Finding the Elusive Work-Life Balance

Posted May 20, 2013 by
The words Work and Life on a seesaw

The words Work and Life on a seesaw. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Whether it applies to their diets, checkbooks or personalities, it seems people are always trying to achieve balance. However, in recent years working professionals may be placing an increased emphasis on establishing a work-life balance – effectively juggling career, family and personal responsibilities in order to reduce stress and increase job satisfaction.

A recent study by Accenture – the Defining Success report – surveyed 4,100 business executives from medium to large companies in 33 countries across the globe. More than half of respondents (52 percent) said that they had rejected a job at some point in their career because of concerns about the effect it would have on their work-life balance. The study also found that 70 percent of workers felt they could “have it all” by combining a successful career with a happy personal life.

What exactly constitutes a successful career? According to the study, 56 percent of respondents defined work-life balance as the most important component of career success. This trumped other factors defining success, including money (46 percent), autonomy (42 percent) and recognition (42 percent). Essentially, workers in this study indicated that professional success largely depends on finding a balance that allows them to meet career demands while tending to personal needs.

Work-life balance even harder with kids

Of course, finding that balance is easier said than done, and this may be especially for those with children. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center survey showed that 56 percent of working moms and 50 percent of working dads said they found it very or somewhat difficult to balance work and family responsibilities. The survey of 2,511 adults nationwide with children under the age of 18 also found that 40 percent of working mothers and 34 percent of working fathers said they always felt rushed.

Since people are looking to establish a work-life balance, and parents are finding it difficult to maintain, it should come as no surprise that the nature of work is changing. In greater numbers than ever before, workers are transitioning to freelance or contract positions that allow for more flexible schedules. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track the number of freelance workers in its monthly surveys, but a 2010 study conducted by software company Intuit found that by 2020 more than 40 percent of the American workforce, or 60 million people, could be freelancers, contractors and temp workers.

Additionally, the study noted that entrepreneurship could be a major factor in the U.S. workforce moving forward. According to the report, by 2020 “small business numbers will increase, with the greatest growth found in personal and micro-businesses,” and full-time positions that provide full benefits could be harder to come by. While some of those business might be traditional in nature, operating out of local offices, the study indicated that the majority of them could be web or mobile-based, employing a global workforce.

While those estimates look to the freelancing future, it’s still business as usual here in 2013. Maybe you enjoy having a job with full benefits. And perhaps you do your best work in an office, surrounded by colleagues, rather than working from home. For those who opt for full-time rather than freelancing, increases in technology and flexible work options are helping people establish that work-life balance without resorting to tax form 1099.

Increased flexibility on the job helping employees find balance

According to the Accenture survey, 80 percent of individuals said that flexibility in their work schedule was very important, and 78 percent noted that smartphones, tablet computers and other devices had increased flexibility. At the same time, 70 percent of respondents said that technology brought work into their personal lives. Technology has enhanced the ability to work remotely, and that has led to a shift in some company policies regarding telecommuting and flexible scheduling.

A research study conducted by When Work Works, an initiative between the Families and Work Institute and the Society for Human Resource Management, found that in 2012 approximately 63 percent of employers allowed workers to work from home occasionally, compared to only 34 percent in 2005. The 2012 National Study of Employers was based on the responses of 1,126 employers with more than 50 employees.

In 2012, the study noted that employers were more likely to allow some groups of workers to have control over when they take breaks (93 percent), take time off for important family and personal needs without loss of pay (87 percent), and periodically change their starting and quitting times within some range of hours (77 percent). Those figures were up from 78 percent, 77 percent and 68 percent, respectively, in 2005.

Increasingly, employers are offering flex options that could allow employees to maintain a work-life balance. These options can include part-time arrangements that enable reduced hours or days per week, job-sharing structures that divide a full-time workload between two part-time employees, or fly-in fly-out methods that allow for the employment of workers in remote areas, Accenture notes.

It might not be as simple as balancing your meals or checking account, but establishing a work-life balance could lead to increased job satisfaction and personal fulfillment. As technology advances, workforce trends change, and workplace flexibility increases, it could become easier for people to effectively balance their career demands and individual priorities.

About the Author

Ryan Garner is a writer and editor whose work has been featured in the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Deseret Morning News. A graduate of the University of Utah, he enjoys hockey, golfing, and the fact that he no longer lives in Utah.

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