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Working to Live or Living to Work?

Here are three simple ways to improve your work-life balance.

This post was co-authored with Gabrielle Bruno of James Madison University.

My father has always been a hard worker. He has worked in the United States primarily, but has spent a total of five years working in different countries. Two of those five years were spent in Switzerland. This gave me a unique opportunity: the ability to witness work-life balance in two different cultures. While working in the United States, it seemed as though when he got home at the end of the day, he still had more to do. Some nights he would be working as late as 10 o’clock. Even on weekends he was constantly wired in, checking emails and taking phone calls.

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When we moved to Switzerland, things were completely different. When my dad got home from work, he was present and did not bring his work home with him most nights. On the weekends, he was with us, not his email. These experiences have given me a bit of insight into the work-life balance in these two different cultures.

Cultural Differences: United States vs. Europe

The United States is among the wealthiest countries in the world. Having a decent work-life balance is sacrificed for that label. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) created a scale from 1 to 10 measuring the quality of work-life balance in different countries. The United States scored a 5.3 while Switzerland scored a 7.2, scoring highly along with other European countries—Denmark came in first with a score of 9.8. Based on these scores, European countries seem to have a better a system in place in comparison to the United States. Only about 2 percent of employees in the Netherlands work long hours, less than eight hours per day. Workers set aside 67 percent of their day for personal time, while the United States sets aside less than 60 percent on average.

Negative Effects of Unhealthy Work-Life Balance

Work life has increasingly grown to disrupt and conflict with family time. This conflict can occur in instances when someone prioritizes their work over their personal life. Issues can be created within families and can lead to stressful living situations. Poor work-life balance can also contribute to emotional instability due to the stresses of trying to balance it all. According to Erik Erikson, a famous psychologist, the fullest lives are those that master an inner balance between work, love, and play.

Tips For Having A Better Work-Life Balance

1. Striving for work-life effectiveness.

Achieving work-life effectiveness is making work fit in with other aspects of life. It is hard to have an equal balance between work and life. Adjusting things in your work and life to make them coincide better can lead to gains with emotional and physical energy as well as better focus with work. An example of this could be when your children inspires you with an idea that could be helpful in the workplace.

2. Take time to define successes in life.

This has to do with home life and work life. If you look at your home life and map out all the successes that do not necessarily involve work, it can enable growth in appreciation for life outside of work. This could possibly lead for a desire to strive for a better work-life balance.

3. Keep work at work as best as you can.

This is probably one of the hardest things to do depending on your job and whom you work for. If possible, keep home and work life separate but not letting one spill into the other. This includes trying to be as productive as possible while at work this way when it’s time to go home at the end of the day, there’s not much more for you to do.

Obviously depending on where you live or who you work for, achieving a healthy work-life balance can be hard. But by adjusting a few simple things in your life and shifting priorities slightly, you can get closer to having one. Striving for work-life effectiveness, redefining successes, and keeping work at work are good places to start when achieving a healthier work-life balance.

More from Jaime L. Kurtz Ph.D.
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