Bill, a self-admitted workaholic, spent several decades working long hours and taking only four vacations. These “vacations” included working on his laptop a majority of the time, so they were not much of a relaxing get-away—just working with new scenery. He was an entrepreneur with a workload large enough to keep several people busy. This not only affected him, but his family, too. I know this because Bill is my father. Growing up with very little vacation time always seemed unfair—especially when I had to hear all about my friends’ annual trips to the beach or Disney. However, he did make time for little things like help with homework, short outings for ice cream, or a fun competitive round in a number of different sports. Now my brother (pictured to the right) and I are in the same boat. The day-to-day little things my father did were nice, but nowhere near accomplished a sense of balance. Unfortunately, work-life imbalance is not uncommon at all—especially for those at the age of having to provide for their own family.
Thirties—the decade when adults are supposed to have it all together while still feeling like a kid. Some may have earned a degree, or two, and have the career of their dreams. Others may just be realizing how important that earned degree is to achieve the desired lifestyle. A growing number of working adults are attending college, whether online or at a local campus, while balancing family life. The idea of achieving day-to-day balance is a thing of the past; school-work-life balance needs a big picture approach.
Balancing your school-work-life is essential to happiness, a successful marriage and family, and prevailing in your career and studies. While I am not an expert, I have a lot of experience in the matter; I am the sole provider for my family, work full time, and attend college fulltime. Experts like Gordon (2012), Diekhoff, Mounsey, and Vandehey (2013), explain how best to achieve balance.
This issue has been around for decades. In the late 90s, companies began focusing on work-life balance, in an effort to compete for the best employees (Hoffman, M. F., & Cowan, R. L., 2008, p.228). The thought was that family-friendly organizations would do well, and better maintain happy employees—especially female employees. Women have worked so hard up to this point, fighting for equality; they want to have the opportunity to have the same responsibilities as men in the career world. Yet, women still have the same traditional responsibilities outside of work; hence, companies creating work-life balance programs. Unfortunately, that does not mean the companies really want employees to use them (Kirby and Krone 2002).
Companies expect so much from their employees—late nights to meet a deadline, frequent traveling, working through lunch, after-hour functions, and more. Most employees feel the pressure to meet these expectations, especially non-parent employees anticipated to pick up the slack for the employees with family obligations (taking advantage of the family programs offered to them) not putting in as much work (Kirby and Krone 2002).
Imbalance effects not only the person directly involved but everyone in relation to the person, whether it’s not enough effort being put into work, school, or home. Hoffman and Cowan (2008) point out that today’s interpretation of the correlation between paid work and life outside of work is restricted. The definition of a purposeful life is restrained, as well as the attempt and know-how to attain work-life balance (p.241). Is life outside of work only purposeful if you have a family? No, it is important for childless employees to have time off for hobbies and other passions to fulfill balance as well.
Time is not the only factor to consider when speaking of work-life balance, your character plays a huge part. I was raised to be self-sufficient, to have a positive outlook on everyday situations, to not complain when asked to do my job, and to put full effort into every task—going above and beyond expectations. According to Kar (2011), this ability to take on life’s trials is also called “Life Skills”. The three most important Life Skills being “Decision Making”, “Interpersonal”, and “Self-Worth Skills” (p.38).
As Kar (2011) shows us with Life Skills, we need more skills than just career or educational merit, to achieve work-life balance (p.35). Kar (2011) also draws the picture that we are the captain of our own ship, and that we must know how to handle the “turbulent waves of situations” (p.44). Life is full of choices—make plans, don’t just react as things happen—take control.
Of course, plans don’t always work out and part of life is rolling with the punches—adjusting goals and maintaining balance A longitudinal study, Balancing Act: Career and Family during College-Educated Women’s 30s, followed the lives of a number of women over the course of 16 years. Hoffnung and Williams (2013) discovered that while these women, in their senior year of college, had clear visions of their futures, not all of them stuck to the plan (p.321). Those who were working full time more often had significant others who were less educated (Chelsey, 2011, p.645). Having one spouse stay home—or having enough income to supplement hired help—helps immensely with achieving balance; they are able to be there for the kids, get the daily chores done, and help with all the other little things that require more time than we may have. Although, not everyone has this luxury and attaining balance requires more effort.
A 2013 study, Working and Non-Working University Students: Anxiety, Depression, and Grade Point Average, surveyed over one hundred college students—working and non-working. What Diekhoff, Mounsey, and Vandehey (2013) discovered was that while working students had an understandably higher level of anxiety, they still maintained a higher grade point average than that of the non-working students; this may be because of the working students’ ability to juggle multiple responsibilities (p.379). Although the reality is that working students need to take fewer credit hours per semester, resulting in a longer graduation completion-time (Diekhoff, Mounsey and Vandehey, 2013, p.388). Still, this data proves my point that working professionals can successfully include school into their schedule, and that while there are sacrifices to be made—mainly social life—there will be an undeniable sense of accomplishment.
I propose that the solutions currently put in place for work-life balance are not sufficient; the day-to-day approach is not realistic. Thinking in the here and now is natural, but for the 21st-century businessmen and women juggling 3 or 4 roles at a time, planning is essential. For the fulltime parent/student/employee this is the ultimate quest—finding balance and happiness in life. Almost everyone has this very struggle—of course, there is the 1% that have an abundance of wealth and time; but what about the other 99% of the population?
The solution: I’m calling it the big picture approach. Companies and individuals need to stop stressing over achieving daily balance. It is simply not rational thinking—we have to work, we have to meet a deadline, or we have a family situation that we must focus on—things happen. Instead, think of your long term goals. For me, that’s graduating college, subsequently being promoted at work, and then being able to finally afford the addition on the house I’ve been wanting for years. My family knows the plan, and they understand the inconvenience and hard work it is going to take to get there, but this helps tremendously—having an end-goal in mind.
This simple one-question survey brought light to ten entertaining view-points. The two that stand out are “clear vision and self-forgiveness” and the professor that said she gives 100% effort while at work and 100% effort when home; both of these are a part of my overall proposed solution. In Gordon’s 2012 article, “Appreciate the Moment: 7 Ways to Rethink Work-Life Balance”, he points out that the way most people think of work-life balance is a “myth”. Instead, Gordon suggests looking at the previous year to determine what months the organization is busy and “not-so-busy”, and to do the same with family life (upcoming surgeries, births, vacations, etc.). As he puts it, most businesses have busy periods, similar to the “seasons” of nature (p.8). Figure 2: An informal survey question posted on social media to family and friends. Note my father’s not-so-shocking response, relayed by my mother (response number two).
Planning for the whole year makes the challenge of finding balance less daunting. Also, communicating this plan with everyone involved will help give clear expectations for the year to come. Of course, planning for a month, or even five years, at a time is doable—whatever best fits the situation. It is also important to note that working hard with a positive attitude will make employers happy, and more understanding when asking for time off (Gordon, 2012, p.9). Happy employers make for happy employees—usually. I think it’s best for everyone to always go above and beyond expectations, the rewards are always worth it—not to mention the sense of accomplishment and pride in work completed or quality time spent with family.
In Gordon’s (2012) contemporary article, he also explains that we need to find meaning in both work and family; believing in what we do will alleviate the guilt of working long hours. In fact, he says focusing on “purpose and passion” will be the key to gratification (p.8). This applies to all areas of life; don’t just go through the motions. Live in the moment: with family, at work, working on school assignments, engaging in a hobby, working out, and so on. As Gordon (2012) says, “make the most of your time however you spend it” (p.9).
How do we make this happen? Well, fortunately, it doesn’t take a big sweeping effort by companies that is costly or time-consuming. The solution is simply changing the way we think of, and plan for, school-work-life balance; setting clear expectations for the school, employer, family, and friends. Letting everyone in on the big picture—“Baby due in June”, “Important project due in eight weeks”, “Possible promotion in 2 years”, etc. Putting full effort into each occasion will benefit in all areas of life—impressing the boss, making the spouse happy, being there for the children, and doing well in school—it’s a win-win solution.
I propose that if everyone—corporations, schools, students/employees, families, and friends—used the big picture approach, we would all be a much happier, healthier, and productive species. Being passionate and engaged in all aspects of life will create balance, and knowing how to do this well is empowering. Family, work, school, spirituality, health, and fitness are all different arenas of life that require attention in order to achieve balance; some require more than others, but none should be neglected. I ask that you open your mind to really grasp this fresh take on school-work-life balance and go forth with a new sense of direction.
It is your life, manage it! Take control of your schedule; set up a calendar, plan out your year—or month… baby steps—and show it to the people that matter; open up the lines of communication with work, school, family, and friends. Let’s improve our lives and set an example for the next generation! After all, they will be taking care of us in the future!
Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Chelsey, N. (2011). Stay-at-home fathers and breadwinning mothers: Gender, couple dynamics, and social change. Gender and Society, 25, 642-664. Doi:10.1177/0891243211417433
Diekhoff, G. M., Mounsey, R., &Vandehey, M. A. (2013). Working and non-working university students: anxiety, depression, and grade point average. College Student Journal, 47(2), 379.
Gordon, J. (2012). Appreciate the moment: 7 ways to rethink work-life balance. Public Management (00333611), 94(3), 6.
Hoffman, M. F., & Cowan, R. L. (2008). The meaning of work/life: A corporate ideology of work/life balance. Communication Quarterly, 56(3), 227-246. doi:10.1080/01463370802251053
Hoffnung, M., & Williams, M. (2013). Balancing act: Career and family during college-educated women’s 30s. Sex Roles, 68(5/6), 321-334. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0248-x
Kar, A. K. (2011). Importance of life skills for the professionals of 21st century. IUP Journal of Soft Skills, 5(3), 35-45.
Kirby, E., & Krone, K. (2002). The policy exists bit you can’t really use it: Communication and the structuration of work-family policies. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 30, 50-77.