The Importance of Work-Life Balance: How to Set Boundaries
Both work and home deserve your energy and attention.
Have you experienced "the tug?" When you're working, you worry about not getting out of the office in time to watch your son's baseball game. When you're out to dinner with friends or playing with your kids, you worry about the report you haven't started. You more than understand the importance of work-life balance, but actually achieving it seems next to impossible.
Work-life balance is not really about how many hours you spend at the office versus home. It's about knowing when it's time to work and when to turn off the laptop—no matter whether you're at your home office or in person. It's about learning how to set boundaries that work for your career and your home life. Although finding work-life balance doesn't always come naturally, you can develop healthy habits that will help you establish a routine that works for you.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
Work-life balance is a sense that you're able to meet your obligations at work and at home while having time to enjoy your hobbies and interests in your personal time. The perfect ratio of work to home looks different to everyone.
In the 1940s, when the average worker put in 100 hours each week, it meant amending the Fair Labor Standards Act to mandate a 40-hour workweek. In the 1980s, the importance of work-life balance was a platform of the Women's Liberation Movement, which advocated for flexible schedules to accommodate women working in the office while caring for children and the household in their "off-hours."
Nowadays, advice about how to balance work and life has centered on working fewer hours and keeping work and home separate. Despite this advice, Gallup polls show that the average workweek for full-time employees is 47 hours. And 39% of all employees report working from 50 to more than 60 hours a week.
The conversation about work-life balance changed when COVID-19 appeared on the scene, and 70% of the workforce began working from home. So much for "don't bring your work home." When you work from home, the boundaries between your professional and personal life can get blurred or completely overwritten. Your work laptop might stay on the kitchen table while you're eating dinner, or your smartphone might make you accessible to coworkers and managers 24/7.
The Importance of Work-Life Balance
Although work-life balance looks different to everyone, being on-call every evening and weekend for years is not sustainable. Having enough time for work and your personal life is essential for your well-being and can lead to a more fulfilling life, both at home and in the office. Some of the benefits of work-life balance are:
- Improved Physical Health: Spending too many hours working can lead to stress that weakens the immune system, giving way to frequent bouts of illness. A healthy work-life balance protects your health, which means you'll take fewer sick days and have more energy for your activities.
- Higher Productivity: Do you ever feel like you're working more but completing less? When you feel unbalanced, your mind can wander to the things you wish you were doing. When you feel you have time for both work and play, projects go smoothly because you can focus on one thing at a time.
- Career Advancement: If you're not getting projects completed on time, have mind-drift during meetings, and wake up dreading going to work, chances are you're not going to be the first person your boss thinks of when it's time for a raise or promotion. Making enough time for sleep and exercise helps you fully participate and be present at work to keep you on track for advancement.
- More Creativity: No matter what your line of work is, creativity is essential when you're solving problems. When your life is balanced, ideas flow more easily, and solutions to problems are more apparent.
- Happiness: It can be difficult to define what happiness is. But you sure know what it's like to be unhappy! Looking forward to work, taking on new projects with a "can-do" attitude, and simple contentment with the small things are signs of happiness.
How to Achieve a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is not about slicing up your day or week with equal time for work and personal life. As we've all experienced, special projects sometimes keep you in the office past 5 p.m. Or, your personal life can throw a monkey wrench into your workday when something unforeseen comes up—like a sick child.
There's no way to anticipate everything life will throw at you. And some days will always be more stressful than others. But even so, prioritizing work-life balance helps you to foster healthy habits that you can fall back on when times get tough.
Here are some ways to develop and use healthy work-life boundaries:
- Use Your PTO: You need to have a boundary between work time and time off. The U.S. Travel Association found that 55% of American workers did not use all of their paid vacation time—leaving 768 million days on the table. Whatever your excuse for not using PTO—worrying about returning to a large workload or being seen as replaceable—leave it at the office door. It's essential to take time off to recharge. And that means completely unplugging, not checking email and answering calls at the beach.
- Take Breaks During the Workday: Your brain needs a break. According to productivity app DeskTime, the most productive employees work for about 52 minutes, then take a 17-minute break. That short break allows your brain to disengage and refresh without losing focus. And when you know a break is coming up, you're more likely to be 100% engaged while working.
- Create Physical Boundaries: If you're working from home, you need boundaries between your workspace and your home space. Avoid working in spots specifically meant for other activities, including your bed or kitchen table. A guest room, enclosed porch, large laundry room, garden shed, or walk-in closet can help you focus on work.
- Find the Right Company Culture: If you find that despite your best attempts at communicating the importance of work-life balance, your workplace, manager, or coworkers are not respecting your boundaries, it might be time to look for a job with a flexible schedule, a remote workplace, or a company culture that respects employees' need to rest and recharge.
Find a Job that Respects the Importance of Work-Life Balance
At Monster, we believe the best job is one that fits your priorities. If you're looking for a flexible or remote position or one with a company that understands the importance of work-life balance, you've come to the right place. Start your search by creating a Monster profile that will put you in front of top recruiters and employers. It will also allow us to send you job leads and helpful career advice articles to help you find a job with the work-life balance you're looking for.