Building a Thriving Lifestyle: Work-Life Balance
Balancing a work schedule and the rest of life is an ever present challenge and stress for many individuals and families. Depending on one's hours and type of labor, finding a healthy balance between the two will vary. However, there are some important principles which we can all apply and experience benefits from. First of all work is a gift and a privilege. If you hate your job, improving the quality of your life outside of work may not be enough to eliminate stress. Rather, as the saying goes, “Love your work and you will never work a day in your life.” Our job does not have to be ideal to “love it”, but if we focus on the privilege and value in our job, we will find more satisfaction in the very work itself. Also, there are certainly advantages and appropriate times to move onto a different job where you can grow and function in your strengths and interests. If this is the case, choose your vocation wisely based on the lifestyle you want to build. Secondly, there is more to life than work. When we understand this, it actually increases the productivity of our work. We will look at the Danes for an example of this principle. In Denmark, the average employee works less than 1,500 hours/year compared to the average U.S. employee who works 1,783 hours/year. (Personally, you know how many hours you average, so adjust accordingly.) Surprisingly, even though the Danes work significantly less hours than the U.S. (and most other countries), their productivity is greater, and they highly enjoy life outside of work. Now, let us take a deeper look into the Danish lifestyle: What do they enjoy for work and life? Despite working less, Denmark “ranks above the average in many dimensions: work-life balance, social connections, environmental quality, civic engagement, education and skills, jobs and earnings, work-life balance health status, subjective well-being and personal security.”  What is their secret? The Danes prioritize life over work. While they enjoy a comfortable life, they view money differently than other countries. Danish professor, Christian Bjornskov, explained, “Money is not as important in the social life here as, for example, Britain and America. We probably spend our money differently. We don’t buy big houses or big cars, we like to spend our money on socializing with others.” (To give you perspective, in Denmark the average household net-adjusted disposable income per capita is USD 28,950 a year, lower than the OECD average of USD 30,563 a year. ) Additionally, when they are working, they enjoy a unique flexibility. They can often choose when they start their working day and have the option of working from home. The lunch break is often at a designated time each day, enabling colleagues to interact and eat together, thus enabling them to leave their desks. There is a minimum five weeks’ paid holiday for all earners.” So, how can you integrate this information into your lifestyle? If you have any control over your work hours/environment, I encourage you to consider your productivity in light of the Danes. They have proven how our work and life can be enriched by intentional balance. On the other hand, if you do not have that level of control, be strategic with how you view work and invest in other areas of rest which in turn will benefit your work. Furthermore, perhaps you are a stay at-home parent--which is one or perhaps the most important vocation. This still applies to you! Find creative ways to balance work and responsibilities within the home so that they are a joy rather than a chore. Also, be careful not to take on unnecessary projects in and outside of the home that would take away from time spent on enriching life relationships. In conclusion, for most cases, balance is not something that will take place overnight. Give yourself the space to define an ideal work-life balance, and then set a couple practical goals for this season that will move you toward change. As we look ahead to rest, perhaps a sabbatical to Denmark would be appropriate!