One of the most pressure-filled phrases of the 20th century (and into the 21st) is work life balance. Somewhere between the advances in the assembly line that sped up production and the advances in technology that made information available in an instant, our working lives have steadily overtaken everything else.
Understanding our current work life balance
It turns out, we are even losing sleep over our working lives (which will come as no surprise to many of you). The American Academy of Sleep Medicine found that workers in the U.S. lost more sleep due to work than to any other activity. This chronic sleep loss can have short- and long-term detrimental effects on health.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Dr. Timothy Morgenthaler believes that this sleep loss is one of the main issues with cultivating a work life balance. He notes:
“Getting at least seven hours of nightly sleep is essential to be at your mental, emotional and physical best for whatever you will pour yourself into, either at work or at home.”
But the real question is this: does work life balance really exist, and is it possible to attain?
Turns out, there is no one answer. Even the phrase “work life balance” means different things to different people. For Baby Boomers, the working world was a much different place than it is for millennials and the generation after them, Generation Z. Baby Boomers put in their 40 hours at the same job for 40 years and then retired with a pension. Work was work and home was home, and there was generally not much crossover.
Millennials and a work life balance
Millennials don’t have the same types of jobs as Baby Boomers, and it seems like they don’t really want them. Millennial workers place less value on a traditional job, preferring flexibility in their schedule and control over their time. While it is true that the electronic tether of the smartphone makes it difficult to “clock out” at the end of the day, millennial workers are less concerned with how much they work as they are with having the ability to work when they want to. While some more traditional employers may see the millennial work hours (late start, late nights) as lazy, millennial workers’ desire to be with friends and communicate constantly make them good team players who are comfortable with new technologies.
This comfort with new technologies combined with the desire to do good work that has an impact makes the line between work and life blurry. While older workers graduated high school or college and immediately entered the workforce, millennial workers are putting off college and thus putting off careers as they search for what drives them. In short, they are looking for work that will become their life, not trying to fit their life around their work. In the case of many younger workers who are not yet encumbered with a career path or substantial commitments of marriage and family, work could potentially happen 24/7/365 without any conversation about a balance.
While this might seem like a good thing (and a choice that many millennials are making), many suggest that no matter if you like your work or not, a break is essential for mental and physical well-being. No matter how balanced you might feel, sometimes it helps to pull back from the constant connection, to unplug a bit and step back. Even something as simple as turning off the phone or computer by a certain time every evening can help achieve this “work-home segmentation.”
Many millennials don’t even realize that they need this break. A study from the University of Maryland found that this constant connection to electronic communication brings about addiction-like withdrawal symptoms when the connection is removed. Beyond the addictive nature of screens (including phones, computers, and television), being constantly plugged actually decreases productivity and may actively harm the relationships it seeks to promote via social media.
Promoting a work life balance
In a world where Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a thing, how do you reframe what work life balance means, and what can you do to promote it in your own (electronic) life?
Work life balance is just as important for younger generations as it is for those that preceded them, especially for women who still, even as they make strides in the workplace, shoulder the bulk of childcare and housework duties. While flexible work schedules and telecommuting options may help women (or single parents) to bring home the bacon, how can they create a balance that allows them to not only fry it up in a pan but to also share that meal with their family?
Set some parameters for how you will respond to (or not respond to) work-related emails and phone calls. Even with international jobs that require work in different time zones, it is important to set boundaries for yourself and your employers.
Second, define what work life balance means to you
You don’t need to follow someone else’s blueprint for your life, but making room for a time when you can relax, unwind, and pursue something for pure enjoyment is crucial. Figure out what really matters to you, and let that guide you. This is your life, and you get to choose your focus.
Finally, realize that priorities change
What matters to you at 20 will not be the same thing that matters to you at 35. Accepting this and adapting your schedule to fit your new priorities is crucial to balance in life. Balance is a journey, not a destination, and it’s important to enjoy the path you are on.
Do you believe in work life balance, and, if so, how do you make it happen in your life?
Image by Steve Hardy via Flickr