The idea of balancing work and family can evoke the image of a business professional, perhaps holding a laptop, but also a baby, walking a tightrope or a balance beam. One false step and everything falls apart. Usually, balance is a static assessment of our performance as working parents or spouses: At this very moment, we can feel in balance or out of balance. But when I teach my master's students about Work and Family, I encourage them, and I encourage you to take a long-term view.

The reality of balancing the demands of work with domestic, family, and leisure commitments is that sometimes we can feel that we have a stable foothold on the balance beam and, at other times, it seems that we can't hold onto it at all. And that's normal. What is most important is that, in the long run, we have a general sense of balance -in other words, a general sense of control over how we reconcile our professional and family lives. It is this overall sense of balance that is important for our well-being and for the quality of our involvement with others at work and at home.

Academics in the fields of management, sociology, and social work have accumulated a wealth of evidence-based knowledge on the subject of work and family. Our definition of balance is not the absence of conflict between work and family. On the contrary, we know that there will be days when picking up a child from school on time means disappointing the work team by leaving a meeting before the end. And there will be nights when work trips make you feel bad about missing your wedding anniversary with your spouse. Balance is not the absence of these kinds of conflicts between the two major domains of your life, but rather a general feeling that the two domains are compatible, with a minimum manageable level of conflict between them under normal circumstances.

Adam Grant, a professor at Wharton Business School in the USA, calls this work-life rhythm, rather than balance - each week is a different beat, the "beat" of work, family, friends, our own health or our hobbies. And these "beats" vary in tone and duration. The main studies agree, concluding that despite the different "beats" we move to, we can find our own rhythm between them all if we listen to the music we are creating, not just in a single day or even a single week, but over the long term.

One evidence-based practice that I pass on to my students is the concept of seasonalization. Seasonalization means that sometimes we give more importance to work than to family, and sometimes more to family, friends or our own health than to work. The deadline for an important client may mean isolating ourselves for a few days to "work compulsively" on completing a project, but the next "season" means completely disconnecting from work and "e-collars" in favor of a whole week at the beach with those we love. Seen in isolation, any of them would seem unbalanced, but seen together they seem balanced, and more importantly for your mental health, they give a sense of harmony.

So seasonalization sounds great. And some may already be doing it, without even knowing the word that describe it. But if this idea is new to you, you may be wondering how and where to find similar strategies for professional and personal life that can help relieve the cognitive strain you feel. Priscilla Claman, in the Harvard Business Review, recommends that we all seek out a family "board of directors" to help us devise innovative ways of balancing work and family. This "board" can include committed teachers, working parents with children the same age as yours, or a "consistent support group" such as your parents, sisters, and in-laws. They can help you understand yourself better, but also share their experiences and observations on new ways to adapt your professional self and your personal self in a positive way that seems to make sense... and, in the long run, feel balanced.


This text is a republication of an article published in DN - read the original here.

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