It’s not easy trying to find a balance between a working life and a personal life in a modern fast-paced world. And this becomes even more challenging for families who have to juggle relationship and parenting commitments.
There is the expectation to be on call 24/7 for work, unfinished reports to be completed at home, spouses who need shared intimacy time, children who need to be ferried to sporting events on weekends, family holidays to be organised, and the list goes on.
Work-life balance statistics
The latest work-life balance statistics reflect this growing concern. The 2012 Australian Work and Life Index reported that almost half of all Australian men and women reported feeling pressure related to balancing time between family and work, 52% of full-time women reported taking work home, and 70% of fathers felt they didn’t spend enough time with their children and wanted to work less.
Other studies have examined the negative effects of a poor work-life balance on families. A 2012 Safe Work Australia report found that overworked claimants complained of heightened anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, a greater incidence of physical health illnesses, and negative impacts on their relationships.
However, this stress also affects the health of children as the parents can return home feeling tired and ill-tempered.
A US study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development examined the fallout of parents spending less time with their children due to working long hours and found that the more time that children spent in child care, the more likely their sixth grade teachers were to report problem behaviour.
The message is clear. A poor work-life balance can have serious consequences on a family.
The following 10 tips may help your family achieve a happier and more meaningful work-life balance where the quality of your relationship is enhanced and your family ties are strengthened.
Top 10 tips for achieving a happy work-life balance:
1) Develop a couple mission statement
A hospice nurse wrote a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. One of the top regrets was, “I wish I’d spent more time with loved ones.”
No-one wished they had spent more time at the office, had bought a larger house full of all the latest gadgets, or had spent more time alone.
You have made the choice to be in a relationship with another person – what amount of time do you wish to spend together and how do you wish to spend that time? What ‘work-life balance’ do you both want? It may not be 50% work, 50% personal life. Together you may decide that a healthy and happy balance for your relationship is 70% work and 30% home, or 40% work and 60% home.
Once you decide upon a ratio then you can discuss how best to keep the two areas separate so as to maximise the quality of the time you spend together.
2) Renegotiate your work arrangements with your employer
Once you know exactly the type of life you want with your partner and where your priorities lie you can think about renegotiating your work arrangements with your employer.
Typical issues include reduced working hours, more flexible working hours such as working from home or working part-time, and leave options.
If your employer is amenable to changing your office hours great, if not at least you know where you stand and can begin thinking about whether your current job meets your needs.
3) Determine your family’s values
What values do you and your partner want your family to live by every day? This will determine where the family should be investing its energy and time.
If physical health is one of the family’s highest values then everyone should always be conscious of their food habits, their exercise regimes, and their sleep routines. If success through hard work is an important value then everyone should be encouraged to practise this whether through time spent at the office, school homework, or weekend tennis lessons.
Bear in mind that the family’s values will be tested, for example, when either parent has unusual work commitments or teenage children want to spend holidays with friends instead of their family. In such situations the family should reassess the relevance of the family values. Old values may be discarded and new ones chosen.
4) Emphasise good communication practices
At the heart of all healthy families and relationships are effective communication practices.
First, time has to be set aside for family members to talk. Obvious times are at the dinner table and when vacationing. But in between are numerous opportunities every day – when gardening, doing the dishes, walking the dog, helping with homework, replacing a faulty light bulb, picking up groceries – provided that family members are always encouraged to do things as a family.
Second, effective conversations skills need to be modelled by the parents including giving the speaker 100% attention, disabling and removing smartphones/tablets, direct eye contact, paraphrasing to gauge understanding, refusing to accept one-word answers or one-syllable grunts, appropriate body language, and gratitude for the person’s time for a face-to-face conversation.
5) Cultivate healthy lifestyle practices.
This should definitely be one of your family’s top values. Achieving individual goals as well as family goals all hinge upon each family member being physically healthy (if you doubt this, recall the last time someone became horribly ill).
Among the many physiological benefits, caring for one’s body will also boost self-confidence, improve resiliency, help one sleep better, and supply one with unlimited reserves of energy.
So encourage everyone to exercise regularly – sometimes exercise as a family, prepare healthy and nutritious meals containing a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, have each person drink plenty of water, and promote good sleep routines.
6) Cultivate the idea of your family being a team
If one of the goals for your family was to share things together then get into the habit of cultivating the family as a team.
This will strengthen family relationships, help reduce the time for completing jobs and projects around the home, and teach children the value of teamwork, one of the most highly prized values in the workplace today.
Consider placing a work schedule on the fridge where each family member’s responsibilities are clearly listed, everything from cooking duties, dog feeding duties, car cleaning, placing the rubbish bins out on the kerb, and household chores.
Everyone, no matter the age, has jobs to do as each person is a member of the team. Ensure task adherence by promoting family outings as a team reward.
7) Set rules for technology use at home
While the rise of Smartphones, tablets and laptops have been a blessing for helping people connect with distant friends and loved ones, they have been a curse by discouraging communication with people in our midst.
If one of your family’s values is open and respectful communication then I would encourage you to set boundaries for the use of these devices around the home.
Consider having a cut-off time for all devices during the evening, a rule that applies to parents as well as children. Also, tell your children that phones, laptops, and televisions are to be turned off during family meals or when visitors come to the home allowing quality conversation time and the strengthening of family ties.
8) Express gratitude
Gratitude is one of the kings of happiness. It reminds us about what we have, instead of what we don’t have.
We recognise our accomplishments, our life teachers, our supportive family and friends, our health, and our freedom to make choices and to change our life.
Parents can teach their children, through modelling, to thank all those people we come into contact each day that we sometimes forget to thank properly like the supermarket cashier, the bus driver, the police officer walking the beat, the receptionist at work, one’s siblings. Encourage family members over dinner to list some things that happened that day that they are thankful for.
9) Embrace downtime moments
We live in a culture that is becoming addicted to being busy and the belief that happiness is just around the corner. But happiness is now.
So encourage family members to learn to enjoy those unexpected lulls that pop up during the day instead of feeling the need to fill up these moments ‘catching up’ with text messages or phone calls. These moments are a wonderful opportunity to relax and calm oneself.
Practise mindful breathing or try mindful observation where you visually explore something outside the window such as a bird in the branches, the wind rustling leaves, or clouds skating across the sky.
10) Encourage single-tasking
Multitasking has been debunked as a myth.
Instead of increasing productivity it reduces our abilities to concentrate leading to a greater risk of work errors.
It’s also one of the primary reasons for miscommunication in relationships. The solution is to practise mindfulness where you free your mind of judgements and give your full attention to the present moment and the activity you are doing.
If you are reading a report, just read the report. If you are eating your lunch, use all your senses to enjoy every mouthful of your sandwich. If talking with your partner or son, give them 100% of your attention.
Hopefully these tips will help you to create a more balanced life with your family.
Do you have any other tips to add to this list? Please share in the comments below.