The Financial Times defines work life balance as "A situation in which you are able to give the right amount of time and effort to your work and to your personal life outside work". The definition makes some important points. Firstly, it describes a situation, rather than a more permanent state of affairs and one which will be unique and different for everyone, based on their own circumstances. Secondly, it alludes to the individual having an element of control over the situation by referring to the ability to give the right amount of time and effort to work and personal life. Feeling that we have an element of control over the circumstances of our life is a key determinant of whether or not we will feel the negative effects of stress and whether we can genuinely experience a sense of work life balance.
The reality is that we can always feel in control because we can consciously influence what we think. I say much more about this in my book "Fit For Business". It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have a mortgage to pay or a family to raise and this means that we have to work and live life in a particular way.
How Do You Know If Work And Life Are In Balance?
Feelings of negative stress are less prevalent and less likely to occur when work and life are in balance. This is effectively your own personal feedback mechanism for achieving balance but it's not entirely reliable because what might seem like a reasonable work life balance for one person may not seem like it to another. It's something to do with the boundary that we create between life and work and everyone constructs and puts this boundary in their own unique place. Work life balance certainly does not mean allocating an equal amount of time and effort to work and activities outside of work. Optimal work life balance will vary over time, depending on your specific work and life circumstances. The key question to ask yourself is "does my current work life balance situation create feelings of happiness?" If it does, then the chances are you are enjoying a semblance of balance.
Feedback from others is important too, particularly from work colleagues, family and friends. If your current situation is having a detrimental effect on relationships with colleagues, family or friends then it's likely that work and life are not in balance.
It can help to consider 4 key life quadrants in relation to work and life before examining how well these are balanced for you:
Consider how much time and effort is expended on each. As mentioned above, it won't be an equal split but needs to feel appropriate and that you are in control of the time and effort expended in the 4 life quadrants. In the same way that a feeling of being in control is a key determinant of whether we experience negative stress, a sense of being in control is the psychology of creating what feels like a healthy work life balance. The key word here is psychology because life clearly has an unpredictable element for us all; it's how we handle the uncertainty that makes the difference.