Finding work-life balance

How to make work-life balance work?

I had written rethinking busy life back in 2015 and I remember my longish discussions about it when I met early readers of  MyZenPath. As per the reported surveys, more than half workforce (53%) mentions that a good work-life balance is very important to them while choosing a new job. I believe it to be all the more important for senior roles. I have also read about few companies making serious effort to include work-life balance in their culture. I recalled all this when I came across this talk by Nigel Marsh, who is an author, co-founder of earth-hour, inspiring speaker and management consultant. He won recognition for his own autobiographical memoir Fat, Forty and Fired.

In this TED talk ‘How to make work-life balance work’ Nigel Marsh talks about how to make work-life balance actually work for you – for an individual. He put a knowing smile on my face when he bluntly says this in his talk –

It’s particularly important that you never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation. Now I’m not talking here just about the bad companies – the “abattoirs of the human soul,” as I call them. I’m talking about all companies. Because commercial companies are inherently designed to get as much out of you as they can get away with. It’s in their nature; it’s in their DNA; it’s what they do — even the good, well-intentioned companies.

~ Nigel Marsh

I had emphasized this in reflections on corporate resignations here –

However corporates also exist to maximize profits through their work. Often bottom-line and maximizing productivity result in pushing individuals in work-schedule that makes their life incredibly hectic leaving little time for their family or other interests.

~ from MyZenPath article

You can watch his talk here, he puts across some intriguing points to ponder and his wonderful sense of humour is disarming.

Marsh has some interesting observations in this talk, and I would like to expand further on these two points with my thoughts –

  • Understanding time frame for the balance – We have to be careful with the time frame that we choose upon which to judge our balance. He elaborates that it can’t be done in a day, but likewise it can’t be deferred until retirement either.
  • Your life, your responsibility – Governments and corporations aren’t going to solve this issue for us. It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead.

How does work-life balance look, anyway?

Well, if you have ever planned your ideal schedule for a work-day, which includes everything like your gym workout, quality time with friends & family, some reading (or sports maybe), and eight-hours sleep, you already know that this doesn’t work out. It is almost impossible to have a day that is perfectly balanced in all aspects – your work, personal health, family/friends time, hobbies, recreation and sleep. We really cannot do it all in a day, but at the same time you cannot put it off until you retire, or when kids are on their own.

Juggling work-life balance
Juggling work-life balance (PC: A Father’s Perspective on Work/Life Balance)

You have to define your own time-frame for this balance. I think the appropriate short-term time-frame could be from one week to one month, and you should review it over three-months to six-months to see how you feel about that work-life balance. Say, if you choose a week for this, then you decide what all aspects your ideal week should include for you to feel that it was balanced. It might include three days of exercise, some recreation, reading or outdoor time with family/friends and so on. Interestingly, being balanced is not necessarily about a massive change in your life or career, it just needs some thought and finding time to do those little things – like a relaxed coffee or walk with your spouse, friends or some play time with your kid. More often than not, we  don’t find enough time from our work schedule and we seldom give it some thought.

You can take stock of things, you can pick what all you would like to include for your own work-life balance and then go to the next step – own up responsibility for your own work-life balance.

Escaping Gilded Cage

Bigger corporates or employee-friendly organizations make it more and more comfortable for their employees to work there, they provide every luxury that you can think of. Some of them provide childcare as Marsh mentions, having gym and recreation area are quite common even in some mid-size organizations now. Some organizations are even offering massage and haircut to their employees within their premises. The perks list gets longer and longer. The point is, it is sort of a gilded cage – the luxuries are there but you most often end up spending most of your time there at workplace; leaving little time for your family and this funny thing called life. Marsh puts this as  –

And the reality of the society that we’re in is there are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.

Your life is your responsibility and it is for you to decide where do you want to set your balance for work and life. Moreover, it is a very individualistic preference – someone might want to finish work by 4 pm and be happy with that balance and on the other hand someone might be happy working only 3 days a week. It also depends largely on the stage of your career, your role and phase of your life – whether you’re single, married with no kids or married with one or more kids and so on. Certain roles involving people-management make it challenging to work remotely or for just a few days in a week. It is perhaps difficult to discuss this type of work-life balance when you’re in a junior role, comparatively it could be easier for a senior person. But not many seniors contemplate or negotiate this while considering their assignments, although haggling over salaries, bonus and perks is seen quite often. In the current scenario there are many more opportunities for flexi-work and talent hunters all over the world believe that this trend will go up, many youngsters are already choosing this option.

Your own work-life balance

There is tons of material available dedicated to work-life balance – talks, books, online resources including corporate presentations (ahem!). For more serious readers, there is an in-depth Wikipedia article dedicated to work-life balance, there is a more practical guide at WikiHow that is reasonably helpful. Nigel Mrash’s book Fat, Forty and Fired is a good read as well.

I also concur that if you build your work around what you love doing, it doesn’t feel like work at all. However, no matter how much you love your work, there is still some life left out, you might still want to spend more time for some of your interests. Besides, it’s altogether a different issue when you have a family as well.

One thing that I really loved from this talk is the tongue-in-cheek quote by Marsh –

All I learned about work-life balance from that year was that I found it quite easy to balance work and life when I didn’t have any work. Not a very useful skill, especially when the money runs out.

I completely understand this. When you’re working it is quite challenging to find time for all the things that you love doing besides your work. Thus, it is an ongoing struggle for balance. Work-life balance is not much of a destination as such but it is more of a journey. It might sound cliché, but that’s how I see this – achieving that balance is a constant juggling while you’re working and trying to have a life. Here is one image that captures it well from both the sides. 🙂

Balancing work and life
Balancing work and life (PC: Cannot credit to a specific site, many sites using it)

The featured images:

The featured image for this article is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and quote by Jack Welch that apparently says – ‘there is no work-life balance…’, and yet brings out how it essentially depends on our own choices. The photograph is credited to Marta Pawlik and I am using this image here on with gratitude.

One thought on “Finding work-life balance

  1. Now that HBR is covering this.

    Hobbies. They’re often one of the first things to go out the window when life gets busy, but they shouldn’t be. We need to prioritize our hobbies just as much as we prioritize work, because hobbies — they make us better people.

    Research shows that taking part in leisure activities can actually have a positive impact on your overall happiness and health.

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