Work-life balance: The big picture
Americans work long hours (We are actually 16th in the world according to a 2015 report). It’s a cultural thing. Perhaps it originates from immigrant people, trying to fashion a new life in a new land. Even the pilgrims had to work hard, just to survive (Of course, there is a lot more to this story than just toil). It goes without saying-- we are an ambitious people. We expect a lot from each other and ourselves.
While our productivity and wealth are among the highest in the Western world, our sense of balance between work and life are near the lowest. According to one index, we rate 29th of 36 industrialized countries in work-life balance!
I don’t think that there is a “one size fits all” approach to this concern.
Some industries, especially in the high tech world, who expect very long hours, provide employees with attractive perks—ping pong tables, food, services, on site gyms and day-care, and entertaining social activities. I’m sure it helps to attract employees to those companies and retain them.
Flexible work schedules are beneficial too—four-day workweeks, part-time schedules, telecommuting, and flextime can meet worker’s needs in a variety of ways. This is especially important for working parents, who have the major challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities. But longer, fewer workdays can leave an employee tuckered out too.
Over the last 30 years, I have seen many families with two full-time working parents try to be involved parents, further their careers, and pay for all of the bells and whistles of modern life. Trying to be everything to everybody, they always look completely exhausted with too little sleep. They are up to all hours doing laundry, making meals, and answering work email. Sometimes, I wonder if living lower on the hog by working fewer hours wouldn’t save everyone’s rear end. I recognize that it’s a difficult choice and for some, no choice at all.
Some companies make it more challenging to find work-life balance—our good neighbor, the Boeing Company, can have employees perform mandatory overtime. Yes, they do get paid well for the extra hours, and many of the workers welcome the extra income. But they and their families suffer.
To be fair to large employers, it’s tough in a global economy for American companies to stay competitive with much lower paid workers in other countries. Customer service centers and manufacturing overseas can lower costs for large corporations. Our higher wage economy demands higher productivity to remain viable ---which translates into long work days.
There is much that we can do to nurture balance in our lives--Exercise, sports, meditation, yoga, tai chi, healthy food choices, spiritual pursuits, meaningful hobbies and the development of friendships are all ways of mitigating the stress and strains of work. Finding greater balance is frequently a “trial and error” process where we move one foot forward, then two feet back. We take “baby steps” towards this elusive goal.
So much in modern life is outside of our control. So what can we do?
- A little is a lot. Take pause to smell the roses, the sea air, and the mighty Douglas firs. Listen to the birds sing on early spring mornings. Watch the sunrise and sunset on a single day. Savor brief moments with your family when everyone is smiling or sitting around the dinner table. Count your blessings. Walk outside in nature whenever you can. Stretch frequently during the day. Listen to music. Read inspirational books. Watch funny movies. Laugh. Smile as often as you can. Let your family know how much you love and appreciate them. Perform good deeds.
If you cultivate the seeds of happiness and balance, they will grow.