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International Women’s Day #IWD2018 – Breaking the work-life balance myth

8th March 2018

This year, International Women’s Day will be celebrated on Thursday 8 March. It is a global day of celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and provides the opportunity to acknowledge the role and contribution of women in the workplace and the importance of good wellbeing.

In considering all this, the day also provides the chance to rethink and perhaps bust the work-life balance myth: is there really such a thing as a ‘good’ and achievable work-life balance. Balance, in itself, is a dynamic and fluid idea and life is energetic and variable and can throw things at you when you least expect it. As such, some days will be more balanced than others.

Traditionally, society has created stereotypes where work is considered a part of life for men while women are expected to achieve a so-called ‘work-life balance’, especially for women with children. However, this idea of achieving a balance between work and life is not just relevant to women with children, but rather is relevant to everyone because in today’s day and age, work is a vital part of life and its contribution to wellbeing, meaning and purpose cannot be underestimated.

Each individual is unique, with their own commitments, interests and responsibilities and so achieving this ‘perfect’ balance would be different from one person to the next. As such it is important to do what makes you feel balanced, not what society tells you should give you the balance.

When we tell ourselves that work and life are incompatible and we attempt to separate the two, we may find ourselves struggling, feeling as though we are sacrificing one for the other.

In fact, telling yourself you cannot do any work on the weekend can be detrimental if your Monday morning is then spent stressed and attempting to catch up on everything. Instead, if you have a few hours free on your weekend where you could read that article for work, then why not do it? Your Monday is more likely to be less stressful and you will have more time to do other tasks efficiently.

In fact, many aspects of work are enjoyable, and if you find purpose and positive engagement in reading that article or planning the presentation for the following week, you should not feel guilty, even if it is a Saturday, a ‘life’ day. Recognising where you get your energy from is vital. Sometimes that will may be work whilst at other times, it may be non-work activities.

So instead of chasing an unachievable and unrealistic work-life balance, focus on work-life integration and stop to ask yourself, what activities (work or non-work) give me pleasure and positive engagement? The new work-life balance, is more about managing your energy levels from day to day.

What is work-life integration? And how is it different?

Work-life integration is an approach that assimilates all areas of life: family, friends, health, personal wellbeing, hobbies… and work!

As such, actively focusing on integrating work into this bundle of ‘life’ rather than attempting to separate it can actually improve your work sphere. It may boost your work efficacy while simultaneously providing you with more time to enjoy other aspects of your life, such as family, friends and hobbies.

When we focus on integrating our work and home life, we must ensure all other aspects of life such as our health and wellbeing are also being kept in check! Here are some pratical strategies to enhance our wellbeing.

1. Exercise regularly

Exercise increases energy levels, improves memory and concentration and helps you sleep better. Make sure you take time out of your day to exercise whether it be before, during or after work, remembering that integrating work and life means taking time to reenergise yourself and then be more focused and productive.

2. Practise mindfulness

Take ten minutes a day to practise mindfulness, whether it be on the bus to work, as a break from work during the day or right before you go to bed. Often at work we ‘tune out’ when engaging in simple, repetitive tasks and mindfulness helps us to ‘tune in’.

3. Remember to breathe

Did you know that breathing correctly gets rid of 70% of the stress hormone cortisol from our body, yet most of us don’t breathe correctly? Breathing techniques are highly effective for generating feelings of instantaneous calm. They are very adaptable and can be used anywhere and at any time, such as when walking, in meetings, when travelling and at home.

4. Get a good night’s sleep

Sleep is one of the most important pieces to the work-life integration puzzle. Without good sleep, our bodies cannot function properly and are more susceptible to burn out in both work and life. Try creating a routine before bed, avoiding sugar at night, turning off electronic devices one hour before bed and trying some breathing and relaxation techniques.

5. Drink more water

Lack of water is the #1 trigger of daytime fatigue. Increasing your water intake will improve your alertness and energy levels. Get a water bottle, drink water throughout the day. You can even use it as an excuse for a break to get up and stretch your legs when you need to refill your bottle.

In light of International Women’s Day, take a step back and think about your work-life situation. In order to overcome the stereotypical challenge of the ‘work-life balance’ for women, it is vital that you define what balance looks like for you personally and what you want it to be as well. It is important to remember that you need to seek it out for yourself as unfortunately it’s not as simple as it being provided to you. Focus on integrating your work and life commitments, but do not forget the importance of good wellbeing as a fundamental piece to the work-life integration strategy.

By Rachel Clements - Director of Psychological Services at The Centre for Corporate Health

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