Work/life balance is a huge topic, at least in my LinkedIn feed. Everyone wants to work at a company that offers a good work/life balance. That term could look like different things to different people but the sentiment is pretty much the same: work somewhere that doesn’t require you to abandon your real life for your inbox.
I think some companies certainly promote and encourage that concept better than others. However, I’ll lean on the words a friend of mine shared once:
Nobody gives you work/life balance.
I think we have more responsibility to maintain a healthy work/life balance (or work/life integration, which I think is more accurate) than what we are willing to admit. If things feel out of control, we would rather blame our boss before looking at what we could change on our end.
For me? I feel like I have a fairly good balance at the moment. I could very easily find myself working 80 hour weeks and still be drowning in a pit of work.
There’s always more that could be done. There always will be.
But there are two things that have helped me maintain that healthy relationship between my job and out-of-office life.
#1. Set Boundaries Early
This is hard, especially for a high-performing employee. If you’re new at a job, you want to make that strong first impression. The instinct is to reply to that email as fast as you can, be “on-call” and responsive at all hours of the night, or never draw a line in the sand in regards to your workload.
It’s hard. Being able to know your boundaries and be confident enough in yourself to know where that line is of doing your job plus the extra mile (as one should), never saying no and unnecessarily drowning, or being someone who is doing enough to just get by. I feel like it takes several years of work experience to get a feel for it.
Once you do, setting those boundaries early is crucial. It’s hard to put toothpaste back in the tube once you’ve set a precedent of over-promising early on.
Are there times you are going to have to stretch those boundaries and ignore them for the sake of the team? Absolutely. Any good team player should. There are sprints where you do need to really push yourself and ignore the boundaries. Those should be short stretches and the exceptions - not the rule.
#2. Be Consistent
Consistency is key for boundaries to be effective. If you have boundaries set, make sure you don’t continue to move the goal posts for your team.
If you lack consistency in your work cadence, you likely also lack reliability.
In my life, I leave the office around 4:30 due to daycare pickup. From there, I’m mostly offline for the rest of the evening. However, people know that I trade off that evening flexibility with doing early morning work. My team may not get a response from me to a 9pm email they sent…but they know they’ll likely have one in their inbox by the time they get to their desk in the morning. I have the ability to have flexibility in one part of my day (evenings with family) because I make up for it, consistently, in other parts (the mornings).
We Have More Control Than We Want to Admit
Again, I do realize that some company cultures do a better job setting their employees up for having a strong work/life balance. Some managers are good about imposing boundaries with their higher performing employees so they don’t unintentionally burn out.
I would also argue that we share more responsibility for our work/life balance (or lack thereof) than we want to admit. If workloads or schedules feel like they are spiraling out of control, it may be your bosses fault…but then again it likely isn’t.
Finding that balance between establishing healthy boundaries, knowing our limits but also being high performing employees is admittedly a hard line to walk. It takes a long time to figure out what works for you and what works best for your team. However, the sooner you can find it, the more fulfilling the work part of work/life can be.
Disclaimer: I realize that there are companies that are incredibly difficult to work at. Places where management over-promises on the backs of their employees, where the workload is insane or the expectations are unrealistic. There are companies that over-glorify the hustle culture and that if you aren’t “always on” you must not want it bad enough. I get it. I know places like that exist and I pray that your day-to-day doesn’t look like that. This post doesn’t speak to that type of situation.