Work/life balance in the new millenium

In the past, I’ve joked about being that person who checks email at 3 o’clock in the morning. I tell people I am available 24/7 and tragically I am.

I did access the ABC News website from my CrackBerry while seated on a Mayan ruin in Guatemala; I do send email, ICQ, instant messages and talk on the phone at the same time with the same person. I have my ‘Learn French, Spanish and Arabic Language’ classes loaded on my iPod along with Seinfeld and The Office videos, Douglas Coupland’s book J Pod and some music too.

And my husband is thinking of taking out a SPAM restraint order against me for the number of emails, SMS and phone calls I make to him each day – usually with the same reminder.

But while this 24/7 connectivity has its upsides, it is also making it harder for us to achieve work/life balance.

While most of us have accepted that 9-5 work hours are a thing of the past, we still haven’t come to grips with how to manage this new world of 24/7 connectivity.  We’re working longer hours, we’re taking work home and we’re increasingly on call on weekends.

The Work-life balance in Australia in the New Millennium report published in April 2008 found that nearly half of the 12,000 Australian knowledge workers surveyed suffered from ‘role overload’.  In other words, they felt they had too much to do and too little time to do it.

The researchers also pointed to an increased use of technology, arguing that “email has increased expectations of response time and availability as well as the volume of work.”

We all know this, don’t we?  But what are we going to do about it, given the serious consequences for individuals, families and business?  People who feel stressed out will eventually feel unsatisfied, and are more likely to take sick leave, stress leave or simply quit. 

While better time management may have some impact on your work/life balance, the secret is finding a space between work and home where a high performance individual can unwind.  Rather than leaving the office stressed out and coming home to yell at or ignore the kids, some time to rest and reflect – whether that’s through the ride home from the office, some exericse or meditation – can help people make that transition between the office and the home.

The key to work/life balance is not to measure how much time you spend in each area of your life, but to measure your level of engagement.  The aim is to be an active participant in your home life, to feel invigorated by your work, and to have time to yourself for mental and emotional rejuvenation.

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