Woman sitting outside in a resort working on a laptop

There’s no such thing as work-life balance. But there are work-life boundaries.

Sheryl Sandberg has a strict policy of leaving the office at 5:30 pm each day to be with her family. She also believes, “there is no such thing as work-life balance. There’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no balance”.

 

The idea of work-life balance has caused much controversy over the years – is it just an elusive idea, or is it something we really can achieve? For me, it’s not necessarily about the balance between work and life (that implies that two are equal, distinct entities), but rather about boundary management.

 

We, as individuals, are exactly that – individual. Our personality, behavioural preferences, values and motivations are unique. And so, too, is our boundary management style. For instance, you might strive for a greater divide between your work and your personal life. Or you could prefer a blend between the two. Or perhaps you experience recurring patterns of separation and integration. (Kossek, 2016).

 

Advances in technology mean we can be “always on”

 

Whichever style relates most to you, you might agree that advances in technology have contributed to our lives in significant ways – and generally, for the better. We, as a society are “always on” and “connected”. The rise of mobile communication devices and social media has made our work more portable and accessible, so we are now able to work from anywhere, at any time. For the most part, this offers flexibility and convenience, however, it can also make managing our work-life boundaries more difficult than ever!

 

For those who strive for a divide between work and personal life, advances in technology might support us to structure our work schedules so that we can commit to both our work and personal demands as two separate domains. But, it might also make us feel that we are really at work, all day, every day, and even on weekends. For example, although you might keep our work and personal life distinct (as much as possible), you may experience a sense of guilt or pressure to check emails late at night.

 

For those that prefer a blend between the two, it may be exciting and invigorating to be able to work from anywhere at any time. We might choose to work intermittently during a holiday or choose a hobby that overlaps with our career. But this can become all too consuming at times too – we might feel depleted of energy and time, and it might keep us from the things we enjoy (other than work) and the people we care about most!

 

And for those that experience fluctuations between work and life demands, the experience might be mixed.

 

Managing boundaries means being more effective

 

When you manage your boundaries effectively (regardless of your own style), it can help you balance your career with your personal life demands, and can also help you be a more effective person, both personally and professionally. Effectively managing work-life boundaries can reduce stress, burnout, addictions, mood disorders and enhance physical and mental health (Kossek, 2016).

 

November 12-18 is National Psychology Week, “an annual initiative of the Australian Psychological Society that aims to increase public awareness of how psychology can help Australians lead healthier, happier and more meaningful lives”. And this year, the focus of National Psychology Week is ‘Thriving in the Digital Age’.

 

Think about your own boundaries and wellbeing

 

This week, I encourage you to take the opportunity to consider your own wellbeing – how can you thrive in this digital age? How effective is your work-life boundary management style in supporting your wellbeing?

 

To be able to answer this honestly and meaningfully, I invite you to consider the work of Martin Seligman, one of the world’s leading researchers in positive psychology and human flourishing. He suggests that wellbeing is cultivated by the presence of:

 

  1. Positive Emotion: a balance of positive emotion to foster resilience
  2. Engagement: the development and cultivation of our strengths
  3. Relationships: authentic, energising connections with others
  4. Meaning: establishing and living by a sense of purpose
  5. Accomplishment: the ability to do the things that matter most.

 

So, in this context, you could consider whether your work-life management style enables you to:

 

  1. Experience positive emotions to foster your resilience?
  2. Do the things you are good at and the things you enjoy most?
  3. Have authentic, energising connections and relationships with others?
  4. Live your purpose?
  5. Do the things that matter most?

 

And finally, you could also consider what’s happening around you:

 

  1. Have you been clear in communicating your style to your colleagues (and your family and friends too!)? Do they know how you prefer to work?
  2. Are you aware of the styles of those around you? If you are a leader, are you actively supporting these styles to facilitate an individual’s best work?
  3. What is the culture of your organisation regarding work-life boundary management?
  4. Does your organisations culture support or hinder your style?

 

By better understanding your own work-life boundary management styles and preferences, you can manage your boundaries more effectively and feel more productive, positive and fulfilled.

 

Reference

Kossek, E.E. (2016). Managing Work-Life Boundaries in the Digital Age. Organizational Dynamics, 45


About the Author

Kirsten ForgioneKirsten Forgione joined the Revelian team in Melbourne in 2014 on a one-year contract. She’s a registered psychologist with a Master of Psychology (Industrial and Organisational), who is deeply interested in the study of human behaviour at work.  She’s also committed to supporting organisations improve business performance and effectiveness through the assessment and development of organisations, individuals and teams.

 

We were thrilled when, in 2017, Kirsten returned to Revelian’s Melbourne team as a Consulting Psychologist, bringing her exceptional experience and commitment with her and helping our clients achieve excellent business outcomes.