Work/Life Balance is a term often used to describe the ongoing process of balancing work or career with other aspects or demands of life, including family, leisure, and personal responsibilities. Several mega-trends make it more challenging to balance work and personal life. One factor is technological advancement, which has dramatically improved communication but has blurred the lines between personal time and working time. Another factor is demographic change, as many couples struggle to take care of their aging parents on the one hand and their children on the other. This situation puts even greater pressure on the growing number of single parents.
The adverse effects of an unfavorable work/life balance include burnout, stress, and health problems; it can also have a considerable impact on marital and family relationships. Since these issues can significantly affect workers’ productivity and output, many progressive organizations consider work/life balance to be a top priority and have policies and procedures in place to encourage employees to pay attention to the balance they are creating between their work and personal life, particularly when the employee is beginning to experience symptoms of stress, burnout or important issues that begin to consume their thoughts and energy. This is a positive trend, as a focus on the importance of an individual’s work / life balance benefits employees, by reducing their stress levels, improving their productivity, and improving their physical, mental and emotional health. Focus on work / life balance also benefits employers who benefit from reduced absenteeism and an abilty to attract/retain the best employees. Finally, this helps families, who benefit from increased parental involvement and more time with each other.
Work-Life Balance in Finance
The financial industry is infamous for being one of the most challenging industries to balance work and life due to its long working hours and stiff competition. One in three financial analysts works between 50 and 70 hours a week, for instance. Like any other challenging career, financial analysts enjoy above-average pay and growth opportunities, high-stress levels, and minimal time for themselves and their families.
Work-life balance is a universal issue, as evidenced by the results of the eFinancialCareers Stress Survey 2013, a survey of 3,399 finance professionals in the US, UK, Continental Europe, and in the Middle-East. The survey found that while 45% of Americans reported feeling stressed quite often or very often, this stress level was reported by 55% of professionals in the Middle East and 60% of French respondents. Also, 66% of American professionals surveyed said they had achieved work/life balance, compared to 47% of Germans.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) maintains work-life balance data on its 34 members, plus Brazil and Russia, as part of its Better Life Index. The United States ranks 28th among these 36 countries for work-life balance. American workers work 1,787 hours per year, slightly above the OECD average of 1,776 hours, while 11% of American employees work more than 50 hours per week, compared to 9% in the OECD countries. The United States also scores low on the work-life balance scale, as it is the only OECD country that does not have a national paid parental leave policy, although some states provide such payments. Canada ranks 20th out of 36 countries for work-life balance, with Canadians working an average of 1,702 hours per year and only 4% working more than 50 hours per week.
What Employees Can Do
The results of a Pew Research study published on March 14, 2013, revealed the extent of the difficulties workers face in juggling work and family life. Fifty-six percent of working mothers and 50% of working fathers say they find it challenging to balance these responsibilities, and 33% of parents of children under 18 said they do not spend enough time with their children. But there are ways to achieve work-life balance and these are proposed by Dr. Ross Michael Ungerleider who has advocated for and worked actively to encourage workplace well-being. A world-renowned surgeon, Dr. Ungerleider, has published and spoken nationally about the effect of work-related stress on well-being and was asked for his advice on the subject.
Dr. Ungerleider is also an avid supporter of coaching (he is a certified coach) and promoting personal development and learning as a way of helping employees identify and manage their stress which can lead to better overall health (physical, mental and emotional) resulting in more satisfaction in life and at work. His new book, Discovering Your Mindful Heart: An Explorer’s Guide: Developing your internal resources for managing life’s demands will be available in late 2020 in bookstores and it is an essential read to build your internal tools to handle life’s concerns.
Making work-life balance a priority
Before embarking on another strenuous task that will add to a 60-hour week, ask yourself if you need to take it on or if you’d rather spend some of that time with your family or pursuing a personal hobby or passion. Remember that sometimes when you say “yes” to something or to someone, you may be saying “no” to yourself. While such choices may be easier to make for senior managers in the corporate hierarchy, particularly if they have developed some work / life balance skills along their path, an enlightened company should not necessarily penalize an employee for refusing an assignment involving long hours of work. Likewise, being proactive in asking a company for flexibility with working hours to care for a young child, for example, is likely to make you a happier and more productive employee.
Look for companies that promote work-life balance
Most of the largest, most successful companies promote work/life balance, as retaining talented employees is a critical part of their growth strategy. But it’s not just Fortune 500 companies that provide this balance. Many small businesses do this too, so focus on this aspect while conducting your job search. Glassdoor.com, for example, publishes an annual list of “25 Best Companies for Work / Life Balance,” based on employee feedback. Companies that made the cut in 2012 included the nonprofit MITER, consulting firm North Highland, Agilent Technologies, and LinkedIn and FactSet.