What is work-life balance?
Work-life balance is the relationship between your work and the other important things in your life, like your family, sport and social life, household chores, volunteer commitments and so on. If you feel like you have enough time for all of these things in your life, you probably have a good work-life balance.
Your work-life balance will probably change as your work, family and other responsibilities change. With realistic expectations, and some trial and error, you’re likely to find an approach that helps you and your family achieve work-life balance in the long term.
Work-life balance: why it’s good
Good for children
To develop, learn and thrive, children need warm, loving attention and quality time with you.
If you have a work-life balance, you’re more likely to have the mental and emotional energy to give your children the attention they need. You’ll also have more opportunities for quality time with your children – that is, time when you’re really focused on your child.
Good for you
Part of looking after yourself is making time for the things that are important to you, like work, hobbies, volunteer activities and family. When you find a good balance of all these things, you’re likely to feel:
- less stressed and tired
- more in control of your time
- better able to make decisions and meet commitments
- physically healthier.
A well-balanced family life can actually help prevent burnout at work too.
Good for your relationships
Quality time spent together is the building block of all relationships, so a good work-life balance gives you the time and energy to develop better relationships with your children and your partner, if you have one.
Your children need regular quality time with you. Quality time can be short, focused and loving interactions as well as longer activities. This means that you can fit quality time with your children around your work schedule. Sometimes quality time might happen in small, unplanned moments each day, and sometimes it might be a dedicated time each week.
Looking at work arrangements to achieve better work-family balance
Family-friendly work arrangements might help you achieve a better balance between work and family time. You can find out about your employer’s family-friendly policies by looking at your workplace agreement or talking to your workmates. Then talk to your boss or manager about it.
Options might include:
- working flexible hours – for example, you might be able to arrive late and work late or vice versa, which can make school drop-offs or family dinners easier
- working from home
- working fewer hours – for example, by working part time or job-sharing
- negotiating shifts that give you a few days off in a row, or time at home before or after school.
It doesn’t matter what your friends do or what other people think you should do – choose the option that’s best for your family.
For some parents, long work hours or shift work can mean getting home after children are in bed, leaving before they wake up, or needing to sleep while everyone else is awake. You might not be able to control the hours you work or how busy your work is. But you can still build strong and positive family relationships with regular quality time, positive communication, and appreciation for each other.
Changing work habits to achieve a better work-life balance
If you’re wondering how to get your work done and enjoy time with your children, it might help to look at your work habits. This is about approaching work differently, rather than spending less time on or at work – which isn’t always possible.
Here are some ideas:
- Review the workday in your mind before you leave or finish work. This can help you shift gradually to thinking about home and family.
- Try to arrange your work so you take on the most challenging tasks at the beginning of the day, instead of at the end.
- Take a moment in your workday to think about your children. This could be just looking at a photo or thinking about a special thing you’ve done together recently. This can help you remember the reason you’re trying to achieve a work-life balance.
- Try to set boundaries around how much work you do at home, including limits on checking and responding to emails or phone calls.
- Try to set boundaries about when you work at home. For example, you could try blocking out parts of the day for work, rather than constantly checking in with work.
- If you work from home, try to keep your work area separate from family areas. Put boundaries in place about start and finish times, and be clear with coworkers and clients about your work hours.
Switching from work mode to family focus
When you get home from work – or finish work if you work from home – it can be worth trying to put work to rest in your mind. This can help you feel more ready to give your children loving attention and quality time. It can also help you relax and make the most of time with your family.
Here are some ideas to help you switch from work mode to a family focus:
- Turn off your work phone and tune out of work on your way home by reading, or listening to music, the radio or a podcast.
- Try walking or riding a bike home if you can. Or if you work from home, walk around the block when you finish work or do a five-minute workout.
- Think about ways to make travel time more relaxing. For example, join a car pool or use public transport instead of battling traffic.
- Do a simple mindfulness exercise, perhaps before you finish or leave work or in your parked car.
- Call your partner, your child’s carer or your child on the way home. This can take your mind off work and give you a chance to catch up on your family’s day. It can also help you work out who or what needs your attention when you get home.
- Have a ritual or routine to mark the physical, mental and emotional move from work to home, from worker to parent. It can be as simple as changing out of your work clothes.
- Talk with your family, including older children, about the challenges of making the transition from work to family mode, especially during stressful times at work. Help them see things from your perspective and try to see things from theirs.
Raising children is an important job, and parents often need support to do the job well. If you need help to manage stress, anxiety or anger, your GP is a good place to start. You can also call your state or territory parenting helpline, Lifeline on 131 114, or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.