Often, work takes precedence over everything else in our lives. Our desire to succeed professionally can push us to set aside our own well-being. Creating a harmonious work-life balance or work-life integration is critical, though, to improve not only our physical, emotional and mental well-being, but also to succeed in our career.
In short, work-life balance is the state of equilibrium where a person equally prioritizes the demands of one’s career and the demands of one’s personal life. Many people seek work-life balance, but it’s not always easy to achieve. Some of the common reasons that lead to a poor work-life balance include:
It’s important to work toward reaching and maintaining a healthy equilibrium between your personal and professional life. A good work-life balance, said Chris Chancey, career expert and CEO of Amplio Recruiting, has numerous positive effects, including stress reduction, a lower risk of burnout and a greater sense of well-being. This benefits both employees and employers.
“Employers who are committed to providing environments that support work-life balance for their employees can save on costs, experience fewer cases of absenteeism, and enjoy a more loyal and productive workforce,” said Chancey. Employers that offer options such as telecommuting or flexible work schedules can help employees have a better work-life balance.
Improving your work-life balance means making an effort to find the best way to spend your time so you thrive at the office and at home.
When creating a schedule that works for you, think about the best way to achieve balance at work and in your personal life. Chancey said that work-life balance is less about dividing the hours in your day evenly between work and personal life and more about having the flexibility to get things done in your professional life while still having time and energy to enjoy your personal life. There may be some days where you work longer hours so you have time later in the week to enjoy other activities.
Here are eight tips for creating a better work-life balance.
When you hear “work-life balance,” you probably imagine having an extremely productive day at work, and leaving early to spend the other half of the day with friends and family. While this may seem ideal, it is not always possible.
Don’t strive for the perfect schedule; strive for a realistic one. Some days, you might focus more on work, while other days you might have more time and energy to pursue your hobbies or spend time with your loved ones. Balance is achieved over time, not each day.
“It is important to remain fluid and constantly assess where you are [versus] your goals and priorities,” said Heather Monahan, bestselling author and founder of the career mentoring group Boss In Heels. “At times, your children may need you, and other times, you may need to travel for work, but allowing yourself to remain open to redirecting and assessing your needs on any day is key in finding balance.”
Although work is an expected societal norm, your career shouldn’t be miserable. If you hate what you do, you aren’t going to be happy, plain and simple. You don’t need to love every aspect of your job, but it needs to be exciting enough that you don’t dread getting out of bed every morning.
Monahan recommended finding a job that you are so passionate about you would do it for free. “If your job is draining you and you are finding it difficult to do the things you love outside of work, something is wrong,” said Monahan. “You may be working in a toxic environment, for a toxic person, or doing a job that you truly don’t love. If this is the case, it is time to find a new job.”
Doing what you love for a living can make a huge difference when it comes to work-life balance. Read our guide on choosing the best job for you to find a fulfilling career that motivates you and allows you to be a well-rounded individual.
Your overall physical, emotional and mental health should be your main concern. If you struggle with anxiety or depression and think therapy would benefit you, fit those sessions into your schedule, even if you have to leave work early or ditch your evening spin class. If you are battling a chronic illness, don’t be afraid to call in sick on rough days. Overworking yourself prevents you from getting better, possibly causing you to take more days off in the future.
“Prioritizing your health first and foremost will make you a better employee and person,” said Monahan. “You will miss less work, and when you are there, you will be happier and more productive.”
Prioritizing your health doesn’t have to consist of radical or extreme activities. It can be as simple as daily meditation or exercise.
Cutting ties with the outside world from time to time allows us to recover from weekly stress and gives us space for other thoughts and ideas to emerge. Unplugging can mean something simple like practicing transit meditation on your daily commute instead of checking work emails.
Monahan said when she used to travel with her boss for work, she’d look over to find him reading a novel while she would be doing something work-related.
“I didn’t understand at the time that he was giving himself a break and decompressing while I was leading myself to a potential burnout,” said Monahan.
Now, Monahan practices the same tactics. She reiterated that taking a break to unwind is critical to success and will help you feel more energized and productive when you’re on the clock.
Sometimes, truly unplugging means taking vacation time and shutting off work completely for a while. Whether your vacation consists of a one-day staycation or a two-week trip to Bali, it’s important to take time off to physically and mentally recharge.
According to a State of American Vacation study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, 55 percent of employees reported having unused vacation days left over at the end of the year. Employees are often worried that taking time off will disrupt the workflow, and they will be met with a backlog of work when they return. This fear should not restrict you from taking a much-needed break.
“The truth is, there is no nobility in not taking well-deserved time away from work; the benefits of taking a day off far outweigh the downsides,” said Chancey. “With proper planning, you can take time away without worrying about burdening your colleagues or contending with a huge workload when you return.”
While your job is important, it shouldn’t be your entire life. You were an individual before taking this position, and you should prioritize the activities or hobbies that make you happy. Chancey said that achieving work-life balance requires deliberate action.
“If you do not firmly plan for personal time, you will never have time to do other things outside of work,” said Chancey. “No matter how hectic your schedule might be, you ultimately have control of your time and life.”
When planning time with your loved ones, create a calendar for romantic and family dates. It may seem weird to plan one-on-one time with someone you live with, but it will ensure that you spend quality time with them without work-life conflict. Just because work keeps you busy doesn’t mean you should neglect personal relationships.
“Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do,” said Monahan. “Also [remember] that everyone is replaceable at work, and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone.”
Set boundaries for yourself and your colleagues to avoid burnout. When you leave the office, avoid thinking about upcoming projects or answering company emails. Consider having a separate computer or phone for work so you can shut it off when you clock out. If that isn’t possible, use separate browsers, emails or filters for your work and personal platforms.
Additionally, Chancey recommended setting specific work hours. “Whether you work away from home or at home, it is important to determine when you will work and when you will stop working; otherwise, you might find yourself answering work-related emails late at night, during vacations or on weekends off,” said Chancey.
Chancey advised notifying team members and your manager about boundaries beyond which you cannot be accessible because you are engaged in personal activities. This will help to ensure that they understand and respect your workplace limits and that they don’t create unrealistic expectations.
Set achievable goals by implementing time-management strategies, analyzing your to-do list and cutting out tasks that have little value.
Pay attention to when your most productive work time is, and block that time off for your most important work-related activities. Avoid checking your emails and phone every few minutes, as those are major time-wasting tasks that derail your attention and productivity. Structuring your day can increase productivity at work, which can result in more free time to relax outside of work.
Those who do maintain a successful balance between their professional and personal lives often point to their flexible work arrangements. Recent research found that over the past several years, many employers have allowed workers greater flexibility both with their schedule and where they work, a trend that has increased following the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is clear that employers continue to struggle with fewer resources for benefits that incur a direct cost,” said Ken Matos, global director of customer people science at Culture Amp. “However, they have made it a priority to grant employees access to a wider variety of benefits that fit their individual and family needs and that improve their health and well-being.”
Flexibility can pay off for employers in the long run. “As we look ahead, it is clear that in order to remain competitive, employers must find ways to offer flexible work options if they want to attract and retain top talent,” said Hank Jackson, former president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.
“Work-life balance will mean different things to different people because, after all, we all have different life commitments,” said Chancey. “In our always-on world, balance is a very personal thing, and only you can decide the lifestyle that suits you best.”
The key is finding a flexible arrangement that works for your own individual needs. A FlexJobs study found that 87 percent of employees said that being given the option of working from home positively affected their work-life balance.
Beyond working remotely, other options such as flex time, mental health days, reduced hours or a compressed work schedule might be appropriate. Figure out what will best help and communicate your needs to your employer.
If you want better work-life balance, you need flexibility in your job. What this looks like is different for everyone, so it’s important to know what your needs are and try to find a job that can meet them. Not sure where to start? Read our guide to the 20 best jobs for flexibility.
The goal of a healthy work-life balance is to succeed at work and at the same time lead a fulfilling personal life. If an imbalance exists and too much of your time and energy is devoted to work, it will lead to negative consequences in almost every area of your life.
Here are some reasons why it is important to achieve a good work-life balance.
Stress in the workplace is unavoidable, but if you are dedicating too much time to work and don’t have enough time to unwind, stress can become unmanageable, negatively affecting your mental health. And, if you are overwhelmed at work, you probably don’t have enough time to deal with your responsibilities at home, which only exacerbates the problem.
A Mental Health America and FlexJobs study found that 76 percent of people said workplace stress negatively impacts their mental health, leading to challenges like depression and anxiety. But they found that having flexible work options, an indicator of good work-life balance, results in employees reporting better mental health. In fact, those who don’t have flexibility were twice as likely to say that they have poor mental health.
Apart from impacting mental health, the stress caused by a work-life imbalance can also lead to a variety of physical health issues. A CDC report on stress at work notes that demanding jobs can result in a host of problems, such as cardiovascular disease as well as musculoskeletal and psychological disorders. The report also notes that there is some evidence that work-related stress might be a factor in ulcers, cancer and impaired immune function.
A healthy work-life balance not only reduces stress, which can help prevent disease, but it also allows you to prioritize your health by making time to exercise and eat a healthy diet.
A poor work-life balance has serious consequences for your health, but spending too much time and energy on work can actually negatively affect your work performance. Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work report noted that, due to stress and other work-related mental health issues, employees are only performing at around 72 percent of their full capacity. On top of that, they are missing around eight days of work a year because of mental health issues.
But, a 2021 study in the Kansas Journal of Medicine found that employer efforts to reduce stress and increase employee psychological well-being lead to higher performance. Since working overtime won’t make you more productive, it’s important to focus on how you work, not how many hours you spend. Working with your employer to find flexible arrangements that allow for a better work-life balance will help make you a more productive and more valuable employee.
A 2023 Gallup report shows that 77 percent of employees are not engaged at work, leading to high costs for the company and increased stress for employees. In fact, employee engagement has 3.8 times more influence on stress than location (remote or office). Finding ways to become more engaged at work can reduce stress and help improve work-life balance.
It may seem obvious, but a work-life imbalance will cause problems outside of the workplace. A recent UKG survey noted that 71 percent of people said that work stress affects their home life and 62 percent said it negatively impacts their relationships. If you are stressed by work and spending too much time on it, you won’t have the adequate time or emotional capacity to dedicate to your loved ones.
Finding a positive work-life balance will allow you to spend time with the people you care about. And not being overwhelmed by work means you’ll be able to fully be present in the moment and enjoy that time with friends and family. The goal is to be more than just a good employee; it is to be a well-rounded individual with an enriching life in and out of the workplace.
None of us is superhuman, and giving 200 percent at work will result in slip-ups in other areas of our lives. Of course, succeeding at work is important, but we’ve got only one life to live. We shouldn’t sacrifice our personal lives or our health to get ahead professionally. [Read related article: Are You Ready For a Four-Day Workweek?]
Achieving a healthy work-life balance is key to being a well-rounded individual who thrives at home and in the office. But that takes work, and the right equilibrium looks different for everyone. It could mean taking a break, arranging a flexible schedule with your employer or finding an entirely new job that fits your needs. Reflect upon what you need to have better work-life balance, then take action to make it happen.
Tom Anziano contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.