Life is a balancing act. All of the metaphorical plates have to keep spinning, and too great a focus on one area of life can cause catastrophe elsewhere. The challenge of balancing work and non-work time and energy is well established, and the detrimental effects of allowing the pendulum to swing too far in either direction can be difficult to correct.
You might be here seeking a list of jobs, hoping that any of which will slide your life into an easy and blissful balance of work and life. Well, I have good news, and I have bad news. The bad news is that there’s no true singular list of jobs that offer a universally perfect work-life balance. The balance that any one person seeks is singular and unique to their needs. Providing a list of jobs with stereotypically flexible schedules isn’t helpful, as taking any one of those jobs does not automatically mean that it would lead to an ideal work-life balance for you or anyone else, unfortunately. The good news is that true work-life balance has less to do with your particular job, and more to do with how you organize your life.
In “Work-Life Balance is a Cycle, Not an Achievement,” published in the Harvard Business Review, authors Ioana Lupu and Mayra Ruiz-Castro uncovered fascinating findings about work-life balance. As part of their research, they conducted nearly 200 in-depth interviews with 78 middle or senior-level managers, both men and women, and most with at least one dependent child.
“At a high level, our research showed that achieving better balance between professional and personal priorities boils down to a combination of reflexivity – or questioning assumptions to increase self-awareness – and intentional role redefinition. Importantly, our research suggests that this is not a one-time fix, but rather, a cycle that we engage in continuously as our circumstances and priorities evolve.”1
That’s right. As it turns out, achieving an ideal work-life balance is actually … a lot of work. Go figure. But it’s all a result of decisions and prioritization that’s entirely in your control. You don’t have to sacrifice your career in the field of your dreams. You can have your cake and eat it too. Here’s how.
Lupu and Ruiz-Castro recommend regularly cycling through the following 5 steps to ensure you’re keeping work and life in balance:
Pause and denormalize. This involves taking a step back and reflecting on what, specifically, is causing you stress or dissatisfaction. What isn’t working? What are you prioritizing? What is falling through the cracks? It seems so simple, right? Maybe so simple that you might be taking this basic step for granted. Lupu and Ruiz-Castro explain,
“Of course, the professionals we talked to all led very busy lives. Many of them explained that they didn’t normally have the time or the energy to stop and reflect, and even expressed gratitude for the reflection space that the interview process itself allowed them.”
Pay attention to your emotions. This comes down to understanding how situations and decisions are making you feel.
Reprioritize. “Our priorities often shift faster than our day-to-day time allocation habits,” explain Lupu and Ruiz-Castro. Ask yourself, “What regrets do I already have, and what will I regret if I continue along my current path?”
Consider your alternatives. Think about aspects of your life that could be different in order to more closely align with your priorities. Maybe this means a job change … maybe it doesn’t. In Olga Khazan’s “Give Up on Work-Life Balance,” published by The Atlantic, Khazan encourages her readers to take advantage of the flexibility that their companies offer. However, like Lupu and Ruiz-Castro, she explains that achieving work-life balance requires more than simply scoring the job with the flexible schedule. She explains:
“Having the freedom to ‘make their own hours’ doesn’t necessarily help Americans who work long hours, either. In a study, [Melissa Milkie, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto] and her colleagues found that people who work more than 50 hours a week actually have more, not fewer, work-life conflicts if they set their own hours.”2
Take action. This means quit your job, right? Nope, not necessarily. Improving your work-life balance doesn’t always call for massive changes. In fact, the misconception that improving work-life balance always must start with a new job, an overwhelming prospect, can keep people from making the small changes that would most effectively improve their situation. Sometimes all it comes down to is changing your work habits, but your job and the expectations of you within your role remain the same.
Mental Health America suggests the following small-scale changes to both your work life and home life to help you achieve work-life balance.3
In short, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro believe that maintaining the balance can’t be achieved by finding a new job one time, but rather through frequently cycling through the steps above to ensure your work and your time is fairly serving your priorities, and that you’re re-evaluating your priorities as needed amid a complex life.
Why Working Toward Work-Life Balance Matters More Than Ever
Lawyer and life coach Heather Moulder, J.D., ACC, outlined the reasons why the quest for the ideal work-life balance is well worth it. Many are what you would expect — less stress, improved mental and physical health, increased productivity. But the positives go far deeper than that. Moulder explains that a balanced lifestyle also enhances your ability to be present, promotes greater engagement at work, and increases creative thinking.4
At the end of the day, your work-life balance isn’t only about you. Everyone in your life benefits from you hitting your stride and maintaining the balance. As Mental Health America explains, “Not only is achieving a healthy work/life balance an attainable goal, but workers and businesses alike see the rewards. When workers are balanced and happy, they are more productive, take fewer sick days, and are more likely to stay in their jobs” (Mental Health America). So even if true balance comes from self-reflection and calculated life changes, it’s also in your employer’s best interest to support your quest for work-life balance in whatever ways they are able.
Work-Life Balance Post-Pandemic
Beyond more typical reasons to seek an ideal work-life balance, the COVID-19 pandemic has also inspired a number of people to reconsider the structure of their work and of their lives.
Regardless of your reason for seeking a positive work-life balance, it’s something worth chasing. By taking advantage of employer benefits like family leave and seeking flexible careers with the best work-life balance, it is possible to have a successful career AND have time to pursue your personal and family goals.
At Eliassen Group, we offer space for our consultants and internal teammates to pursue their own work-life balance goals. If you’re looking to make a change toward a healthier, more balanced lifestyle, working with Eliassen might be part of the work-life balance journey that works best for you. We welcome consultants to search for their next role here and those looking to join our internal team check out our current job opportunities here.
1. Lupu, Ioana and Mayra Ruiz-Castro. “Work-Life Balance is a Cycle, Not an Achievement.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/01/work-life-balance-is-a-cycle-not-an-achievement. Accessed 11 August 2021.
2. Khazan, Olga. “Give Up on Work-Life Balance.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2019/05/work-life-balance/590662/. Accessed 11 August 2021.
3. “Work Life Balance.” Mental Health America. https://www.mhanational.org/work-life-balance. Accessed 11 August 2021.
4. Heather Moulder, J.D., ACC. “Redefine Your Work Life Balance Definition (To Be Happily Successful).” Moulder Consulting Services, Inc. https://www.coursecorrectioncoaching.com/redefine-work-life-balance-definition/. Accessed 11 August 2021.