The Importance of Achieving Work-Life Balance—And How to Do It

A mother is working from home while looking after her child.

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Work-life balance is a concept that describes the prototype of splitting one's time and energy between work and other important aspects of their life. Achieving a work-life balance is a daily challenge. It can be tough to make time for family, friends, community participation, spirituality, personal growth, self-care, and other personal activities, in addition to the demands of the workplace.

Because many employees experience a personal, professional, and monetary need to achieve, work-life balance can be challenging. Employers can help employees achieve work-life balance by instituting policies, procedures, actions, and expectations that enable them to pursue more balanced lives, such as flexible work schedules, paid time off (PTO) policies, responsibly paced time and communication expectations, and company-sponsored family events and activities.

Work-life balance reduces the stress employees experience. When someone spends the majority of their days on work-related activities and feel as if they are neglecting other important components of their lives, stress and unhappiness result. An employee, who doesn't make time for self-care, eventually damages their output and productivity.

The workplace that enables employees to achieve work-life balance is particularly motivating and gratifying to employees, which makes them happy. And happy employees, whose needs for work-life balance are achieved, tend to stay with their employer, and are more productive.

Work-Life Balance for Parents

Lynn Taylor, the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant," says that work-life balance is an elusive goal for working parents. But, you can take steps as a parent to make it a reality for you and your children. Like many great achievements, it takes time and organization—but it’s worth the effort.

Managers are important to employees seeking work-life balance. Managers who pursue work-life balance in their own lives model appropriate behavior and support employees in their pursuit of work-life balance.

Your work-life balance planning begins before you accept your next job. First, take the time to determine your real needs from the broadest perspective. You may be surprised to discover that a lesser paying job with proximity to great daycare is preferable over another option, for example.

Parents should think carefully about job location: the commute to daycare can make or break your ability to spend invaluable bonding time before, during and after work with your children. The satisfaction you get from seeing your child more often will make you much more relaxed and productive at work, and reduce your stress significantly. Make quality of life an aspect of your job criteria before you commit.

In the job interview, keep your ears open to the company’s view on telecommuting, work culture, time flexibility, and so on.

Usually, benefits are spelled out at the time of the job offer, and sometimes they'll be listed on a company’s website. If you get the chance to chat with other employees, ask if the corporate culture is family-friendly. Are there daycare benefits? Is there enough personal time off for emergencies—a sense of empathy for parents?

For example, in a "Terrible Office Tyrant" (TOT) environment, where bosses slip into a mode that trumps a schoolyard brawl, you may be stepping into the unfriendly-to-parents territory. By noticing your surroundings, the posture, demeanor, and the sociability level of workers—you'll get a feel for how flexible management will be. And that’s one valuable data point for your family-friendly checklist.

Super-Parent Mealtimes

It seems like a tall order to experience calm and no chaos each weekday morning, especially when winging it at 7 a.m. has been the norm. Try hitting reset and start the day on a positive note with an unhurried, sit-down, healthy breakfast.

A brief, morning family meal—even for 15 minutes—cuts down stress for everyone. It also assures your children that they are your priority. In case you can’t get together for dinner because of other commitments, then you at least have this meal.

If you can’t pick up or meet your child at lunchtime, then arrange to place a call. It’s reassuring for a child to hear from a parent during the day. A brief check-in will be rewarding for both of you.

In the evening, designate a quality time—especially at dinner. A little extra time with your children now will prove enormously beneficial as they grow.

According to studies by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, "...teens who have frequent family dinners (five to seven a week) are more likely to report having excellent relationships with their parents."

Instead of letting the TV, YouTube, or computer games fill up the evening, plan pre-bedtime family activities. Even if you have to catch up on work, keep them somewhat engaged and nearby.

Other Work-Life Balancing Techniques

Bring your children to the office if and when you can, and let them see their photos or their creative work on your desk. This lets them know that they are in your mind and heart. It helps them to understand, that you think of them often—and they will also feel a part of what you do. Make their special day an adventure.

Work-life balance for anyone means having great time-management skills. If you allow your workday to drag on, you’re stealing precious leisure and family time. Here are some additional tips:

  • Know the boss's schedule. Maximize meeting time with your boss; be strategic and work closely with his administrative staff to achieve this.
  • Know when to make calls and when to do administrative work to optimize your time at work.
  • Schedule family vacations when people aren’t going to be around. Offer a countdown to vacation time so there are no surprises for your boss or team.
  • If you telecommute, ensure that your tech tools are state-of-the-art. Make sure you can video conference with ease.
  • Draw a clear line between your personal and work time. Set clear expectations with your boss.
  • If you’re an overachiever, consider cutting back to realistic goals, so you feel you’ve succeeded.

When You’re the Boss

If you’re a manager, and you tend to be an overachiever, encourage your staff to take breaks—even if you don’t. (You really should, though.)

Make sure that you aren’t holding back the reigns when it comes to your employees' work-life balance. Learning to let go will pay dividends in building a dedicated, motivated staff.

Achieving a comfortable work-life balance as a parent doesn’t just happen randomly anymore than does a great career. It takes strategy and thought. You can make work-life balance a labor of love—after all, it is about love.

Find out what else employers can do to encourage work-life balance for employees.