as work becomes more global and crosses multiple time zones.  It’s not as easy to separate work time and personal time when we can check email or receive calls at all hours, wherever we are.  You may have heard on the news that France enacted a law to try to get some guidelines in place around when emails and calls could occur to give people their personal time back!  You know it’s a serious challenge when the government begins to regulate.

So how can we better develop work and personal lives that coexist in peace and harmony?  Here are some steps you can try:

Identify what you need or would make you happy and how important it is to you.

This is a classic example of easier-said-than-done.  You might find things that need to be added, items to be taken away, or a combination of the two, with a list of priorities, or that you can be satisfied with things the way they are for now.  Do you need a temporary solution or something more permanent, and can you find the words to define it?

Place blame where blame belongs.

Evaluate the situation to determine if the problem is a product of the company/role, or if it is self-inflicted.  So if it feels like you work 24/7, is it because the company really expects you to reply to emails at 10pm, or is it because you can’t effectively unplug?  Did you knowingly sign up for a lack of personal time now because it is a short-term pain that will lead to long-term career gain?  You can only drive change if you are honest with yourself.

If change is critical, determine your options.

Can you make changes within your current parameters/job that will elicit positive change, and if so, would it be enough?  What trade-offs would you be willing to make?  Whose support would you need, and is it possible to gain the necessary agreement?

Understand any limitations.

Is changing jobs an option?  Does the organization boast of its 24/7 culture, making it virtually impossible to ask for boundaries?  Are what you need and what the role can provide compatible?

Develop a plan and take action.

Whatever the plan is for you personally, you will need to take action, even if that action is to actively decide to keep the status quo.  If your plan includes a new job search, do your research and read reviews to determine if the company has a true devotion to work/life balance, or just overuses buzz words, so you limit the chances of ending up in the same situation again.

Good luck, and if you do find your way to work/life balance, please share with the rest of us how you managed it!

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