Balancing your professional life with your personal life is often far from easy. In today's "always-on" culture, it's tempting to answer every phone call or email sent your way – even during off-hours.
While it's nice to connect with your work contacts from anywhere at any time, it shouldn't take time away from family, friends or yourself. However, it can feel nearly impossible – and downright uncomfortable or rude – to ignore work-related messages.
This is a slippery slope into what many call "workaholism." Not setting clear boundaries between work and your personal life can lead to burnout, hindering your performance and limiting your energy and passion. That's why maintaining a healthy work-life balance is critical to success and happiness.
According to Dr. Joanie Connell, psychologist and founder of Flexible Work Solutions, work-life balance is managing responsibilities from both work and life in a healthy, productive way.
"From an individual's point of view, it means having a job that meets personal demands and having personal demands that don't interfere with work demands," she said.
Why is work-life balance important?
Finding a happy medium is crucial to ensuring success in all areas of your life. You don't want to neglect your career, but chasing your professional dreams shouldn't cost you your health and/or family. When you learn to balance both, you're able to truly show up for your life – in every way possible.
Connell added that lacking this balance as an employee can lead to health issues like colds and flu due to a compromised immune system, irritability, depression, headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, infertility, and heart disease. It can also contribute to failed relationships, divorce and estrangement from family members.
Do you have the right work-life balance?
Of course, both life and work can be hectic at times, and a little stress now and then is normal. But how do you know when it's gone too far? Take Connell's quiz to find out if you're achieving a healthy work-life balance or if your job (or your personal life) is taking over.
Answer true or false to the following questions and use Connell's scoring guide below to see where you stand.
- My life and work demands often interfere with each other.
- Someone else has control over my work schedule.
- It's a struggle to get time off from work when I need to.
- I spend a lot of time responding to personal emails and phone calls when I am at work.
- I don't have time to exercise at least three times a week.
- I have had to give up most of my hobbies.
- I sleep less than eight hours per night on a regular basis.
- I have frequent headaches and/or stomachaches.
- I catch myself making mistakes on the job often.
- It is important to check my phone and email when I leave work.
- It is hard to shift my focus of attention to the issue at hand.
- I find myself worrying a lot about how I'll get everything done.
- I work more than 40 hours a week.
- It's hard not to be irritable and lose my temper.
- I don't have enough time to relax.
- I frequently have to deal with work emergencies when I am not there.
- I am tired all the time.
- My family and friends are routinely upset at me for not being available to them.
- I am often needed outside of work during work hours.
- I drink more than 3 cups or shots of caffeinated drinks per day.
If you answered …
Mostly true: You are in serious danger of incurring a stress-related illness or injury, having a major personal problem or endangering your job. You're taking on too much and need more support either at work or at home, or both. Act now. Even if you can sustain highly stressful situations for a period of time, over the long term, you could cause irreversible damage to your health.
Equally true and false: You may be at risk of burning the candle at both ends. Examine your commitments, responsibilities and level of control over your life. There may be one or two simple tweaks you can make to reduce work/life conflicts, or it might be that a significant change is necessary. In either case, consider how you can take better care of yourself.
Mostly false: You have a good fit for work and life demands. You take care of yourself. You're at low risk of burnout and are a good role model of work-life balance for others.
How can you achieve a healthy work-life balance?
If you struggle to find a happy medium between your work life and personal life, don't fret: There are many ways to improve your work-life balance. First and foremost, working at a job you like can do wonders, both inside and outside of the office. Work is work; even the most glamorous jobs are taxing at times. However, it's easier to find happiness in a career you're passionate about.
Above all, prioritize your health. If you need to use a sick day, take advantage of those allotted to you. If you think therapy would benefit you, fit sessions into your schedule. If you're battling a chronic illness that might impact your performance, have a discussion with a trusted manager. Your work will suffer if your health is suffering – your main "job" is to take care of yourself.
Additionally, find time to unplug on off-hours, take vacations, and set boundaries so you can be present for your loved ones.
How do you plan work-life balance?
Achieving a work-life balance requires commitment on your end. To ensure you're sticking with your original plan and intentions, consider having a separate phone/computer for work-related information and adhere to specific "work hours" so you're not responding to emails or phone calls all day, every day. Additionally, set boundaries ahead of time and speak with your colleagues. You can set away messages or reply to your boss that you're off/unavailable for the day.
It's also helpful to set goals (personal and professional) so you're using your time efficiently. Take note of when you're the most productive during work hours and dedicate that time frame to completing tasks and working toward your objectives. And when you are outside of the office, pursue the passions you've put off, whether it's traveling or simply relaxing at home.
Sammi Caramela also contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.