Why work life balance is a myth
Updated: Mar 7
Managing our wellbeing expectations
With the enforced changes to our lives during the COVID pandemic we've had a great opportunity to reflect on how we can better integrate the work we do with other aspects of our life.
For many people before the pandemic they were constantly juggling work demands with home life alongside other aspects of life, trying to achieve a balance and keep all the plates spinning.
The pandemic hasn't really changed this, instead we've had to juggle working from home alongside children who need home learning support, and maybe caring for ageing relatives who are self isolating. Then somewhere in amongst all this we know we should be finding time for ourselves to maintain our physical and mental health needs.
The high expectations we place on ourselves around how successful we perceive we are in balancing the differing aspects of our life can detrimentally affect our wellbeing - so is there another way to approach this?
Where did the term 'work life balance' originate?
The term 'work life balance' implies that we should be aiming for an even distribution of weight with our personal and professional life, so one side isn't heavier than the other.
It was a concept that came about in the late 1800s in manufacturing laws when the hours of women and children began to be restricted due to the impact on their health and wellbeing. Then by 1938 the Fair Labour Standards Act was established to limit working hours to 44, with exception of certain professions such as in medicine.
It was the Women's Liberation Movement in the 1980's that then brought the phrase back into focus to lobby Government and apply pressure on employers to create more flexible working for women, to enable them to continue their careers whilst raising a family.
Fast forward to the 21st Century and we now have employment legislation that ensures flexible working applies to everyone. It has become more about inclusivity to enable everyone to perform their work flexibly around their abilities and other important aspects of their life, whether this is for childcare responsibilities, to support studies, enable carer responsibilities, to manage a disability, etc.
So whilst the purpose of this concept has changed over the years, fundamentality it's always been about increasing the quality of our life experience, by enabling us to flexibly integrate all aspects of our life for wellbeing.
Quality of life and wellbeing
The Oxford dictionary defines quality of life as "the level of health, comfort and happiness that a particular person or group has" and defines wellbeing as "the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy", so in essence they are one in the same.
By trying to compartmentalise our life into one side for work and the other side for everything else we have mentally created an 'either or situation'. This leads to guilt and a sense of failure if we don't get the right balance, and over time this builds up to emotional burnout due to the internal conflict and overwhelm of trying to do and be everything to everyone.
The fact is that life is ever changing and it's part of our human condition to have ever changing emotions and desires as we go through life experience. So we need to be able to flexibility adapt to all the different aspects of our life continuously, and there will be times when one area of life needs more focus for a temporary period, and that's ok.
I therefore believe that it's a myth and unrealistic expectation that we can achieve a 50/50 'work life balance' and instead it's more realistic to focus on how we integrate all the important aspects of our life, accepting that this will be ever changing.
Only by understanding what's important to us as individuals can we therefore meaningfully integrate all the aspects of our life to achieve a quality of life that's uniquely right for us and enables authentic wellbeing.
Integration - creating a holistic and meaningful life experience
Here are my top tips for how you can focus on integrating all the different aspects of your life to enable authentic wellbeing:
Get clear on your values - these are your guide to an authentic life as they encompass what's most important to you. Then look at your average day, week and month ask yourself - are you currently living these values? If not how can you live your life in alignment with these values in the different aspects of your life?
Get to know yourself better and the type of person you want to be - we all have our unique strengths and talents, and also parts of us we would like to change. So start to get clear on who you are and how you want to show up as a partner, parent, friend, work colleague etc. Neuroscience has proven we can change our behaviours, so focus on how you can develop the habits of the best version of you.
Get clear on what you want to achieve in each area of your life - look at the wheel of life image below and rate each area on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 - Very Unsatisfied and 10 - Very Satisfied with each area of your life. Note: you can change these areas so amend as you wish. Then start to get a clear picture of what a rating of 10 looks like for you in each area, and finally consider how you need to show up to achieve a fulfilling life experience.
Take action on your results and review regularly - the wheel of life reflection process is great tool to review annually at a minimum, but ideally every quarter as part of a 90 day plan, so you get clear on what actions you need to take and review your progress to keep focused on your wellbeing.
As a Resilient Mindset Coach I enjoy coaching women over a 3 month period through The Resilient Woman programme, helping them get clear on what's important to them to create a more authentic lifestyle. I offer free 1 hour Clarity Sessions which are confidential dedicated time to talk and get some clarity on how to move forward. To book a call click here.