I wrote earlier about just how far we should expect an employer to bend when dealing with work/life balance issues. The point of that piece was that while an employer may be willing to help you balance your work and home lives, they are not obligated to do so. Their only obligation is to the business. As such, it’s up to the employees to craft an approach to work/life balance that is healthy for them.
This isn’t easy to do. If it were, everyone would be living happily ever after, getting everything done, and tending to all the important matters. But while it’s not easy, there are ways to define and enforce clear boundaries between work and life, between your family’s needs and your employers’ needs.
Buy Your Freedom
The most important thing you can do to improve your work/life balance is to save money. The more money you have stashed away, the better able you are to react to life’s crises. Having a large emergency fund means that you can pay for someone else to care for a family member while you work. It means that you can walk away from a bad job or offer to take an unpaid leave of absence while you deal with your family issues. It means that you may be able to work part-time, either permanently or temporarily. Money is freedom and the more you have, the freer you can be to pursue those family moments that are most important to you.
Needs, Wants, Expectations
Define in advance what is and is not acceptable to you. The clearer you are about your needs, wants, and expectations, the better off you are. You can tell your employer straight up, “This is what I need.” They may not like it, but it’s better to be honest than to try and hide your issues. The more honest you are, the more likely you are to find help. At the very least, you give the employer and yourself a chance to find a better match job-wise if your needs cannot be accommodated.
You can also just keep your needs clear inside your head so that you know exactly when some boundary has been crossed. If, for example, you refuse to work past six o’clock (and this has been okay with your employer until now) because it gets you home too late to spend time with your kids and you find yourself working past six for several months in a row, you’ll know that it’s time to do or say something. When you’re clear about what’s important to you and what’s not, it’s much easier to know when to make a change.
Focus On More Than Money
We all need money, thus jobs of some sort. But that job doesn’t have to mean eighty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year. Chances are that you can find work that allows you to spend more time meeting your non-working obligations and desires. Ask yourself what’s really important to you: The money or the time with family/time spent pursuing your interests. If it’s family and time, you may have to make a choice to step back/down and do something else. It may mean sacrificing that nice car or big house but again, you have to ask yourself which is most important.
Be Willing To Change
If your life issues are such that your current employer cannot accommodate you, you have to be willing to change. That may mean finding a new job, changing careers entirely, or figuring out how to do what you want to do on a freelance basis from home. You have to be willing to look for options that better suit your needs.
These aren’t simple solutions. It’s not like you can wave a magic wand and make your employer help you or resolve your family issues. You have to be willing to change your life, sometimes drastically. You have to be willing to save and build the kind of emergency fund that can create opportunities and freedom for you. You may have to be willing to walk away from a job or even a career. If, though, you decide that you need a healthier, more balanced approach to work and life, it may be worth it.
(Photo courtesy of akeg)