Tips for Achieving the Elusive Work-Life Balance
Western society often over-emphasizes the value of being a hard worker. It is a characteristic that is drilled into people at a young age. For example, how often have you heard or been told “If you just work hard enough, you’ll achieve your goals” or “Your co-workers won’t respect or value you if you don’t put in 110% effort into the team.” To take it further, many of us grew up watching our parents sacrifice their personal time, and health, for their jobs. But is this sacrifice really worth the advertised benefits? Can you be both a hard worker and a person who protects your personal time?
To start, why is it important to work to maintain a healthy work-life balance? The concept of burnout is widely discussed but often misunderstood. Weir (2016) describes burnout as a sense of emotional exhaustion, disconnection, and a decreased sense of accomplishment. Burnout often results in decreased production and engagement in the workplace and at home.
Researchers with the Cleveland Clinic (2022) found that individuals have a higher risk of experiencing ischemic heart disease and stroke when working 55+ hours per week. In my own practice, I have seen patients experiencing headaches, nausea, irritability, sleep disruption, appetite changes, and more as the result of a poor balance between work and home. Conversely, Morganson et al. (2015) finds that achieving a healthy work-life balance is associated with increased employee performance, improved productivity, improved psychological functioning, and increased job and family satisfaction.
What are the signs that you are not maintaining a healthy balance between your professional and personal demands? Unfortunately, this answer is not as straightforward as many would like. Just like so many other aspects in the field of psychology, this answer will vary widely from person to person. What feels like a healthy balance for you may feel unhealthy for others. However, the Cleveland Clinic (2022) does give us some indicators to be on the lookout for: decreasing mental health, failure to take care of your body (i.e. skipping meals, not exercising, etc.), apathy, feelings of incompetence, and feelings of loneliness.
How do you then go about establishing a healthy work-life balance? The APA (2005) recommends setting firm boundaries between work and home. Specifically, it is important to not define your entire identity by your job as this can lead to burnout and decreased mental health functioning. In my own practice, I advise my patients to disconnect from the office as much as possible. This means avoiding text messages, emails, and phone calls after your workday ends. It is also vitally important to prioritize your own physical, emotional, and relational needs as this allows you to perform better both at work and at home.
The “perfect” work-life balance often feels elusive and impossible to achieve. In reality, it is often a moving target to find and maintain a healthy balance between professional and personal demands. Maintaining this balance requires flexibility and the ability to adjust to the changing demands of life. The balance will not always be perfect, but regularly checking in with yourself and making adjustments as needed will help to maintain a balance and, therefore, your health and well-being.
About the Author:
Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA.
American Psychological Association. (2005, November 1). Tips from practitioners on finding work-life balance. https://www.apaservices.org. http://www.apaservices.org/practice/ce/self-care/balance?_ga=22.70020944.1760853067.1685043494-861814470.1675704643
Falco, A., & Gaalema, D. (2015, November). Work-life balance. https://www.apadivisions.org. https://www.apadivisions.org/division-28/publications/newsletters/psychopharmacology/2015/11/balance
Morganson, V. J., Litano, M. L., & O’Neill, S. K. (2014). Promoting work–family balance through positive psychology: A Practical Review of the literature. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 17(4), 221–244. https://doi.org/10.1037/mgr0000023
Weir, K. (2016). Seeking more balance. Monitor on Psychology. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2016/07-08/cover-balance
Zaleska. (2023, June 12). How to create work-life balance. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/work-life-balance/