1. Be clear on what you’re striving for
According to Gallup (2012) the idea of work / life balance cropped up in the late 18th Century, when the industrial revolution drove a need for longer working hours, often up to 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Move on 50 years, and the sudden rise in research showing that long hours negatively impacts stress levels, health, work and family life, meant nations were encouraged to mandate 35 to 40 hour working weeks.
In this context, work / life balance demonstrates the time spent doing work or non-work related activities. And in OECD’s eyes, it is about finding a “suitable balance” between the two. What this means, on average across the globe, is spending 15 hours a day for yourself to sleep, eat, socialise, exercise and relax and nine hours a day working. Obviously the exact balance is dependent on the individual and their stage of life; and with new flexible working practices or what some call the blurred “home - work interface”, dividing these hours cleanly is increasingly complicated.
It’s important not to reduce the idea of work/life balance down to hours alone. If we do, the only solution to it is to get people to work more or less hours. In our experience, we also need to be aware of its limitation, which assumes that when we have non-work time we know what to do with it. Sadly this is far from reality and therefore poor work/life balance could in fact be viewed as the inability to rest, recover and restore ourselves in the time allowed.