On the way to work: Listen to that new CD, make some business calls or tune into the morning news?
At the office: Work on the quarterly summary, catch up on email or learn how to use that new application?
For dinner: Fast food, a healthy premade meal or old-fashioned home cooking?
This weekend: Catch a red-eye flight to the beach, research refinancing your mortgage or get some exercise at the gym?
Compared with people throughout the world and history, modern Americans face almost endless choices. We covet these choices and hold them dear to our existence.
But according to Jim Bird, founder of WorkLifeBalance.com, a company specializing in work-life balance training, having so many options can overwhelm us and make us feel that our work-life balance is out of whack.
Bird notes that people today have exponentially more choices in almost all facets of life than they did a generation or two ago. For a visual analogy, he suggests picturing someone juggling balls. In the '60s, the person was juggling four balls. In the '80s, there were 16 balls to keep in the air. Now, he says, there are 400 balls to try to manage. Take a look at something as seemingly innocuous as TV, says Bird. It used to be that "you watched ABC, NBC or CBS. Now it's stressful just to figure out what you're going to watch at night on television."
We have more choices when it comes to what we eat, what ethical decisions we make, what medications we take, what books we read, what types of exercise we do -- and what jobs we have. "Look at the pace of people changing jobs today as compared to people making that same major decision in the '50s or '60s," says Bird. "That major decision wasn't something that was made every couple of years." But now, it's common for people to get new jobs, or even new career paths, every few years. Bird says we are lucky to have these choices, but cumulatively, they create stress.
According to a Monster poll, more than 80 percent of the respondents indicated that they are not happy with their work-life balance. Admittedly, Monster users may be a self-selecting audience, but the numbers are telling nonetheless -- and they're supported by additional research. For example, the Work Family Institute published a report called "Feeling Overworked: When Work Becomes Too Much." Interviews were conducted with 1,000 employed people, and 55 percent felt overwhelmed by how much work they had to do.
Work Family Institute's Erin Brownfield says that it's not just long hours that make people feel overworked. It's also the amount of pressure on the job, as well as whether people are working long hours because they want to or because they believe they have no choice.
Brownfield also cites technology as an issue that impacts people's sense of work-life balance -- often for the worse. More and more people can do their jobs without being at their jobs. "A lot of people seem to be using technology for their job during nonwork hours," says Brownfield. "Those people are more likely to feel more overworked."
According to Brownfield, there are a host of work and nonwork-related outcomes from feeling overworked: more mistakes made on the job, resentment towards employers and coworkers, less-successful relationships with friends, spouses and children, and poor health, to name a few.
Brownfield notes that working fewer hours is often not an option. "We would encourage people to look at other aspects of the job, whether it's finding new allies or supporters at work, improving relationships with coworkers or finding a way to learn something new on the job."
Bird suggests that when you're searching for a new job, you should really consider work-life balance and be sure you convey its importance when talking with prospective employers. During interviews, "I would recommend that [job seekers] start with ‘I'm committed to doing my job well, and I'm not a 9-to-5er. If it takes extra hours for special projects, I'll put them in. But I'm also looking for a company that recognizes that in addition to having a job, I have a life,'" says Bird.
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