Work/life balance. Three little words that I became very well acquainted with after applying for various graduate positions.
Every organisation expects that successful applicants will be ‘well rounded’. Every organisation will profess that they promote and support a continuing healthy balance for their employees. But what does this really mean?
In the lead up to International Women’s Day, the concept of work life balance is often spun as an initiative focussed on allowing parents to spend more time with their family. Obviously, this is not the full extent of it. Just because you don’t have children does not mean you would not benefit from having a balanced life, however as I observe my peers this appears to be the attitude commonly adopted by young professionals. Could it be that we just don’t know how to initiate the conversation with our managers? Are we afraid uttering those three little words might jinx our career progression?
Or that we have never learnt how to best manage flexible work scenarios?
I am a perfect example of this. Before recently I had never needed to consider the logistics of balancing work and life. As a new starter I was available, happy and willing to work the hours required to get the job done. Things changed quickly when personal commitments arose outside of work. For me it was sport. My training intensified and required me to leave work strictly on time. I informed my manager of my commitment and my daily routine continued as usual.
That’s how it should be, right? Wrong.
Successfully managing a healthy work-life balance is much more than just expecting understanding from your employer. The key word here is managing. Yes, your employer has their part to play but it is up to you to make it work.
My first week balancing work and life was fairly bumpy. While this was not a problem for my manager, my own feelings often got the better of me. I was anxious about how it was perceived when I left work before my peers and hyper-aware when meetings had to be scheduled earlier in the day to work around me. I never considered that there was no need for me to feel this way, and that there were actions I could take to stay on top of my life.
Don’t over commit!
As much as we enjoy parading our ability to juggle multiple commitments at once, it is not always practical. All three balls do not have to be in the air at the same time. This is a lesson in prioritisation. Trust me; you cannot produce quality work when your day looks something like this:
- Get your daily exercise
- Arrive at work at 8.45am
- Grab coffee with your colleagues
- Enjoy your hour lunch break
- Leave work sharp on 5:15
- Attend your after work commitment
- Spend some quality time with your partner / friend
- Do it all over again!
I believe you should never do something with a half heart. Sometimes, something has got to give.
Riding the ebbs and flows
Everything will not be go go go all of the time. The key is to understand the ebbs and flows of your work and personal life. Take advantage of down time. Use it wisely to pay attention to those parts of your life that run second string during the busier periods.
Critical to your success is getting and keeping your manager onside. This isn’t a topic that should be tacked on to the end of another conversation. Invite your manager to coffee and explain the commitments you have after work. This is the first step in managing their expectations about your availability or capacity for work on certain days. Demonstrate that you are serious about ensuring your other commitments do not negatively impact on your work by offering solutions. What is working for me, for example, is ensuring I arrive at work early on those days when I will need to leave briskly. This way you can feel comfortable knowing that your manager and you have come to mutual agreement for operating on those days where you have other commitments.
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