Work-life balance isn’t simply a matter of the number of hours worked in the week. In fact, some research has shown that even in countries with shorter workweeks, people can still feel a lack of work-life balance.
The number of hours spent working is only one factor in the work-life balance equation. Many people face the challenge of managing their time to accomplish professional tasks while still having the bandwidth and energy to spend quality time with family and friends.
We asked professional women in the YALI Network about their perceptions on work-life balance and how they balance a career with the other priorities in their lives. Below is the advice they offer other women looking for ways to meet these challenges.
What is work-life balance?
While work-life balance looks different for each person, there is a general consensus that at a minimum, it’s the ability to accomplish tasks or fulfill responsibilities at work and in your personal life without feeling burned out. Burnout — the emotional state that causes exhaustion, negative behavior toward others and, often, doubt about the work itself — can affect up to 50 percent of working professionals.
“It means two separate worlds which meet within you, and each side is as crucial as the other. Important values are honesty, accountability and transparency” with others and yourself, says Lusekelo Mwalughelo of Tanzania.
As Leila Ouedraogo-Tiam, from Burkina Faso, explains: “You have to make time for all components of your life: work, family, leisure, community work and friends. The most important values are moderation, compromise, achievement and pacing oneself.”
Challenges of balancing a career
A natural tendency for many professionals is to put more weight on the work side of their lives, leaving their personal lives or health to suffer. Often, even when they’re not in the office, professionals’ minds may still reel with tasks to complete, ideas or other aspects of work.
When asked, the women we spoke to unanimously said that it’s more likely that their time spent shifts to their careers, leaving their personal lives to suffer. Feelings of being overwhelmed or being work-centered prevailed, even if they’re out of the office.
Whether it is sharing chores on a consistent basis, obtaining child care, or benefiting from mentoring, to achieve balance, everyone needs a support system. Ouedraogo-Tiam recalls her father’s words when she was growing up: “The first husband of a girl should be her work.” However, she considers herself lucky now to be surrounded by a strong support system and a husband whom she considers a partner.
“My husband values my job. As a professional himself, he knows how difficult it is to manage two different schedules [professional and personal]. For example, he will pick up the children at school, help with house chores, etc.,” she says.
For Happy Kikwa of Tanzania, partnership and community are also key. She says: “There is no ‘This work is for women and this work is for men’ in our house. We both share chores equally. The community supports me by offering their time when I need them, and that is the most rewarding feeling, because if anything happens, before your other family members come, the community members are always one call away.”
Managing personal and professional responsibilities
So how can one manage the demands of being fully engaged at work and at home and with herself? “The upside to work-life balance is that there is no right way to accomplish it,” Ouedraogo-Tiam says. “It is a learning process.” And there are plenty of tips to help you plan and manage your time. A few key points are to plan out work and adapt as needed, define priorities, and communicate when help is needed.
‘The most important is not to lose yourself, but to take time for yourself.’
Navigating the balance of professional careers and personal commitments is difficult for most (if not all) people at some point, but when asked for advice, all of our contributors mentioned self-care — whether it is taking time to rest, learning how you best prioritize goals, or staying focused:
- “I feel like other women should not punish themselves or make themselves feel like they can do everything. It’s OK to do something one day at a time, and also they should prioritize their professional life, but also they should not forget to have fun and find self-love within them. Once one has self-love they will know how to balance out everything, be it work, family and personal time.”
- “One need[s] to have a good timetable, which should include both professional and personal, if possible. Learn how to prioritize. Whenever possible, they should find free time for resting, being with their beloved ones/family as well as studying/career development. It is important to live a life with purpose, so balancing the two sides will not only create a legacy for you, but also it will break the stereotype on women’s ability — kill them with success in both personal and professionally, then bury them with a smile.”
- “Sometimes it is hard, but I would say success is not measured only by the beautiful family we raised or the high-paid job we have. So it is important to take the time to see how best we can juggle professionally and personally.”
- “On one hand, family is very important, especially if you have children. When you neglect one area of your life, it will affect other areas of your life. We can take the example of a parent who spends all his/her life at work, and one day, when kids are all grown up, you are retired and you want to build a relationship with your kids but it’s too late. You do not have the job you dedicated your life to and your family has grown apart and, worst-case scenario, your partner has moved out. On the other hand, the professional aspect of your life is important as well, because it allows you to be financially independent and enrich your personality. If you are at work and cannot keep up because you are too concerned about what is going on in your personal life during office hours, you will definitely make some mistakes, miss big opportunities and career advancements, because your job is neglected and diluted. It goes both ways. In any case, communication is the key, whether to your partner, to your colleagues about plans, decision-making and next steps. The most important is not to lose yourself, but to take time for yourself.”
The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YALI Network or the U.S. government. YALI Voices is a series of podcasts, videos and blogs contributed by members of the YALI Network.