Striving for successful work-life balance

Maintaining a balance between work and home responsibilities can be particularly challenging for parents.

Maintaining a balance between work and home responsibilities can be particularly challenging for parents.

Published Apr 10, 2024


Duncan Woods

If you struggle to balance work, family and social commitments, consider this – many of the conventions around work were not designed for life as it exists today.

The world of work has evolved dramatically, and brought with it the challenge of trying to maintain a healthy work–life balance – something most of us are struggling to get right.

There are four main areas where this balancing act has become difficult to maintain:

Tradition vs modern

Many of the values and traditions that modern workers take for granted evolved at a time when adults were expected to be in heterosexual marriages in which responsibilities were divided.

Historically, there was little gender balance – during the working week anyway – as one parent took care of all the family and home responsibilities, and the other brought home the pay cheque.

Today, the picture is rather different. Single-parent households are common; and even where there are two parents, most households need multiple income streams.

We need to reassess what constitutes “work” and divvy up the responsibilities more equitably. Previously, the field of play was clear – but work is no longer demarcated as leaving home with a packed lunch to clock-in from nine to five.

Hustle culture

One good thing to have come out of the pandemic is an increased focus on work–life balance, which had already been emerging as an antidote to hustle culture.

However, this gained traction as office workers rediscovered the simple pleasure of spending more time with their families.

We have come a long way in the last decade in this area. In the first part of my career, I found there was a definite culture of being applauded for having a single-minded work focus.

The “race towards burnout” was celebrated and voluntarily contested – as mad as that seems.

However, while the situation has improved, we’re still not getting the balance right.

For those who struggle with the pressure of always being “available” at work, erecting guardrails at several key points in the day can help entrench good habits. These should include a ritual around how the day starts, mental and physical pauses during the day, and ending the day in a way that brings closure.

Thriving focus

It’s a situation that’s all too familiar: we try to do everything, but end up stretched so thin that nothing gets done. We have to be very careful to set ourselves up to succeed and thrive; rather than getting into a cycle of struggle and feeling like failures. We all have a legitimate right to thrive rather than just endure life.

One way to exit this cycle is to detail clearly what holistic success and failure look like on your terms. Being wildly successful at work while having crumbling personal relationships at home, for example, may not feel like success at all. Once you have a clear vision of what you’re aiming for, it’s easier to work towards it. It’s also important to prioritise well-being exercises as part of your personal “key performance areas”.

Timed well-being

The people with the best balance seem to be those who value and manage their time – by putting in a quality shift at work, but also in making time for the things that are important to them.

You need to figure out where your “non-negotiables” lie – and make time, space and attention available for those.

Don’t negotiate on non-negotiables. Work on the high-performance skill of delivering the “discerning no” by valuing your own skills, time and energy so that everyone gets your best – not a thinly-sliced version of you.

When we value the best version of ourselves, everyone wins. When we allow a lesser version of ourselves, everyone loses.

* Woods is executive coaching consultant to soSerene

Cape Times

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