Get a Personal Life

June 19, 2007

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Companies are beginning to recognize signs of employee burnout, and, as a result, they are realizing that unless people can have balance in their lives, productivity will suffer. Because of this, many organizations are redesigning work to help encourage work-life balance. Yet only you can restore harmony to your life.

Increasingly more major corporations are encouraging employees to take their allotted personal time, and some smaller companies are increasing their vacation allotment so they can attract the best talent, as we noted this time last year.

Yet what is the point of taking your vacation time if you are working throughout your so-called vacation? How many of you are attached to your cell phone, laptop, e-mail and/or CrackBerry while on vacation? Don't lie.

Although an "e-leash" improvement from 27 percent in 2006, 20 percent of workers say they plan to stay in touch with the office during their vacation this year, according to CareerBuilder.com's latest annual vacation survey conducted by Harris Interactive of more than 6,800 workers.

Work can be demanding, but taking it with you simply brings stress to a new location. The problem goes beyond asking yourself whether the office will survive without you for a few days, though.

The big issue, and a common problem, is separating one's personal life from one's work life. In other words: work-life balance.

Work-life balance is not simply about vacation time or PTO. In fact, your best individual work-life balance likely will vary over time, even on a daily basis.

"There was a time when employees showed up for work Monday through Friday and worked eight to nine hours. The boundaries between work and home were fairly clear then," notes MayoClinic.com. "But the world has changed, and unfortunately, the boundaries have blurred for many workers."

As more skilled workers enter the global labor market and companies outsource or move more jobs to reduce labor costs, people feel pressured to work longer and produce more to protect their jobs.

Yet the biggest changes in the workplace over the last decade have come in employers' attitudes toward work, family and flexibility.

A seismic shift in attitudes among top talent has been documented by numerous studies over recent years, conceding to the importance of work-life balance. The Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), for one, recently released results of a global survey of 138 executive recruiters that found more than eight out of 10 (85 percent) have had candidates reject a plum job offer because of work-life balance considerations.

Employers in the United States and elsewhere who want to be seen as "employers of choice" attracting the best and brightest must be far more flexible, supportive of employees' lives outside the office. Providing a work-life balance to employees not only increases productivity and loyalty, it may also create a more ethical workplace, according to results of the recent "2007 Deloitte & Touche USA LLP Ethics & Workplace" survey.

Providing sufficient support for work-life balance can glean results for organizations, as well. As the rising organizational cost of health care drives senior management to become more proactive about employee health, many view engaging employees in improving their own lifestyle behaviors and creating a healthier workplace as key components to the solution. Consider it a health-care cost solution.

The good news for the entire workplace — employees and employers alike — is that eight out of 10 employees at Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" now feel that management encourages them to balance their work lives and their personal lives — an increase of 11 percentage points from 10 years ago.

It isn't easy to juggle the demands of both a career and a personal life, of course. Nor does work-life balance mean an equal balance, as trying to schedule an equal number of hours for each of your various work and personal activities is usually unrewarding and unrealistic. Life is, and should be, more fluid than that, we think.

For most people, it is an ongoing challenge to reduce stress and maintain harmony in key areas of life. To that end, here are some ideas to help you find the balance that is best for you, via MayoClinic.com, which is composed of the more than 2,000 physicians and scientists of the Mayo Clinic:

Keep a record. Track everything you do for one week, including work-related and non-work-related activities. Decide what is necessary and satisfies you the most. Cut or delegate activities you don't enjoy, don't have time for or do only out of guilt. If you don't have the authority to make certain decisions, talk to your supervisor.

Take advantage of your options. Find out if your employer offers flex hours, a compressed workweek, job-sharing or telecommuting for your role. The flexibility may alleviate some of your stress and free up some time.

Manage your time, and protect your day off. Try to schedule some of your routine chores on workdays so that your days off are more relaxing. Organize household tasks efficiently. Doing one or two loads of laundry every day rather than saving it all for your day off, and running errands in batches rather than going back and forth several times, are good places to begin. If your employer offers a course in time management, sign up for it.

Communicate clearly. Limit time-consuming misunderstandings by communicating clearly and listening carefully. Take notes if it helps.

Nurture yourself. Set aside time each day for something you particularly enjoy, such as exercising, practicing yoga, reading, writing or listening to music. Even taking a bubble bath can allow you to unwind after a hectic workday; if so, light those candles and break out the bubbles.

Set aside one night each week for recreation. Take the phone off the hook, power down the computer and turn off the TV. Discover activities you can do with your partner, family or friends, such as playing golf, cycling or even ballroom dancing. Making time for activities you enjoy will rejuvenate you.

Get enough sleep. There is nothing as stressful and potentially dangerous as working when you're sleep-deprived. Not only is your productivity affected, but you can also make costly mistakes. You may then have to work even more hours to make up for these mistakes.

Fight the guilt. Having a family and a job is OK — for both men and women. Remember this, and don't feel guilty for it.

Bolster your support system. Give yourself the gift of a trusted friend or co-worker to talk with during times of stress or hardship. Ensure you have trusted friends and relatives who can assist you when you need to work overtime or travel for your job.

Seek professional help. Everyone needs help from time to time. If your life feels too chaotic to manage and you're spinning your wheels worrying about it, talk with a professional such as your doctor, a psychologist or a counselor recommended by your employee assistance program (EAP).

Of course, there is no perfect one-size-fits-all balance, according to WorkLifeBalance.com. And while companies need to recognize their culpability and responsibility in helping their employees create a healthier lifestyle — which will in turn contribute to greater productivity on the job, thus benefiting both individuals and the company — balance doesn't mean doing everything. Examine your priorities and set boundaries. Be firm in what you can and cannot do. Only you can restore balance to your lifestyle.

Earlier: Break the Habit. Take a Vacation. It's What Bosses Now Want.

Resources

Work-Life Balance: Ways to Restore Harmony and Reduce Stress MayoClinic.com

Firms say work-life balance boosts productivity by Susan Fenton Reuters, June 6, 2007

Work-life balance is the key to employee loyalty by Paige Bowers Atlanta Business Chronicle, Oct. 17, 2003

2007 Deloitte & Touche USA LLP Ethics & Workplace Deloitte & Touche USA, April 16, 2007

100 Best Companies to Work For Fortune, 2007

Work/life balance by E.L. Berman Engineering Management Review (IEEE), Vol. 30, Issue 4

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