Work life balance might be the closest thing we have to magic. It miraculously restores our sanity, our patience, and our belief in all that is good in the world.
My client Dan had none of that.
He worked insane hours in financial services, and when he wasn’t at work he was on-call. Doing anything less was frowned upon – if you weren’t there all the time, you were in jeopardy of losing everything.
But Dan had a huge problem with this.
He had three kids that he hardly ever got to see. He was exhausted, and though he made good money and enjoyed it, he was also looking for meaning in his work. He didn’t find any of that in spreadsheets.
The truth of it was, before his company robbed him of the rest of his life, he enjoyed the work he did, but now he felt imprisoned by his work, night and day, with more time in for good behavior. The harder he worked, the more work he got to do.
Dan just didn’t see a way out.
Your Work Life Balance
Maybe you can relate.
Many of my clients talk to me about their long commutes, missing their kids, the emails and phone calls at all hours, and generally feeling that their company thinks they have purchased them body and soul.
Your company might not see the value of your mental health or your general well being, the way the CEO of Olark did recently when one of his employees bravely said that she needed a day off to take care of her mental health.
Maybe, though, incidents like these will slowly change the attitudes of companies that refuse to see employees as whole people, whether you need time off to deal with mental health, your child’s illness, or you just need boundaries between the work you do and the rest of your life.
Work Life Balance Mindset: New vs Old
There are companies out there that have a “millennial mindset” towards work life balance, even though many companies still have an old fashioned mindset about work that’s based on putting in that “hard day’s work.”
The old fashioned companies are the ones that think about you being there 8 or 10 or more hours a day and measure you by whether you show up to work. They want you there, they need to keep tabs on you, and inherently, they don’t seem to trust you. They need you to be physically present to see that you’re working, and the result is that you’re chained to your desk.
Companies with a millennial mindset towards work life balance, whether they are startups or not, whether they are actually run by millennials or not, see that employees should be measured not by input (the number of hours they show up or are on Zoom each day) but by output.
What truly matters is that the product of your work, and that it’s getting done well.
Some people, (obviously) disagree with this statement. They believe you do need to be at work for 8+++ hours a day no matter what. It depends on the kind of job you have of course, but what you can accomplish in the time you’re at work – whether it’s 3 hours or 14 – is far more valuable than just sitting there for the sake of doing so.
Finding A Company That Shares Your Values
When you are looking to change jobs or careers, it can be hard to know what to look for. When you’re interviewing, it can be hard to truly assess whether a company offers real work life balance.
They may say they offer flexibility, or are hybrid for example, and while that’s better than a company that simply doesn’t allow or believe in that, it’s still not shifting their mindset around what it truly means to think about the output of your work rather than just your input.
You can ask a prospective company about how they feel about work life balance issues and your output with these probing questions:
How do you measure employee success?
Do employees control their daily goals and tasks?
What are your views on goals and measuring success?
What policies do you have that are designed to support work life balance?
What is the culture like here?
What is the typical day for an employee?
What To Do If You Can’t Leave Your Job Yet
It’s great to think about finding a company that offers better work life balance, but if you’re not ready to leave your job yet, you need to think about how to survive your current situation.
There are plenty of work life balance tips out there, including this blog post on work life balance tips I wrote about how to make Mondays less brutal. I think these tips are helpful because they’re not just the standard self-care tips you read everywhere.
The fact is though, you do need to think about your own self-care when your balance is off, because what’s being neglected is YOU. Here is a self care plan I wrote specifically for when you don’t like your job.
Paying extra attention to yourself is key.
We all struggle with doing the best things for ourselves, especially during times of stress, and this is where things tend to go south. We often know what we should do, but we struggle to do those things.
This is one area where coaching is enormously helpful, because having the motivation to care for yourself on your own during times of stress is difficult. Instead, having a partner to help you strategize and support you through the difficult times can be the key difference between doing the things you want to: staying on your healthy eating plan, exercising, mindfulness, not isolating yourself from your friends and sitting in and watching Netflix all the time, actively planning about how to get into a better situation – or doing the things you tend toward when you’re stressed.
The bottom line is you’ll need to create a self care plan and stick to it when your work life balance is off, or you run the very real risk of getting burned out.
Ideal Work Life Balance
In an ideal world, you’d love your work and your company would respect your time. Your love of your work would mean that any work you do on “off hours” wouldn’t feel like an infringement on your life because it’s so close to your heart.
In my experience, you can get closer to this ideal than you think. Finding the right company and the right work means that you don’t have to get that pit in your stomach every time you think about work.
While you might always choose going to the beach instead of going to the office, with the right balance, you won’t feel like you lost all your rights the day you signed your employment agreement.