Work Life Balance -
Does yours?!

There's a lot of talk by governments and employers about work life balance, but what does it mean? When you break it down it's based on a wrong assumption, i.e. that work and life are two separate things.

On this page I talk you through a more useful concept, i.e. whole-life balance, and how by focussing on your core values and making sure you can express them whether at work, home, play etc – allows you to integrate all aspects of yourself and your life, and thereby reduce your stress at work.

  • What is work life balance?
  • work/life vs. whole-life
  • Personal values
  • Personal characteristics
  • Integrating it all

What is work life balance?


The Work Foundation, a UK organisation, defines it in these terms:

The sentiments are laudable but for most workers, merely wishful thinking.


Especially the bit about a “right” to fulfilment. Even if it were possible for fulfilment to be somehow handed to us from outside ourselves, heaven forbid that employers or (double heaven forbid!) government should ever have any responsibility for this.

Many thanks for the picture to (c) zeeweez, who says that in the Shinto religion, folding 1000 Origami cranes brings wish fulfillment.


Of course it's a good thing if your employer allows flexible working, so you can fit your time at work around your other responsibilities. I am grateful to my own employer for making this possible for me, as it gives me great flexibility.

What I'm not keen on is the idea that work is one thing, and life is another. How crazy is that? You work for 40+ years, to support yourself and your family, and hopefully to find some meaning while you're about it. Many people, maybe you, work 40, 50 or 60 hours a week. Is that not, then, a very significant (part of) your life?

Much healthier, for you and your family, AND for your work, to think in terms of your “Whole-life Balance” instead.

Whole-life balance


What do I mean by this?

Fundamentally, it's about being yourself in all situations. Being able to be your balanced, integrated, whole self, whatever tasks you are doing or roles you are undertaking. It's about functioning in harmony with your values, most or all of the time.

It would be naïve to ignore the fact that for most people there actually does seem to be a sharp difference between work and life. How could that not be, when some people clean the streets, support addicts through recovery, fight fires, or write computer programmes for a living? There's plenty of stuff there that it's probably best to leave in the workplace (even, or especially, if that workplace happens to be inside your own home).

But the “stuff” that doesn't belong in your home life is mostly tasks and roles. I'm not suggesting that you bring home your dumper truck or that you subject your partner to an intervention every time they say they could murder a beer. However there are your personal values and characteristics, that are integral to you as a person, that when they are active in both your “work life” and your “life life”, enhance both.

Personal values and purpose


For example:

  • The street cleaner who takes real pride in their role keeping the the city clean and tidy, for the benefit of all, and who also takes this civic pride into their neighbourhood, getting active in local crime-prevention and youth support initiatives.
  • The bus driver (and I've encountered a few of these in my travels with my local bus company) who smiles and chats and has a kind word for everyone, and for whom nothing is too much trouble. The one who takes the time to get the ramp out for the wheelchair user whilst effortlessly entertaining the entire queue of people waiting at the stop, so that everyone goes into their day feeling that little bit better about themselves. The one who also has a kid's magic act that they perform at the children's hospice for free one Sunday afternoon each month.
  • The parent who take enormous pride and care in creating a nurturing environment for their kids to grow and learn, who decides to give up their profit-motivated career and train as a teacher instead.

Each of these people is being their true self both in “life” and in “work”. They have found ways to keep their whole self in balance, whatever they are doing. They are also, you'll note, each providing something of genuine social value.

What about you?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you are a pretty nice person (I'm kidding, of course; I know that you, my dear reader, are one of the best). You have a partner, friends and family who all seem to pretty much like you, and find you considerate, helpful, friendly and intelligent.

Say you work in a customer service call centre. You spend the day answering the phone or making calls, talking to people in various shades of displeasure with you or your company, or just plain undecided about which of your products, if any, to buy.

How do you approach this role? Do you, being you:

  • approach each call with a genuine smile on your face, ready and willing to find the best possible solution to each person's problem?
  • Undertake the routine administrative tasks with diligence and precision, to enable the company to work smoother?

Or alternatively, do you:

  • get so stressed watching your statistics that you sometimes forget to be nice and are a bit “off” with callers
  • feel so pressurised by the drive for profit over everything else that find yourself pushing someone to buy a product even though you know that it isn't really suitable for them.

In which one of these scenarios are you being most like the “life you” that your family and friends know and love, and in which are you least like that? Which of these is more consistent with who you actually are inside, the real you?

That is what I mean by Whole-life balance. Your whole life, including the way you earn money, needs to be in harmony with your true self, your core values, in order for your system (your individual system, and also the social and family systems of which you are a part) to be in balance. When your system(s) is/are in balance you have more energy, more optimism, and a more relaxed and strong sense of who you are.

Whole-life balance is about integrity.

Integrity


Living in integrity is when you take decisions and make actions in every area of your life that are consistent with your underlying values. Your actions and behaviours are integrated with your values and purpose.

The opposite of integration is dis-integration. If you are not acting on your core set of values, then you are in a state of dis-integration. What is more, if your core set of values are not consistent with each other (for example you believe in fairness for all, but also that some ethnic groups are worth less than others) then that basic level of you-ness is not integrated. You are in dis-integration, and if you go ahead and espouse such conflicting values, people might accuse you of hypocrisy.

Most of the time it's not that conscious though. Even though you might think you know what your core values are, it might take you a moment or two to put it into the right words. And, just to confuse things, values can – and should – change over the course of your life.

More on that in a forthcoming article, and in the meantime why don't you make a start on Finding Your Life Purpose.


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