80 percent of working women and 72 percent of working men said they, their neighbours or their friends face hardships when managing work, family and personal responsibilities (National Partnership in November 2012). 88% of people say they have difficulty juggling work and life (AON Consulting). This article breaks those key ‘life’ tasks down further to better understand solutions to balance.
What do we mean when we say work-life balance, we continually treat the equation like a seesaw and hence it can be hard to at least have some stability. The more bases that we understand the more stable our life can become. The more we recognize the richness of people’s lives, the more realistic we can be.
Personal ‘Me’ ‘Me’ ‘Me’
Being a parent does not mean that all the things that happened before are completely gone. Yes time is a precious resource, but you still exist as a person. Not only do you need to look after your physical health but also there still needs to be some personal time. If you do not have your health you have nothing, you cannot be there for your partner or your children. One of the challenges that people face is the constant struggle in the household just to grab enough time for themselves, their hobby or just to get some down time. If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. John Rohn. More balance could be some ‘me’ time. One solution is to take time from one of the other four factors in order to do just one thing for yourself a week. It could be yoga, tennis, watching a movie, having a date night or meeting up with a friend.
20 hours plus a week is spent on housework (Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends 2013), it seems that we have increasing bureaucratic obligations. Americans alone spent 8.8 billion hours completing government forms (White House Office of Management and Budget, 2010 figures)! Some tasks are already outsourced, but one solution would be that many more tasks could be automated to provide more balance to the household.
Work is about the employer, employee and community. The community and government need to start to address the flexible requirements of its citizens in the workplace. In some countries there is no protection or promotion of flexible working. Policies could encourage companies to offer more flexible solutions which could have add on benefits, for example, reduction of CO2 admissions due to reduced commuter, and reduced congestion pressure on our transport networks. There is of course the need to address how to motivate and manage virtual teams. This is where the role of employers comes in. There needs to be a change of mindset of employers to understand what opportunities a flexible workforce could bring and to be able to have a culture of productivity and trust; as opposed to physical presence. Some employers are already there my first job after graduating over 10 years ago was working flexibly, but this is not every employer.
Every family is different and the constant judgment on different family solutions goes from frustrating to boring, because each family has to have the solution that works for them. If they do want to work then government and society should play a role in policies that give access to affordable childcare. The family day can be pressured at points with the school or kindergarten run, where work can play an important part to help to achieve balance. The quality of time with the family can be impacted by personal and administration needs. Yet this forth quadrant is often where people want to spend their time. 70% of working fathers and working mothers report they don’t have enough time for their children (Family Matters Survey; The National Partnership for Women & Families, 1998).
If we keep on thinking of work-life balance as a two factor equation we may never address the real challenges of family life.