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The Challenge of Creating a Good Work-Life Balance

Examining the employees' responsibility for creating a good work life balance...

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The responsibility of the employee in their balance of life and work is often overlooked. Too often employees do not fully take advantage of the work-life linked benefits provided by their employer. Many people are unaware that a good work-life balance is an important part of a healthy workplace culture that benefits employer and employee alike.

The definition of work-life balance is often described as the division of a person’s time and focus between working and family or leisure activities. Generally, the responsibility for providing a good work-life balance has, primarily, been viewed as the employer’s responsibility. Benefits such as telecommuting, extended maternity/paternity leave and good vacation time are provided by the employer. The intention is that the employer gains from the process by reducing absenteeism, maintaining a healthier workforce and increasing productivity.

To create a good work-life balance the employee needs to have both a positive workplace culture and a level of mental well-being that allows them to take advantage of it.

Despite employers and governments making efforts to improve workplace conditions and technology reducing the need for a physical presence in our place of work, employees continue to find it hard to mentally leave work behind. We may be at home with our families, but our minds are oftenback in the workplace. Too frequently parents are spending physical time with their children, but mentally they are far, far, away on the factory floor or sitting at their office desk. This mental absence defeats the efforts made by both employer and employee to create a good work-life balance.

The challenge of not being able to turn off our workplace thoughts is significant. Thoughts of work constantly intercede into our non-work lives and can cause unnecessary anxiety, sleeplessness and other mental issues.

An important observation on stress is that it’s how the individual actually feels, rather than how you think that they should feel.

The inability to let go of work or personal worries can lead to increased stress and can increase burnout.

Ref United Kingdom Mental Health Foundation: If you experience stress repeatedly over a prolonged period, you may notice your sleep and memory are affected, your eating habits may change, or you may feel less inclined to exercise. 

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress

It is helpful to understand that stress is strongly related to our own perception of our personal situation and our attitude to the world in general. A study by Dr Sheldon Cohen, in 1983, developed the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS), which can be used to measure a person’s perceived stress. It is a non-invasive tool for highlighting to individuals that their stress levels may be high and of concern.

Too often the workplace is a place of judgement rather than understanding. Colleagues do not feel the need to ask each other about their personal lives or how they feel about any changes that are occurring in the workplace.

Ref United Kingdom Mental Health Foundation: Some research has also linked long-term stress to gastrointestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), or stomach ulcers as well as conditions like cardiovascular diseases.

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/stress

Remembering that the company or organisation itself is another person in the dynamic enables a caring culture to develop where employees are encouraged to care, both for themselves and their company to the mutual benefit of the organisation they work for.

A caring company culture is more productive, ref Harvard Business Review, ‘Although there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better, and faster, what cutthroat organizations fail to recognize is the hidden costs incurred’.

Ref: Emma Sepp and Kim Cameron, Harvard Business Review, December 01, 2015

A great way to naturally evolve to a better work-life balance is to learn to meditate. This can work well on an individual level, but it is far better if the practice is embraced at an organisational level. When meditation or mindfulness is introduced to a business it helps the workforce to be more productive, less fearful, less attached to old ways of doing things and more likely to see the benefits of having a good work-life balance. This in turn leads to an improved company culture that encourages the workforce, and its leadership, to care more for the company and the individuals within it.

When I am teaching meditation in the workplace I note that a common concern, shared by many attendees of the training, is that they can’t switch-off from being at their place of work.

Teaching the ability to control your own thoughts is a key component of meditation training. A common mistake is to try to avoid thinking about a particular issue. This actually brings the issue and thoughts to the fore. In meditation we observe our thoughts and try not to become attached to them. We become a witness to our thoughts, treating them equally, without passing judgement on whether are good, bad or indifferent. Hence, if we are at home, we can choose not to interact with thoughts about work until it is appropriate time to do so. With training and willingness, this is easy to achieve – in most cases it’s a simple process of learning the best meditation technique for you and then building a regular meditation practice.

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