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The Shift from Work-Life to Life-Work Balance

by Michael Teh

The phrase “work-life balance” is often used and sought after. It is something that most of us are struggling to achieve. But if we could be honest about the matter, we are actually not struggling with work-life balance because for most of us, the balance does not exist. That said, we are in fact struggling with getting life back into the phrase. Continue reading on how to find the right balance – life-work balance.

“From a study on well-being by Gallup, our work is the single largest influence on the overall quality of our lives. This is because it takes up most of our time and also we often feel that “who we are” is synonymous with “what we do”. Hence, work influence can be both positive or negative, depending how we manage it.”

The phrase “work-life balance” is often used and sought after. It is something that most of us are struggling to achieve. But if we could be honest about the matter, we are actually not struggling with work-life balance because for most of us, the balance does not exist. That said, we are in fact struggling with getting life back into the phrase.

What happens if you reversed the order and instead start seeking life-work balance? Well, if everyone would do so, we would equally respect all aspects of life and work would not be the priority above all things. However, don’t get me wrong, work is indeed important, but the key is knowing why it is important and the role it plays in your overall well-being so that it serves you and your individual goals in life.

Understanding Work’s Role in Your Life
From a study on well-being by Gallup, our work is the single largest influence on the overall quality of our lives. This is because it takes up most of our time and also we often feel that “who we are” is synonymous with “what we do”. Hence, work influence can be both positive or negative, depending how we manage it. When work is having a positive influence on your life, it can look like this:

  • You find a sense of purpose in the work you do.
  • You have a great relationship with your manager or boss.
  • You have colleagues who are committed to doing quality work.
  • You feel that your opinions count.
  • You have opportunities to use your natural talent on a regular basis.
  • You do your work within reasonable hours (no more than 45 hours per week).
  • You have the mental space and time to do “thoughtful and focused work”.
  • You are able to disconnect from work and engage in other aspects of your life
    so that you can recharge.

But when work is having a negative influence on your life, it can look like this:

  • You’re working purely for the money.
  • Your boss treats you more like a subordinate than an equal.
  • You feel disconnected from your colleagues.
  • You don’t feel heard.
  • You aren’t using your natural talents or strengths—just being a worker bee.
  • Your work is bleeding into all hours of the day and night. You are just getting through endless meetings and tasks without focusing on priorities.
  • You feel unable to disconnect from work, and you find yourself thinking about it all the time no matter who you are with or what you are doing.

What Can We Do About It?
The first thing we could gain life-work balance is to put work in its place. Make it to be a positive influence on your life by reviewing the lists above and make adjustment in the positive direction. Choose an item to begin with and share what’s not working with people in your life – family, friends, your manager, or colleague. By vocalizing our commitment to make a change, it helps create accountability and action.

Next, do understand and know, at a profoundly deep level, that your life matters and all aspects of your life does matter – your children, your health, your travel plans, your leisure time, your spouse and your alone time. It all matters and often this is where the spark of life exists.

That said, we must convince ourselves on this because the last thing we’d want is to get to the end of life and wished to have realized it sooner. A research revealed that more people regret things they didn’t do than the things they did – with the single biggest life regret is being an action not taken that would have helped them realize their true selves.

So, ask yourself: “If I continue to neglect these other areas in my life, where will I end up? What’s my predictable path? And is this path bringing me closer to my true self?” Then listen for the honest answer. Do remember that our fulfilment in life is not a selfish pursuit, and that our stress or happiness is contagious. So, if we suffer, so does our family, and if we’re happy and satisfied with our life, our family and friends will feel that too. Hence, we owe it to ourselves and them to love all aspect of our lives.

The Role Employers and Leaders Play in This
That said, the same logic holds up especially on the leadership level and is even more essential as the leaders, the c-suites, can easily fall into the trap of convincing themselves that their jobs are too important to have a back seat to anything – even to a point of their children seeking their time and attention. So, if we are in a leadership role, do start practicing life-work balance – this would be for our good and for the sake of our employees who will then be able to follow suit.

We need to remind ourselves as often as possible that nothing is more important than people’s health and well-being. We need to try to ground ourselves in what that actually means – nothing is more important than people having the time to step away from their work laptops, to get a full night’s sleep, to spend unrushed mornings or evenings with their children, to have weekend filled with outdoor activities or just to have the time to do the laundry.

We do not know what our employees are going through, who they are taking of what mental or physical health condition they have, or sadness they are living with. Hence, they do need actual hours to attend to these things. Additionally, don’t forget that there was once a time where we did not have laptops, smartphones on the Internet and when we left the office, work ended. And believe it or not, the world did not fall apart. So, adopt a life-work philosophy, and “workplace well-being” won’t need to be of a program, as it will be a natural part of the culture.

Michael Teh, 22nd March 2021.