A life in balance

What does the term "work / life balance" mean to you?

It often refers to the notion that the proportion of time dedicated to your employment, business, or vocation is somewhat equivalent to the proportion dedicated to everything else. That concept conjures up a picture of a teeter-totter on which work and life are at opposite ends of a plank, precariously balanced on a fulcrum placed in the center of the plank.

Recently a new term has emerged -- "work / life integration" -- which describes an interwoven relationship where work and life coexist and are experienced as alternating areas of focus on a regular basis.

I challenge these notions. Seems to me that work is only one part of life, alongside many equally important aspects, such as: relationships, spirituality, health, career, finances, volunteering, recreation, etc. The image of an umbrella labeled "life" with the various aspects beneath it seems to make more sense.

The term "life balance" resonates for me in that it acknowledges that "life" comprises many valuable roles and experiences, each worthy of focus and attention, without singling out any one (namely work) as more commanding of attention than others. It also connotes a more fluid dynamic, where all aspects of life contribute to the whole, rather than a compartmentalized experience, as in the other models.

This distinction may seem like mere semantics. However, in the workplace setting, the distinction is revolutionary. An organization's definition of the role of work in life and the language used to describe this dynamic are critical to the organizational culture of a company, department, or team.

Whatever term is used, the expectations set by the explicit and implicit messaging in the work environment -- especially the example set by the leaders and managers -- greatly impacts employee satisfaction and retention.

Individuals have some control over their experience of life balance. Here are a few tips to help you have a healthy life balance:

  • Share a bit about who you are outside of work by personalizing your workspace, which might be a cube, office, locker, or station. Photos of significant people in your life, knick knacks related to hobbies, an award won for community service or athletic competition, etc., that are appropriate for public display help remind those around you that you have many interests in addition to what you do at work.
  • Be clear on expectations when discussing project updates with your manager. Speak up if the workload is unreasonable or you need help. Ask coworkers about weekend plans and share appropriate stories of your activities with team members, including your boss -- they are people too!
  • Schedule in time for health-related activities, such as exercise and preventive care exams.
  • Take advantage of job share, flex time, and remote worker programs offered by some employers. If your employer doesn't offer them yet, ask for them.

And remember that when you have a balanced life, you have more energy and life experience to contribute to your work.

Lisa G. Jing is Founder/CEO of Synergy at Work, Inc., a consulting/training firm dedicated to transforming the workplace into an environment where people are their whole and best selves. She is a corporate health and wellness consultant with an M.A. in counseling psychology from Loyola Marymount University.