Is a healthy work-life balance a myth or is it really possible to successfully balance family and career. I think it can be done but it takes planning - and guts!

Steps to achieve and manage a successful work-life balance

In today’s world, with staff reductions and other business pressures, it’s too easy for conscientious workers to become so committed to taking care of their workload and work responsibilities that they neglect family, friends and proper relaxation time.

Enlightened employers will talk about the need for a healthy work-life balance but that doesn’t stop the phone ringing or reduce the number of urgent requests and emails that just have to be dealt with each day.

Whether or not those employers are just paying lip-service to good management practice, it is each employees responsibility to take care of their own situation and to prioritise their personal needs for family and leisure time.

It’s easy to blame the work and the bosses and that is justified if it’s the boss that consistently expects you to start early or work late but oftentimes it’s the employee themselves who makes that judgement.

Complications arise during staff shortages due to a sudden increase in work or illness when there’s an implied responsibility on everyone to rally and cope. But these should always be temporary situations and the favour should be returned with favourable consideration when domestic crisis needs your attention and/or with time off at some quieter time.

It’s obvious that a healthy work-life balance leads to a happier lifestyle; you have proper escape from the stresses of work, you can better support your spouse with children, chores or just more reliability and quality time. Then when you do return to work you’re refreshed and ready for another day’s challenges.

So how is that to be achieved? Through good management and planning.

1. Make a plan:  Decide what you want to achieve as a target work-life balance.

  1. You’d be within your rights to work to the strict terms of your contract and you could not be overtly disciplined for doing so; but in a team role that could damage working relationships, in a career position it could harm your prospects and it could expose you to subtle retribution for being inflexible.
  2. Better to weigh the needs of the team, the business and of course yourself and decide how much flexibility you’re prepared to accommodate and for how long. In this way you show team spirit, commitment and flexibility but also that you cannot be taken for granted.
  3. Try to incorporate a little scope for ad-hoc flexibility and keep that detail to yourself so that you can still be seen to be “going the extra mile” on occasions and avoid being labelled inflexible even though you’re doing more than officially contracted.
  4. Don’t be shy or embarrassed about prioritising the needs of your spouse, partner, children or other loved ones. Your aim is to achieve a minimum stress balance and work is only one side of the scales but have the courage to express those priorities in terms of what you expect or want or you could appear weak and hen-pecked.

2. Expect your manager to organise

Make sure your manager is fully aware of the pressures of your work and, if necessary, the need for more staff whether on a temporary or permanent basis. This will commonly be met with a sympathetic ear and the advice that budgets are currently too tight for such expense, and that senior management require more time and/or proof.

3. Show your manager that you can organise

  1. Discuss your work-life targets and the extent to which you’re prepared to be flexible but since this is unlikely to solve the problem (or there wouldn’t be a problem) start to discuss possible efficiencies (if any) and how the work can best be prioritised.  
  2. Prioritising essential or urgent work will best serve business needs but point out that lower priority tasks are likely to build up as (again by definition) your work exceeds reasonable demands on your time.
  3. So long as you’re demonstrating some flexibility and are working efficiently through agreed priorities you’re doing everything that could be reasonably expected. Any backlog or carry-over (even of priority work) is your manager’s responsibility to solve.

4. Have the strength of your convictions

You’ve done all the ground-work, now you have to be disciplined enough to put your plan into action. Organise the work to agreed priorities and stick to your limits – not rigidly but exercise some marginal discretion in favour of work or life as the situation dictates. However, don’t be afraid to call a halt when you must or when you should.

5. Always communicate

Make sure that you keep your manager informed of how the plan is working and of any work that gets carried forward - especially priority tasks. It is still your manager’s responsibility to resolve those issues but it’s your to keep him informed of the position.

6. Make appointments

It can help your resolve – especially at first - if you make appointments in what should be your own free time. Whether a specific meeting, gym or sports session or a commitment to your partner. In a pinch, “I have to go, I have a meeting” is all that needs to be said and you’re free!

7. Be brave

Excessive conscientiousness can easily mask a genuine need for extra staff and senior management are unlikely to be convinced of a need to invest when there are no problems. You need to bravely hold your ground and remember that it is your manager’s responsibility to balance headcount and workload and that any repercussions from carried over work is totally not your problem or responsibility.



  • I think some of this work life balance stuff can be industry specific. For example, I'm in the IT industry and unless you have proper systems in place and manage you client's expectations you can easily end of up working 25 hours a day (!)

    This is a good article, thanks for posting it.