Studies suggest that “worklife balance” is one of the top three drivers of engagement for high-potential and high-performing employees (CLC, 2010; Senge, 2006). With the demands of a global and changing economy, however, many employees are being asked to do more with fewer resources. As a consequence, these employees may feel “stretched” and pressured to devote a great deal of time and energy to their work. These people may describe themselves as having a lack of “worklife balance.” They feel that work is getting the lion’s share of their time and energy, when what they would really like to focus on is their non-work lives.
On the other hand, there are those who feel that their non-work lives are getting the lion’s share of their attention. These people also may describe themselves as lacking in “worklife balance.”
Both sets of people—those who feel they devote too much energy to work, and those who feel they devote too much energy to non-work activities—feel “out of balance.” They want to achieve greater satisfaction in both their work and their non-work roles, and not feel that one is demanding greater amounts of their energy at the expense of the other.
What is worklife balance? Merrill and Merrill (2003) define balance as the alignment between values and actions. We each have values relating to work and family. At the same time, we must make moment-to-moment decisions every day about how we will spend our time and money. To the extent that these decisions mirror our true values about work and non-work, we are “in balance.”
Another way to look at worklife balance is that when we are “in balance,” everything in our life is moving toward a common purpose. All our “parts” are moving in the same direction. Like a runner who is running a marathon, all parts of the runner’s body are helping her to move forward; her legs, feet, hands, arms, and face are all facing forward and in the same direction to achieve the same goal of finishing the marathon. Contrast this image with a person who has one arm being pulled one way, and another arm the other way. The person cannot stay long in this position—with their two arms being pulled in different directions. Something has to give.
How do you know if you are “in balance” or “out of balance?” Self-monitoring is helpful in knowing whether you are in or out of balance at any given time. Monitor your body for signs of tension and discomfort, and monitor your thoughts for signs of conflict and stress. In addition, you may ask the following questions to help you diagnose the extent to which you feel “balanced:”
- Do you feel happy and conflict-free, about the decisions you make on a daily basis concerning where to spend your time?
- Do you feel that you are “where you need to be” most of the time?
Positive answers to these questions indicate balance, which is accompanied by feelings of peace, serenity, acceptance, and acknowledgement that you are doing what you need to do at any given moment, and that you are where you need to be at any given moment. On the other hand, positive answers to the following questions indicate lack of balance:
- Do you often feel as if you should be doing something else?
- Do you often wish you were someplace else?
Of course, there may be times when a person decides to be “out of balance” for awhile, in order to achieve a particular goal that requires more time, or intense focus of effort during a certain period of time. As long as the decision to be “out of balance” is a conscious and deliberate choice, the negative feelings of being out of balance will not be as great. Why? Because the person knows that this is for a specified period of time and the decision is aligned with one or more of his/her core values.
To re-cap, the following equation summarizes the relationship between balance, values, and actions:
Balance = f(Alignment Between Values and Actions)
The extent to which a person feels “balanced” or “out-of-balance” is a function of the extent to which they see alignment between their core values and their day-to-day actions.
Coaching Application: 4 Steps to Achieving Greater Balance
- First, identify your core values. Use a predetermined list to give you ideas, or simply write down what comes to mind as the core unifying values in your life.
- After identifying your top 3 – 5 core values, examine the extent to which your actions each day exemplify each value. Which value would you like to see more of in your daily life?
- Brainstorm specific actionsyou could take to “see” and live that value to a greater extent. Some helpful questions include:
- What can you do more of, that you are not doing now, in order to live out this value?
- What might you need to take off your plate, in order to have time for actions which exemplify this value?
- How can you rearrange your schedule so that you spend time on this value?
- What might you need to take out of your schedule to allow this value to show up more in your actions?
- As a final step, set SMART goals (specific, measurable, action-oriented, relevant and realistic, and time-bound) regarding steps you can take this week relating to the actions identified above.
Corporate Leadership Council (2010). The disengaged star: Four imperatives to re-engage high-
potential employees. Report by the Corporate Executive Board CLC Human Resources.
Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2003). Life matters: Creating a dynamic balance of work,
family, time, and money. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New
York, NY: Doubleday.
Dr. Ann Herd, SPHR, is an Assistant Professor of Organizational Leadership and Learning at UofL.