Is Work Life Balance A Myth?

Initial Results From The Study On Job Stress

We’ve all heard work life balance is the key to stress management, but is it true?  Our study on job stress shows some interesting results.

Work life balance is based on a few assumptions:

  • The binary push and pull relationship between work and home is the main reason for women’s job stress
  • Women are the only ones who experience this issue
  • Women without children at home are less stressed

Is that true?

According to the more than 1000 people who participated in our study, no.

  • Men and women reported an equal amount of job stress
  • Fewer than 10% of the women with children at home reported caring for children (or any other work life issue) as the top cause of job stress
  • The results were exactly the same for men with children at home
  • Across the board the pace and pressure of work, an uncertain future, and the environment at work far outweighed work life issues as causes of stress.

So, what does that mean?

Work Life balance doesnt work

We are focusing on the wrong problem when trying to manage stress!

Pace and pressure at work (and other issues relating to being busy) were the leading causes of stress for more than 50 percent of the people in the study.

We don’t have an issue with balance. We have Trouble With Busy!

Which means traditional stress management and employee wellness programs are trying to solve the wrong problem!

Study results indicate improving the stress environment at work involves organizational factors as well as personal factors.

Many of the respondents indicated adjusting productivity expectations in the face of change or lack of staff would reduce stress. Others, especially nurses and lawyers, didn’t expect the stress environment to change, but rather accepted the pace and pressure as part of the nature of their work.

So if the pressure isn’t going to change, what then?

Rather than looking at stress as a binary, push and pull system between work and life, we need to be looking at what I call an ecosystem of stress.  Everything we do interacts with everything else.  Some things give us pleasure and add energy to the system.  Other things draw energy out of the system.  Just acknowledging the sheer number of things you pay attention to can reduce stress.  Yes, it’s a lot.  You have a good reason to feel overwhelmed. If that isn’t going to change, then the key to managing the stress ecosystem is to feed energy and resources back into the system and manage other drains.

For example, by supporting our physical health, we can feed resources back into the system. When I work with high performers, sleep is always an issue. Good quality sleep is one of the best ways to manage stress, but also one of the most difficult to protect.  We often eat away at the margins of our day to get more done.  Staying up later and getting up earlier may seem like the right thing to do, but over time lack of sleep allows the stress hormone, cortisol, to build up in the body. High cortisol levels result in:

  • increased fatigue
  • headaches
  • back aches
  • anxiety
  • digestive distress
  • depression
  • decreased sex drive
  • impaired immune system
  • increase risk of heart attack and stroke

Protecting your sleep can make a huge difference in how you feel and feed energy back into your stress ecosystem.

But, how do you make time for sleep?

By looking at stress as a system, it is easier to pick out priorities, such as sleep, and find opportunities to eliminate or reduce drains on the system.  Yes, this is easier said than done.  Managing your stress system requires hard decisions about what you will allow to be in that system, and there lies the issue.

There isn’t a magic formula to balance out your world, but it is possible to step back, assess your system, and make choices about what you allow in that system.  Being aware of what is draining your energy and resources, and actively feeding energy and resources back in is the key.

ELiz has been delighted to offer a new program The Trouble With Busy providing insights and tools to manage your stress ecosystem.  The most exciting part of the new program is using the research data and being able to provide specific data on stress environment of the individual organization. The next phase of research examining stress within organizations and interventions for improvement is in process now.  Those results will be reported in the future.

Until then, let’s let go of the idea of balance and start addressing the Trouble With Busy!

Eliz Greene survived a heart attack at age 35 while 7 months pregnant with twins.  For more than a decade she has been on a mission to inspire other busy women to improve heart health so they can live longer, feel better, and stress less.  She is a motivational women’s wellness speaker and author. Her humor and personal stories  illustrate simple strategies for health and success participants can fit into an already busy day.  Her research on job stress and professional women make her a great fit as a Women’s Leadership Speaker

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