Why Work-Life Balance Is So Important—and How to Nail It

Posted: 22nd March 2024

Does it ever feel like your job is taking over your life? Or do you seem to have so many personal obligations that you can’t give 100% at work? We know we need work-life balance, but finding harmony between your professional and personal life isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Work plays a major role in our lives. It takes up much of our waking hours during the traditional workweek. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that we are also taking care of the areas of our lives that keep us healthy and happy.

Professional fulfillment can be a part of that, for sure. But well-being also involves all of the things outside of work that makes your life worthwhile, including your family, hobbies, health, and relationships (not to mention sleep, exercise, balanced meals, and relaxation).

At a Glance

Work-life balance generally refers to a balance between your personal and work life. The goal is to strive to keep that balance so that we are managing stress and burnout by fulfilling other areas of our lives that aren’t swallowed up by work. Remember: That “balance” may shift at times and is never really a 50/50 split. We can accept that there may not ever be a balance, but we can strive to feel more grounded and balanced by making a personalized plan, exploring ways to improve that balance with our manager, taking breaks, and creating set boundaries between our personal vs. professional duties. If we’re in a position to change jobs and our conversations with our manager are unsuccessful, we could also explore other opportunities that offer more flexibility.

What Do We Mean When We Say “Work-Life Balance”?

Work-life balance is usually defined as an equilibrium between your professional and personal life. When you keep things balanced, no single element of your life dominates and overwhelms the others.

“Work-life balance is the concept that you effectively manage your professional life and responsibilities so that you are productive and successful at work while ensuring you have plenty of dedicated time to live a fulfilling, grounded, personal life,” says Abbey Sangmeister, MS.Ed, LPC, ACS.

That’s a general definition of the concept, but “work-life” balance can also mean different things to different people. Researchers suggest that this is because this balance is all about individual perception. It’s something you feel when your work and non-work activities are in harmony and are compatible with your current goals and priorities.1

The things that make your own work-life situation feel manageable may differ depending on your needs and your situation.

For working parents, it often means finding a way to juggle the responsibilities of a career while still finding time for a fulfilling family life. With rising numbers of older workers, work-life balance may focus more on staying active in the workforce while finding ways to manage health issues or disabilities.

Major shifts in how we work have also helped change the definition of work-life balance for many people. For many people, work-life balance meant clocking out at 5 p.m. and not thinking about work until you showed up at the office at 9 a.m. the next day.

Being tethered to an office is a thing of the past for many folks. It makes sense that, for many of us, the option for flexible or remote work is an essential part of work-life balance. This means that work-life balance is much more personal and nuanced these days–but it also makes finding a balance harder than ever before.

Many times people think balance is a 50/50 split but that is not always the case. For each person, the balance may look different and will shift during different seasons of their life. The important part of having balance is that the person does not feel that one area of life is draining and depleting the other.


What Work-Life Balance Is Not

Work-life balance isn’t about slacking off, skipping work, or putting in less effort. Obviously, we all have our good and bad days, but there are ways to manage the days we’re feeling a little “off” that don’t involve hurting yourself professionally.

Procrastinating or shirking your responsibilities aren’t effective ways to cope. You might feel a little better for a bit, but it ultimately creates more problems in the future. Work piles up, deadlines fly by, and your employer might start to notice that you’re not putting in your best effort.

The goal is to find a harmonious balance that works for you, between the demands on your time and energy, without neglecting important areas of your life.

You don’t want to ignore your personal life in favor of your job, but you also shouldn’t deal with stress by neglecting your workplace duties.

How Can I Tell If I Have a Healthy Work-Life Balance?

So how exactly can you tell if you have a healthy work-life balance? It can look a little different for everyone (since we all have different work, family, and relationship situations).

“Lack of regular overwhelm and frustration are good signs that one does have good work-life balance. People who struggle with the Sunday scaries and dread or have a case of [the] Mondays more times than not are most likely struggling with an imbalance,” Sangmeister suggests.

The following are a few signs that you’re striking a good balance between your job and other areas of your life:2

  • You don’t feel like the demands of your work roles and personal obligations are constantly in conflict
  • You’re able to meet your deadlines at work without having to work overtime
  • You’re getting plenty of sleep at night and eating a healthy, balanced diet
  • You don’t spend the end of your weekend consumed by the “Sunday Scaries
  • You have plenty of time to relax and enjoy your hobbies
  • You feel like you’re spending enough time with family and friends
  • You don’t worry about your job when you’re not at work
  • You feel like you’re being productive at work and making progress toward your professional goals, but you don’t feel like your whole identity hinges on your job
  • You’re taking your vacation days (and using your sick days when you need them)
  • You’re taking advantage of any work-life benefits your employer offers, like gym memberships, flexible scheduling, and childcare vouchers

Remember that work-life balance isn’t something you can just check off your to-do list. It’s only natural that the demands of your job and outside life shift and change over time. That means that what you need to keep the balance will change over time.

“With a good work-life balance, a person is less likely to be rigid with their schedule,” Sangmeister says. “Instead, they are able to be flexible and can adapt to include demands that may come up professionally or personally without disrupting the feeling of balance.”

To figure out if you have a good work-life balance, think about what’s most important to you. What helps you to feel your best? Are you taking care of yourself personally and professionally? Are you managing your stress and watching for signs of burnout?

Can I Request a Healthier Work-Life Balance (If So, How)?

If you’re struggling to find a balance between work and the rest of your life, it might be time to have a conversation with your supervisor. This includes work-life benefits like hybrid, flexible, or remote work. Flextime, alternative work schedules, child care options, and access to mental health services are important work-life benefits employers offer to attract employees.

There are things that your employer can do to help foster a better work-life balance. It’s something that benefits them as well. Research has shown that workers with better work-life balance are more satisfied with their jobs, perform better at work, and are more committed to their organizations.3

A conversation with your employer might help you find ways to work together to make things more manageable. This might involve reprioritizing your tasks, delegating some work to others, hiring additional help, or allowing you to work remotely when needed.

Unfortunately, these aren’t always options, depending on the nature of your profession or your role in the workplace. In many cases, making a change hinges on how you approach your job. It might mean changing your priorities, delegating tasks at home, or letting your colleagues know you can no longer respond to work-related problems during your downtime.

It’s also important to be aware of your legal rights. If you need certain accommodations because you are pregnant or have a disability, these needs may be protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

This includes protections if you are dealing with depressionanxiety, or another mental health condition. (You will need to have your condition diagnosed by your doctor, and you may need to provide documentation for your employer when you request an accommodation.)

How to Ask Your Boss for Better Work-Life Balance

Schedule a time to talk to your employer and tell them what you plan to discuss. During your meeting, explain your problem, and share your ideas for how you think you can work together to resolve the issue.

If you’ve been overwhelmed by your workload and putting in too many hours, you might suggest redistributing some of your tasks to other team members to help lighten the load.

Remember to stay professional and show respect for your employer’s needs. Reiterate your commitment, and explain that you think finding a better balance will help you feel more productive and satisfied with your job.

How to Improve Your Work-Life Balance

So what’s next if you feel like your work-life balance is in shambles? It’s time to take a step back, figure out what is wrong, and make a plan to fix it. Your health literally depends on it.

Many studies have demonstrated that people who have more conflict between their work and non-work life are more likely to experience health problems, mental health conditions, and poor overall health outcomes.4

Make a Plan

Bringing more balance to your life starts with figuring out what’s causing the problem in the first place. Are your work hours too long? Or are work obligations encroaching on your off-time? Do you feel like you have no control over your schedule? Or are you taking on too many demands and need some relief?

Creating a personalized plan for how you are going to tackle your work-life balance can help you figure out what’s wrong and which strategies will be most effective.

Create Divisions Between Your Work and Non-Work Life

Flexible and remote work can be a great way to promote balance in your life, but it often blurs the lines between your personal and professional life. You may find yourself working longer than normal hours, catching up on work when you should be relaxing, or staying up late to answer those last few emails you forgot to send earlier.

The problem is that, over time, there is a distinct lack of balance. Because you never feel like you have any mental space from your job, it starts to feel like you’re always working.2 Your home life becomes your work life.

If you are fully or partially remote, there are things you can do to help promote better work-life balance:

  • Create a schedule: Figure out which hours you can work during the day and stick with it. Creating a regular schedule can help you feel more productive. “Start your mornings off with routines and rituals that are grounded. If you start your day sprinting the moment your alarm goes off, that energy carries through the day and leads to burnout,” Sangmeister says.
  • Get ready for work: While you don’t need to wear a suit and tie to work from your home office (unless you want to), consider wearing something other than your favorite ‘lounging around the house’ outfit. Dressing professionally when you are working can help create a mental division between your job and your home life.
  • Let other people know when you’re offline: Use different communication tools to let others know when you are offline. For example, put your work hours on your Google Calendar, set your Slack availability to prevent notifications during your off-time, and set up out-of-office emails when you are on vacation.
  • Plan activities during your non-work hours: Give yourself things to look forward to once you are off work. It might involve getting together with friends, but it can be as simple as preparing a nice meal and settling in to stream an episode of a series you’re watching.

Take Breaks

Taking breaks is also essential. This includes mini-breaks during the work day and periodic days off or vacations.

“Taking an intentional day off periodically is a great way to improve work-life balance,” Sangmeister explains. “On these intentional days off, don’t just tackle a to-do list and chores; instead, work on personal development and mindfulness.”

She also recommends mini-vacations and tech-free weekends. Even scheduling a little tech-free time each day can be helpful.

Don’t Work When You’re Not at Work

It might sound obvious (and simple), but it can be harder to stick with than you might expect. When your workday is over, it needs to be over. That means no checking work emails, looking at notifications, or logging in to finish “one last thing.”

Even if all you’re doing is reading your messages that you plan to work on tomorrow, you’re letting your work interfere with your personal time. It creates pressure and stress that distracts you from feeling fully relaxed or completely present during non-work hours.

Set boundaries around the hours you work and create no work zones. That means even when you have “free time,” you aren’t going to open your phone or laptop to do work at certain times or in certain places.


Know What Burnout Looks Like

When your work-life balance is seriously screwed up (i.e., you’re spending every waking moment working, thinking about work, stressing about work, or dreading work), there’s a good chance you’re headed for burnout.

Being burned out is more than just being tired and unmotivated—it means you’ve reached a state where you feel so exhausted and empty that you can hardly cope with daily life, let alone care about work.

Signs of burnout can be physical, such as headaches, high blood pressure, stomach aches, and frequent illness. But they are also mental and include problems sleeping, depressed moods, loss of interest, fatigue, problems concentrating, and apathy.

If you’ve reached this point, it means you need to make serious changes to your work environment. That might mean taking time off or switching to a different position. Sometimes, it might even mean thinking about changing jobs altogether.

Consider Changing Jobs

So you’ve had a conversation (or more than one) with your boss, but they are refusing to offer any flexibility to make any changes that will help you feel better about your relationship with your job–what now?

If poor work-life balance is taking a toll on your well-being and isn’t something you can solve on your own or by working with your employer, it might be time to consider taking a more serious step–changing your job altogether.

Wait until you’ve had time to consider the problem and your options. Spend some time looking at other positions in your field (or even other fields if you’re ready to make a more significant change). Look at job review sites to see what other current and past employees are saying to learn more about what you might find in terms of work-life balance if you take a job with another company.

Finding a job you truly love can be a great way to feel more positively about the balance between your work and your outside life.

What This Means For You

Finding that perfect balance between your work and your life can seem like performing a tightrope act. If you’re struggling, it might be worth talking to your boss about how they can help support your well-being (and foster greater job satisfaction and loyalty).  Remember: the goal is not to have a 50/50 balance—it’s about finding a balance that feels good to you and, most importantly, works for you.

Taking steps to manage your time and boundaries is also essential. Make time for family, friends, hobbies, health, and self-care—the things that help you feel personally fulfilled outside of work. “Schedule, schedule, schedule,” Sangmeister recommends. “Make these appointments just as important as any work meeting.”

Source: Why Work-Life Balance Is So Important—and How to Nail It (verywellmind.com)

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