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Achieving work life balance - is it even possible?

August 3, 2023

We’ve all heard of work life balance. And it’s probably something we all feel like we could do better at…

But why does it matter? Is work life balance really what you think it is? Is it even achievable in the modern world?

We’re about to dive in deep to all of those things - and our answers might surprise you… so buckle in!

Why does work life balance matter?

Achieving work life balance is one of the most talked-about topics in the business world. And for good reason.

There are thousands of studies on work life balance out there, but these statistics show just how much work life balance matters - both to employees and employers:

  • 88% of UK employees say they have experienced burnout in the last 2 years (a study by LumApps)
  • Two-thirds of employees believe work life balance is more important than pay (research by CIPHR)

The data is clear: work life balance matters to employees AND a lack of work life balance has a negative impact on employers too.

What is work life balance?

While self-report surveys about work life balance give us a good overall picture of the state of work life balance in the business world, they do have their limitations.

The biggest problem with these surveys is that ‘work life balance’ very often means something completely different to each individual person.

It’s tempting to think that work life balance is the pursuit of balancing work and life in a 50/50, always-equal sort of way. That the goal when seeking work life balance is an equal amount of time or effort spent on work and life.

That’s why a lot of work life balance advice will talk about setting boundaries, reducing workload and ring-fencing your personal life from your work life.

And that advice is often helpful, particularly for the workaholics among us.

But if we really want to talk about work life balance we have to acknowledge that there isn’t a single definition of what work life balance actually is.

It’s far more complicated than achieving a 50/50 work life split. It’s about where each of us finds fulfilment and purpose and meaning in our lives, not necessarily restricting our working hours and prioritising our personal lives.

While one person might find satisfaction in a 50/50 split, another might find more meaning in work than in personal pursuits. Work life balance has a completely different definition for those two people - and that’s why research that asks a simple ‘Do you feel you’ve achieved work life balance?’ question must be taken with a pinch of salt.

‘Balance’ doesn’t mean ‘giving equal time to all parts of your life’. ‘Balance’ means ‘finding fulfilment in the areas of life that matter most to you’.

Defining what work life balance means to YOU

So, if we can’t apply a blanket definition to work life balance, is it even possible to achieve it?

Yes, definitely!

But before you try to achieve work life balance you need to figure out what you’re aiming for. And that means digging into what work life balance looks like to you.

When we work with clients who are struggling with work life balance, this is often a stumbling block. If you’ve always assumed work life balance is a defined thing that’s the same for everyone, unpicking what it really means for you can feel daunting.

So if that’s you - here are two ways to start the process of figuring out what work life balance means to you.

Work life balance and values

If we’re taking an approach to work life balance that prioritises fulfilment and meaning over time spent in each area of your life, it’s clear we need to figure out what actually gives you meaning.

At KinchLyons, we use the Podium Drivers assessment to help coaching clients drill down into what drives them and what fulfils them. The Drivers assessment uses 8 categories to identify where your values lie:

  • Opportunity
  • Stimulation
  • Security
  • Purpose
  • Compensation
  • Technical Achievement
  • Autonomy
  • Authority
  • Work Life Balance

If, for example, you score highly in the Security category, you’re likely to be driven to find a job that gives you financial stability (i.e. a good salary) and confidence in being retained for a long period of time. Someone like this will find a role in a brand new start-up, for example, stressful - because the future is uncertain and there’s very little security available.

On the flip side, if someone scores lower in Security and highly in Stimulation, that uncertain start-up environment might be their dream job. The fast-paced nature of the role and the uncertainty gives a level of adrenaline that someone who values Stimulation would appreciate.

Coming back to work life balance, these 8 categories can help us to identify where your current life doesn’t meet your driving needs.

If you feel as though you aren’t fulfilled by your life as it is now, it’s likely you’ll be able to see areas of your Drivers results that aren’t lining up with reality. 

You might see high Autonomy results in your Drivers assessments, but be working in a very prescribed job role with little freedom to make your own decisions. This gives you two options: either find a new role that allows you to achieve the level of autonomy you desire, or, if moving roles isn’t feasible, search for more autonomy in your personal life.

When you approach work life balance from a position of values and drivers, it’s clear how achieving work life balance is less about time or effort spent on two different areas of your life (work and personal life), but rather it’s about using whichever areas of your life you can to find meaning and fulfilment, based on your driving values.

Using the Wheel Of Life to find your work life balance

If taking a psychometric assessment like Podium Drivers isn’t feasible for you, don’t worry - we’ve got a simple coaching exercise you can use at home to get a handle on where your work life balance needs to be adjusted!

The Wheel Of Life is used in so many applications. It’s simple, easy to understand, and can give you a really clear visual representation of where your work life balance isn’t cutting the mustard right now.

The Wheel Of Life is a visually represented circle covering 8 categories of your life. The typical categories are:

  • Family & Friends
  • Significant Other
  • Career
  • Finances
  • Health
  • Home Environment
  • Fun & Leisure
  • Personal Growth

And the Wheel Of Life looks something like this:

You can download a template of the Wheel Of Life here, or simply draw out a circle, split it into 8 and create your own.

Once you’ve got your circle, the next stage is to think about each of the 8 categories you’re faced with and rank, out of 10, how satisfied you feel right now with each area of life. Draw a line across each segment to show your ranking, like this:

Once you’ve done all 8 segments, you’ll be able to clearly see which areas of your life are giving you the satisfaction you want - and which need improvement.

The reason the Wheel Of Life works well is because it’s you defining what a score of 1 or 10 feels like for your life. Two people in exactly the same careers might rank their Career segment wildly differently - because of how much they value career success.

Being able to see which areas of your life aren’t giving you the meaning you want is a really useful starting point in building a work life balance that actually works for you. If you see your Health segment is particularly low, maybe you need to prioritise building a regular gym habit. Or if your Family & Friends segment is low, maybe you need to establish firmer work boundaries to facilitate spending more quality time with your loved ones.

The Wheel Of Life won’t solve your work life balance troubles - but it is a really good starting point. Remember to interrogate your responses to each segment. Ask yourself why you only feel 3/10 in Security or why your Career is a 9/10 - take the lessons you learn from these questions to help you develop a way of improving your overall wellbeing and work life balance.

So, is it possible to achieve work life balance?

Yes! Work life balance is achievable - but to achieve it for you, you need to rethink what work life balance actually means to you.

Work life balance is a deeply personal concept and one that requires you to ask yourself some important questions, not just follow a list of tips and tricks you find on the internet. It’s vital for your overall wellbeing that you develop a lifestyle that gives you the meaning you crave - that might mean better work boundaries, it might mean a different role would suit you better or it might even mean that you’d feel more satisfied with more working hours.

Work life balance is achievable - if you know what you’re aiming for!

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