How to Balance Work and Home Life

What can you do to perform well at your job and raise a family at the same time? See more parenting pictures.

Sometimes, what's supposed to make our lives more enjoyable actually becomes a source of stress. Technology's supposed to save time and money, but the incessant chimes, pings and alerts of phones and computers can cost us our sanity. Searching for time to schedule leisure activities makes them feel like just another chore. And when you're a working parent, sometimes it's harder to figure out who's the tougher boss: your actual boss or your kids.

Feeling overworked is a recognized psychological state that's usually acute (intense but temporary) instead of chronic (persisting) [source: Families and Work Institute]. The working world has changed, and in a tougher global economy, people feel pressure to work harder to prevent their jobs from being outsourced or eliminated entirely. Companies cut back on nonessentials. Managers and bosses turn up the heat accordingly. They might expect workers to be available anywhere and anytime, thanks to technology. Even though it enables international communication and can be a great time saver, in some fields technology also necessitates around-the-clock access.

Advertisement

The good news is that there are strategies to reclaim control. Creating a good work-life balance enables you to focus on yourselfand your relationships. If you make the time to take better care of yourself, you can work healthier habits into your lifestyle. Imagine how much more relaxed and in control you'd feel if you enjoyed your favorite form of exercise a few times a week and ate healthier meals. More sleep might seem like an unaffordable luxury, but it'll help maintain your health, and you'll have more energy.

Achieving a balance between work and home life takes effort, so you have to be willing to work toward it. Keep in mind as you read that it doesn't mean you can attain perfection; rather than finding time to squeeze in more, your goal should actually be trying to tackle less. To get the most from this article, it's important to realize you can't do it all. Focus on what you must accomplish at work and what you can reasonably do at home. Read on to discover how you can begin.

How Work Affects Parenting

"There's no such thing as work-life balance," declared Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. His audience, the Society for Human Resource Management, heard why it's nearly impossible to raise a family and also have a successful, executive-level career [source: Tuna, Lublin].

Welch's speech was in June 2009. Since then, thousands of Americans have lost their jobs or have worried about the possibility of being unemployed [source: Goldman]. Providing in tough times is difficult, but it's no less important to maintain some semblance of personal fulfillment. According to the Mayo Clinic, dual-career couples are increasingly common, which complicates making and keeping commitments outside of work [source: Mayo Clinic]. It also means that in households with children, both working parents feel the pressure of working full time while trying to raise a family [source: University of Chicago News Office].

Advertisement

When women choose to have children, they might be burdened by the perception that they're less dedicated to work. Even though maternity leave is federally protected, taking time off to spend with a new baby can hurt a mother's career [source: FamilyEducation.com]. Depending on the workplace culture, subjective factors like visibility -- how you're seen and perceived around the office -- can be as important as objective performance factors. As Welch said, you're unlikely to be promoted if you're "not there in the clutch" [source: Tuna, Lublin].

University of Chicago researchers found that it hurts both parent and child when they can't spend as much time together as they used to, especially if it creates a feeling of estrangement or neglect from the child's perspective. If parents are stressed out, exhausted or upset when they come home after a long day, children might feel responsible, and the parents' negative emotions cause a trickle-down effect. However, research showed that mothers reduced stress by spending time with their families, and fathers who spent a lot of time with their children were less likely to let work troubles encroach on family time [source: University of Chicago News Office]. Whatever you do, don't allow yourself to feel guilty for being a working parent and having a family.

Keep in mind that, even if your kids are your biggest concern, you still have to take care of No. 1 -- yourself. On the next page, we'll discuss how your work-life balance affects your well-being.

The Effects of Being Overworked

Even if your work doesn't take you away from home excessively, the stress from being overworked can affect how you interact with people. You'll have less time to develop relationships with your friends, partner and, as we've already discussed, kids. With children, you should be available to them and provide guidance. It's also important to understand and acknowledge the effects unhealthy relationships will have on you, though, and you deserve some time to yourself every now and then [source: Weiss].

When you have less time for yourself, it increases the tendency to neglect healthy activities like exercise and sleep. If you have to juggle other commitments in order to schedule time for your hobbies, you'll probably enjoy it less, and it may even cause you additional stress. One way around this is to think of your private time as a relationship and treat it as you would treat your other relationships [source: Rauh].

Advertisement

The Families and Work Institute study reported that people who feel overworked are more likely to resent co-workers and much more likely to resent their companies [source: Families and Work Institute]. If all you can think about is what you'd rather be doing, the work won't seem fulfilling and you'll be less motivated to move up in the company or take on new challenges. These mental burdens will probably show in your attitude, which can hold you back or even lead to unemployment.

Studies show that tired, stressed employees are less productive, have higher health care costs, and jeopardize workplace safety [source: Families and Work Institute]. The good news, however, is that there are companies who recognize the solid investment of treating their employees well. Several magazines and Web sites rank companies based on submissions from human resources departments and nominations from happy workers. We've outlined some of the benefits here, especially those most relevant to working parent families, and you can search online based on your priorities, including industry, location, and specific perks.

Ready to make some changes? On the next page, we'll discuss strategies to begin the balancing act.

Tips for Balancing Work and Home Life

To get started, keep track of your schedule for a week. Then, analyze it and cut out unfulfilling, time-consuming activities. This is the time to figure out your obligations and define your other priorities [source: Mayo Clinic]. Be honest with yourself, and figure out what your priorities actually are, not what you think they should be. Shedding baggage is difficult, but experts agree it can be done.

Even if you become a model of efficiency, you've got to cope with disruptions and distractions, especially if you're a working parent. Since you've got all this newfound time, others will think you can organize the school bake sale or run the holiday party committee. Learn to say no, politely but firmly, and don't let yourself get roped into extra projects that you aren't interested in or that aren't necessary. Your time is precious. Don't let others steal it from you.

Advertisement

If you feel like you spend all your time cleaning whenever you're home, consider lowering your expectations a little:

  • Learn to ignore minor messes that aren't a health or safety hazard.
  • Practice communicating clearly. You'll save time if you give and receive accurate instructions and tasks are done correctly the first time.
  • Don't fall prey to the myth that work performance is best measured by hours worked.
  • Recognize that a happier home life will result in you being more eager to take on work challenges which should give you the confidence to ask your boss about scheduling options.
  • Use your commute to mentally transition, defining the boundary between work and home.
  • Turn off your phone and computer, and put off work-related problems until tomorrow.
  • Plan a little daily time to unwind, and set aside time every week for a favorite activity. Focus on communicating with yourself, your friends and your family. When you develop relationships with your circle, you can lean on them for help -- and, of course, reciprocate in kind during their tough times. To get that all-important private time, try trading babysitting duties with friends and neighbors to get a night off and reduce the costs of child care [source: Rauh].

Are you committed to the challenge of finding balance? Take the next steps with the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Birger, Jon. "Patricia Woertz, the Outsider." Fortune Magazine. Oct. 2, 2006. (March 9, 2010)http://money.cnn.com/2006/09/29/magazines/fortune/mpw.woertz.fortune/index.htm
  • FamilyEducation.com. "The Law and Maternity Leave." (March 8, 2010)http://life.familyeducation.com/maternity-leave/pregnancy/57441.html
  • Families and Work Institute. "Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much." 2001. (March 8, 2010)http://www.familiesandwork.org/site/research/summary/feelingoverworkedsumm.pdf
  • Fortune Magazine. "100 Best Companies to Work For 2009." (March 6, 2010)http://www.fortune.com/bestcompanies
  • Frankel, Lois, Ph.D. "Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office." Time Warner Book Group. 2004.
  • Goldman, David. "Jobs Report Shows Unemployment Unchanged." CNN Money. March 5, 2010. (March 9, 2010)http://money.cnn.com/2010/03/05/news/economy/jobs_february/index.htm
  • Mayo Clinic. "Work-life balance: Ways to restore harmony and reduce stress." May 31, 2008. (March 1, 2010)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/work-life-balance/WL00056
  • Rauh, Sherry. "5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance." WebMD. Nov. 6, 2007. (March 1, 2010)http://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/5-strategies-for-life-balance
  • Tuna, Cari and Joann S. Lublin. "Welch: 'No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance." Wall Street Journal. July 14, 2009. (March 1, 2010)http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124726415198325373.html
  • The University of Chicago News Office. "Parents Can Learn How to Balance Work and Family." Jan. 31, 2006. (March 8, 2010)http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/06/060131.family.shtml
  • Weiss, Tara. "Basic Steps Toward Work-Life Balance." Forbes. March 17, 2009. (March 1, 2010)http://www.forbes.com/2009/03/18/work-life-balance-leadership-careers-basics.html
  • Working Mother. "100 Best Companies 2009." (March 5, 2010)http://www.workingmother.com/BestCompanies/work-life-balance/2009/08/working-mother-100-best-companies-2009