In this series on work-life balance, Simple’s People Team explores the myriad topics you might encounter when navigating your career—and what it all means for your work world, personal life, and financial confidence.
Finding the right balance of how much time and energy work occupies in your life is an ongoing challenge for a lot of people. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the idea of balance entirely off-kilter for lots of folks, whether you’re working from home these days (making work and personal life more entwined than ever) or find yourself furloughed or laid off. The sudden changes to our work lives, the stress of job-hunting in a tough market, all the additional stresses of the pandemic might make the idea of work-life balance seem impossible.
But if you’re able, putting some thought into what you’d like balance to look like in your life can help you set goals for the future—and maybe give you tools to feel a little more in control right now.
Why does work-life balance matter?
Achieving better work-life balance—and, most importantly, knowing what that looks like for you—supports your mental (and physical) health, financial goals, and overall wellbeing. The more you understand the different aspects of wellbeing and work-life balance—and how they show up in your life—the more empowered you can feel to make changes that support your goals.
Before we jump into specifics, we want to acknowledge that there are a huge variety of possible financial circumstances, and not everyone feels like achieving work-life balance is even possible in their situation. Creating perfect work-life balance isn’t always realistic, but exploring different aspects of the topic can offer you a wider variety of tools that might help you see opportunities to improve work-life balance in your own life. And keep in mind that this is an ongoing process—your journey toward the balance you need will evolve over time.
What does work-life balance mean?
The short answer is: it looks different for everyone! Work-life balance can mean something very different depending on each individual’s needs and circumstances. So when you hear the term bandied about, keep in mind that what one person assumes about work-life balance may not be exactly what you need.
To define what work-life balance means for you personally, it helps to explore your own ideal equilibrium between the amount of energy you put into your job versus the many other aspects of your life.
Work-life balance and wellbeing
If you tend to think of work-life balance only in terms of how much time you spend at your job, you may find it useful to expand your perspective. Creating work-life balance is part of the larger picture of your overall sense of wellbeing.
Wellbeing—a state of feeling generally good about your life—is made up of many factors. Consider the following eight dimensions of wellbeing (from Boston University):
- Social: Feeling connected to a nourishing support system of people you care about
- Emotional: Handling the inevitable ups and downs of life effectively
- Existential: Having a sense of a larger purpose and meaning in life
- Intellectual: Challenging your mind with new knowledge and creativity
- Environmental: Spending time in pleasant surroundings that make you feel good
- Financial: Being able to meet your current needs and feeling secure about the future
- Physical: Meeting your body’s basic needs to function effectively
- Occupational: Getting a sense of personal fulfillment from your job
A job can be a source of wellbeing in many ways: doing work that feels meaningful, building nourishing relationships, learning new things—and, of course, providing the income necessary to meet financial needs.
Consider all the different ways in which your job could affect different aspects of your wellbeing—and how you might make changes to those aspects of your work to improve balance for yourself.
What gets in the way of work-life balance?
Being burned out from work leads to a stress treadmill that’s hard to get off of—and that chronic stress can be a big source of both mental and physical health issues. (Read more about the health effects of burnout at Forbes.)
When you spend more time at work than feels good to you, your work-life balance will inevitably feel off-kilter. If you’re able to improve balance by working fewer hours, that’s great—but it’s not an option for many people. And even if you could work less, there are other obstacles to good work-life balance beyond time.
As you reflect on the balance you want to work toward in your own life, consider other factors that can get in the way.
We get constant messages from society about how our lives should look—how many hours we should work, how many friends we should have, how much we should earn. That pressure makes it hard to sort out what we really want for ourselves and make time for what matters.
How often do you respond to “How’ve you been?” by saying “Oh, I’ve been really busy”—or hear that line from a friend? There’s a pervasive cultural belief that how busy we are determines how valuable we are (read more on this idea at The Atlantic), which can increase the pressure to devote time to work at the expense of other priorities in your life.
Lack of access to resources
Wellbeing means you not only have the tools and benefits that support your needs, but you also have ready access to these tools and benefits. For instance, if your job allows for flexible schedules, but getting your manager to approve the schedule you need is nearly impossible, you’ll have a harder time achieving the balance you seek.
Lack of access to education
Learning shouldn’t end when you graduate from school. Building a successful career requires ongoing professional development. And that education isn’t just about making more money—it also boosts your sense of fulfilment and confidence. You might find it harder to achieve your goals if you can’t access continuous education in the workplace.
It’s worth reflecting on the old adage, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” If you can’t find any fulfillment in what you do all day, work-life balance will be elusive. Finding some sense of meaning in your work is an important step toward wellbeing.
How can I cultivate better work-life balance?
Implementing work-life balance first requires you to know your ideal balance and then create a plan to make it happen—including overcoming the obstacles you encounter.
First and foremost, figure out what that balance looks like to you. Set aside half an hour to rank how important each aspect of wellbeing is to you, and to jot down your thoughts about how you’re doing on each.
You may also want to explore ways to let go of the belief that you have to stay constantly busy to be successful in life. Reflect or journal about what’s really important to you—including the value you find in downtime and relaxation—and what things on your to-do list are just there to satisfy someone else’s idea of how you should fill your time.
At the same time, take a look at how much time and energy your job demands from you. It may be that you are in fact far more busy than is healthy. If you have to work a lot of long hours or don’t have the flexibility you need to maintain the work-life balance you need for long-term wellbeing, it may be time to have a conversation with your manager.
These exercises will give you a good idea of where to focus your energy, what obstacles you might encounter, and how to plan to overcome them. List out some concrete actions you could take—like setting up a budget and a weekly appointment with yourself to update it, talking with your boss to explore alternative schedules, or practicing saying no when a friend asks you to do something you don’t have time or money for.
Keep in mind that this will be a journey. Building new habits takes time and practice. You’ll discover new insights along the way. See if you can approach work-life balance as an ongoing practice that supports your wellbeing.
How does financial confidence affect work-life balance?
When you feel in control of your financial life, it’s much easier to make the choices you need to achieve your goals. Of course, few of us feel like we make enough money to buy everything we want or need. Part of work-life balance involves determining how much time and energy you’re willing to put into making money versus nurturing other aspects of your life.
Financial confidence isn’t about getting a bigger salary—although few people would turn that down! It’s really about knowing the state of your finances, feeling informed about the approaches you can take to managing them, and being able to plan for the future.
To get a clear picture about the state of your finances, work on developing a comprehensive understanding of what you earn from your job. There are two often-overlooked aspects you’ll want to explore:
- Total compensation: The number on your paycheck may not represent the total value of what you earn. By factoring in things like paid time off and health insurance, you can get a better picture of your overall finances.
- Market-based pay: Knowing whether you’re getting paid what your skills are worth empowers you to make informed choices about your career. Researching market-based pay can give you that insight.
It’s important to acknowledge that many people struggle to cover the basics of what they need, no matter how much time they spend at work (Forbes reports that 78% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck). There’s no income threshold to start building financial confidence; learning about how to budget as best you can within your means is one way to feel a bit more in control and balanced in life.
How can my Simple Account help me out?
Helping you build financial confidence—one key aspect of wellbeing—is what’s behind everything we do. Using the free tools in your account can make it easier to monitor your spending and work toward your goals.
If you’re feeling out of control of your finances, use Expenses to build a budget right in your account. If you want to save up for something that could improve your work-life balance, also open a Protected Goals Account. And if you’re in the dark about aspects of managing your money, explore the Simple blog for education, ideas, and inspiration.
No need to wait—start up a Savings Goal now to get started on your financial confidence journey.
What does work-life balance mean at Simple?
We aim to be the kind of company that truly prioritizes our employees’ wellbeing. That means taking a holistic approach when looking at how we take care of our employees—competitive salaries, comprehensive medical plans, and generous paid time off, to name a few.
We also aim to support multiple facets of wellbeing by supporting all new parents with 16 weeks of paid leave, offering paid days off for volunteering and social justice work, and creating an office space that makes people feel good—which of course means that people can bring their dogs to work!
If you’d like to learn more about working at Simple, check out our careers page.
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