Which work life balance model is right for you?

The importance of maintaining a work life balance might be one of the biggest imperatives of the modern-day workplace, but it can also be a blind spot in the way we perceive our professional and recreational selves. Knowing which work life balance model suits your career can ensure you enjoy both sides of the coin.

A lack of work life balance can affect everything from wellbeing and productivity to personal relationships. It’s also difficult to take a one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, someone employed in the financial-services sector might be faced with simpler professional demands than an entrepreneur who’s forced to work evenings and weekends. If you want to solve the work life balance puzzle, it’s important to embrace a strategy that’s right for you.

Three major work life balance models include:

  • The traditional model.
  • The unbalanced model.
  • The work life alignment.

1. The traditional model

The traditional work life balance model revolves around segregating your professional and personal lives into strict and specific quadrants so that the two do not overlap. For example, workers in a nine-to-five job do not attend to work-related issues when off the clock. At 5pm, the work phone goes off and the email out-of-office goes on and is not touched until 9am the next morning. Indeed, a November 2014 study by the Australia Institute revealed that one in 10 Australians felt their work life balance was deteriorating. And, 46 percent of those surveyed also revealed that their employers expected them to work longer hours. Indeed, the average full-time worker is clocking six hours in unpaid overtime each week. For these 'overworked' employees, there are certainly benefits in switching off at 5pm. That said, while in theory this model appears to be the most desirable and manageable, there are some flaws in applying it to practice.

The traditional understanding of work life balance as stated above assumes that work is a constant source of stress, that employees dread Monday mornings and despise the kind of work they do. The reality is this is not always the case, and one could even suggest that such sentiments are nothing more than a cliché. Many people actually enjoy their professional lives and love going to work. They do not view their work as a negative element in their lives. Likewise, the traditional work life balance model prioritises leisure activities and time spent with family and friends, while putting a low premium on job satisfaction and the potential rewards of a meaningful career. For some workers, their career could be the most rewarding part of their lives. Encouraging them to spend time away from the work they enjoy for the sake of work life balance could be more disruptive in their lives than the model intends.

2. The unbalanced model

In August 2007, Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, warned against expecting “work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should.” The unbalanced model – which is often championed by self-employed professionals such as entrepreneurs, computer programmers and graphic designers – sees no issue with working punishing hours, skipping social activities to beat deadlines and responding to work-related emails on their odd weekend off. Those who subscribe to the unbalanced model might be highly driven and obsessed with their vocation, but their behaviours often come at the expense of their relationships, development and personal lives. But whether it’s outsourcing tasks, prioritising more effectively or taking the occasional vacation, transferring energy into non-work pursuits can help chronic overachievers avoid exhaustion and burnout.

3. The work life alignment

Work life alignment, a model based on the idea that life is one entity and that separating work and life can sometimes feel counterproductive, is a useful way of reconciling your professional and personal needs. This model highlights the importance of clear work and rest cycles, but also addresses the idea that workers should feel free to harness their productivity in a manner that works for them. Those who have mastered work life alignment enjoy unwinding with their family and friends, but they’re also passionate and motivated when it comes to their career and believe that their purpose lines up with their professional goals. Importantly, the time they invest in their personal life helps them approach the work they do with renewed passion, energy and vigour.

Achieving a healthy work life balance means constantly assessing your professional and personal needs. But by examining your working patterns and adopting a model that reflects a clear purpose, you’re better placed to create a life with space for downtime – as well as a career with meaning.

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