Work Life Balance
Early in my career, I was the first person to arrive at the office in the morning and the last one to leave at the end of the day. I would take work home, work on weekends and a vacation was unheard of because of how it would impact work. I was so focused on what I had to do for the company, my clients and my profession that I forgot all about me. While I did not think I alone could save the world, I lived as if the work could not get done without me. I worked for this company for ten years. I survived changes within the oversight organization from which our referral based was provided, growth of the company and downsizing. I gave up my nights, my weekends, and in many ways my life for a company that ultimately closed. In the end, while I had impacted many individuals in a positive way, I was just as unemployed as everyone else at the company.
When the company closed in 2005 I made some major changes in my life. First, let me tell you that I am still a workaholic who has a hard time saying no when asked to help out both personally and professionally. However, I have a deeper respect for my own work-life balance. I try hard every day to think about what I need to accomplish at work and how to spend my ‘life time’. Some days I do a good job with balance and other days my efforts are not so good. I may try something new to help me out only to find that it makes things worse.
As a scholarly practitioner, I have made a personal commitment to myself to share information about work-life balance. I talk about work-life balance to my students with disabilities making the transition to college (or looking at the transition to work after college). I try to practice work-life balance in my job. I even try to build work-life balance into my teaching. In fact, I even selected a work-life balance topic for my Ph.D. dissertation.
Some people have gotten upset with me suggesting I don’t understand the importance of their job. Others have quickly told me work-life balance does not exist because they have to be available 24/7. One person even asked me who would do the work if they did not stay late to get it completed.
So what? Why does anyone care if you have a good work life balance? If someone wants to focus on work and neglect life that should be their choice, right? I am not going to tell you how to obtain a good work-life balance. That is something that is unique to each person because of the different aspects you must balance. What I hope to do is to share some facts and some ideas that may help you make the decision to work towards a more positive work life balance.
First, take a moment and think about this statement: “Your employer cares, but they really do not ‘care’.” I have said this on several occasions and I still believe it is a true statement. I know many managers/supervisors/co-workers who truly care about their employees/co-workers and the work that gets accomplished. However, do you really believe your employer is concerned if you work for free in the form of over-time? Do you think it impacts your employer if you missed the beginning of your child’s school function? Will your employer lose sleep at night when you work on a Saturday to try and catch up on work? In many cases, the answer really is no, the employer does not care if these things happen as long as the job gets done.
A poor work-life balance impacts more than the individual. It can lead to problems at work with creativity, engagement and productivity. It can lead to higher turnover and poorer customer service. It can lead to problems at home with relationships and even your child’s development. Do you even realize how a poor work-life balance can impact your mental and physical health?
A poor work-life balance can lead to significant stress which in turn impacts our health (blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.) and our work (absenteeism, disengagement, injuries, and general lost productivity) and even our relationships. The CDC reported the high costs (in the US) associated with high blood pressure (over $46 billion), obesity (over $147 billion) and diabetes ($245 billion). In addition, the CDC reports heart disease as the number one killer of men and women in the US. All of this can be impacted by the stress.
Yes, work and career are important. Not only does this provide a means for life, but in many cases, we also get personal satisfaction from our career. In addition, our work can be critically important to the student, staff or faculty member with whom we are working. But, is your health important? Is your family important? Are your other relationships important? Should we really allow work to be 24/7? Do you even realize how much smartphones and tablets are impacting your life? One study showed work weeks as high as 72 hours because of the non-work hours logged on smartphones. Another study suggested that smartphones added nearly 500 hours per year to work. Keep in mind many of these extra hours are unpaid. Just because we can be reached every minute of every day, does that mean that we have to be available?
Yes, our students are important. Yes, if we don’t stay and do the work how else is it going to get done. But what happens when you cannot come to work because of your health? Interesting fact, the average loss in productivity after a heart attack is 60 workdays. What will your students, faculty and staff do without you if you miss 60 workdays? How many workdays will be missed secondary to depression?
My personal challenge today (and every day) is to keep a better balance between work and life. Sometimes, I work through lunch. Sometimes I come to work early or stay late. However, I work hard to make this the exception and not the rule. I even turned off work email notifications on my smartphone. Individually, these may not seem like much but they can have a positive impact. My challenge to you: Find ONE thing you can change today that can have a positive impact on your work life balance. Once you have a handle on the first change, look to see if there are other things you can do to get a better balance. Maybe you can make the commitment to only work through lunch one day a week. Maybe you will leave your smartphone in the living room during dinner. Better yet, find a way to take at least 30 minutes per day to do something for your life. This could be reading a leisure book, taking a walk, watching a TV show, playing with your child or your dog, as long as it is for yourself (not for work).
Deanna Arbuckle is currently a Ph.D. Candidate through Walden University studying the learning process of work-life balance. She is also the Disability Services and Assistive Technology Coordinator in the Office of Learning Resources at the University of Dayton. In addition to her work on her Ph.D., Deanna has a Master of Rehabilitation Counseling from Wright State University and is a Certified Rehabilitation Counselor. She has presented on several topics through OH-AHEAD, AHEAD and the Ohio Rehabilitation Association, all focused on rehabilitation and disability topics. For questions about this month’s blog please contact Deanna at: firstname.lastname@example.org.