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June 4, 2018

Work-Life Balance: What is It?

What is Work-Life Balance

Have you ever had that sinking feeling that your life is out of control? Have you wondered how to bring more balance to your life? Work-life balance is essential to enjoying life – but what is balance varies greatly from one person to the next.

work-life balance
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Much of life and much of health centers around the concept of balance. Not too much of this and not too little of that. There tends to be an optimal level of function or degree at which something should be done – and it typically is something near the middle of two extremes. Many of us are so busy these days that achieving a healthy balance between work and our personal lives is becoming increasingly difficult.

We have referred to work-life balance in our article Wellness Wheel: How to Find the Perfect Life Balance. So what is work-life balance and how do we achieve it? Today’s article addresses the first question – what is work-life balance?  A second article will address strategies and tactics to achieve better balance between work and life.

What is Work-Life Balance?

First, I’m not even sure we have the term right. Maybe it should be life-work balance to emphasize living rather than working. Maybe the term “work-life balance” provides a hint as to why many struggle with achieving a balance as we tend to think of work first and foremost – and in some cases exclusively.

Secondly, there is no single, agreed upon definition of work-life balance. It is more of a concept. But here are some key features of work-life balance.


Work-life balance is unique to each individual. What is balance for one, may not be balance for another. What matters is achieving a balance that works for you. Some individuals value family and life experiences more. Others are achievement driven. Neither is either more beneficial or detrimental to achieving balance than the other.


Work-life balance is not time-based, but rather satisfaction-based. If you are satisfied with your personal life and work life even though you may spend 70% of your time on work activities, then you have achieved balance. If your time is spent 50/50, but you are dissatisfied with either your work or personal life, or both, then you are not achieving balance.

Consistent with Core Values

How you spend your time should be consistent with your core values. If you value time with your spouse and kids, your schedule should reflect it. Your discussions with your spouse should reflect it. Your conversations with your friends or colleagues should reflect it.

And, if you feel you don’t have a good work-life balance one of the first things you should assess or determine is what are your core values and are you spending appropriate time on them. Chances are you are not.

But, a bigger problems is neglecting to determined what your core values are. If you don’t know what your core values are, achieving work-life balance will be extremely difficult. It’s hard to know if you arrived at your destination if you don’t know where you are going.

Here are some questions to ask yourself?

  • What’s important to me?
  • Why is it important to me?
  • What am I doing that reflects the importance of something to me?
  • What can I do better or differently?

Can Change Over TIme

Work-life balance can change with time as your core values or goals change. In her book, Ten Things I Wished I’d Known – Before I Went Out into the Real World, Maria Shriver said her mother once told her something to the effect of, ” You can have everything you want in life, but not all at the same time.”

Essentially there is a time and season for everything. There is a time for focusing on a career. There is a time to focus on raising a family. There’s a time to give back to the community. There’s a time to focus on yourself, too. Don’t neglect yourself. And, so on.

You probably have noticed in your own life things that were important 10 years ago now take a back seat to things that seem more important today.

Perhaps it is called maturing. Each stage of life typically has a different set of priorities as it relates to career, family, friends, faith, recreational pursuits, and more. Transitioning from one phase to another can be difficult, though, if not given some prior thought, strategy, and action plan.

Achieving life balance requires some degree of efficiency in terms of work and home management or home economics – finding ways to better utilize time so you can better spend it on those more important aspects of your life.

Manifestations of Work-Life IMBALANCE

Work-life imbalance leads to unhappiness and more. Let’s use physicians as an example who traditionally live lives that may seem out of balance.  Work-life balance is becoming increasingly challenging to achieve for physicians as they spend more time on electronic medical records from home and are expected to see more patients in less time.

Physicians unable to attain a healthy balance between work and personal life are more likely to engage in unethical behavior, provide less competent care to patients, have strained personal relationships, and commit suicide. In case you did not know, the suicide rate for physicians is twice that of the general population.

Also, one’s personal health suffers when work and personal life are not in balance. Personal health tends to be neglected when lives are unbalanced. And, in the case of physicians it is difficult to care for others when they are unable or unwilling to take of themselves.

It is likely that poor job performance, poor health, and unethical behavior increase for non-physicians who live imbalanced lives as well.

work-life balanceRisk Factors for Work-Life IMBALANCE

Anything we typically consider a strength to ensure success can lead to an imbalance. Every strength is a weakness and every weakness can be turned into a strength. Personality characteristics associated with work-life imbalance include perfectionism, self-sacrifice, feeling indispensable, and being a control freak (wanting to control others).

Beyond personality traits the following are other risk factors.

  • demanding or stressful profession.
  • lack of schedule control.
  • long work hours.
  • college debt (leads to working additional hours).
  • any life transition.
  • changes in a profession (doctors and teachers are increasingly dissatisfied with their professions).

You would think that life would become easier as you become older as you gain more experience and become wiser, but based on my experiences with my patients, life seems to get harder for most. Not all of that is work related. But, many get squeezed in their 50s and early 60s dealing with issues with adult kids, ill parents, personal illness, loss of a job, marital issues, and more. All of that leads to imbalance. Some individuals are tugged in too many places at once that they struggle to cope.

Schedule control

Going back to physicians. Being a physician used to mean having a lot of autonomy. Doing what you want, the way you want, when you want. Not any more. Many physicians are now employed by hospitals. They have little control of their schedules or their patient load while having a variety of metrics they must meet each month – give enough flu shots or order enough MRI scans, etc.

But, this top-down corporate monitoring and control is pervasive in nearly every profession –  and it is stressing people out.  I have a number of patients who work for a national bank – and they are all stressed from long hours, unrealistic demands of their supervisors, and not enough personnel or resources to do the job asked of them – and it spills over to their personal lives. Stress and anxiety are the reasons for a vast majority of their office visits.

In our medical practice we still enjoy a lot of autonomy. We are the largest physician-owned primary care practice in the nation (Central Ohio Primary Care). We have about 350 physicians and nearly 70 office locations. Each physician determines how may days or hours they work, how many patients they see, how may flu shots they want to give, how much vacation time they want. Nobody tells any of us how to practice medicine, either. It’s rather nice.

But, in the end each of us as physicians “eat what we kill.” If you want to make more money, you work more.

We have one practice of eight female physicians who each work half-time enabling those eight women to achieve the work-life balance they want. But, most individuals in other careers are not that fortunate. Someone else tells them when to arrive, when to punch out, what to do, how to do it, and so on. People need “ownership” of their job and that does not always happen.

In the end, most individuals want CONTROL of their work environment and many are not getting it. And, that is particularly hard for those in  professions that require extensive training who come out expecting more autonomy.

For example, more and more time is being spent on activities not directly related to the core or essence of being a professional in a particular field. Many teachers claim they spend far less than 50% of their time teaching. Physicians now spend 2/3 of their time on electronic medical records and only 1/3 of their time actually talking and taking care of patients. I can guarantee you no one goes to medical school to spend 2/3 of his/her professional time inputting data into a computer

work-life balanceHow Do You Know When You Are in Balance?

Balance between work and personal life is achieved when there is a balance between the demands and pleasures of professional and personal life. Stress will always be encountered, but it is very manageable, almost simply being just a nuisance, when your life is in balance.

You feel content. There is a sense of well-being characterized by pleasant or positive emotions. You look forward to getting up. You look forward to go to sleep in anticipation of what the next day might bring. Your interactions with others are positive. You are more optimistic. You have a bounce to gait. You smile. You laugh. You find yourself grateful.

To determine if your life is in balance view the Life Balance Wheel in Wellness Wheel: How to Find the Perfect Life Balance. 

In an upcoming articles we will provide work life balance tips to achieve the life balance you desire.

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Dr. Joe Jacko

Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio at Grandview Primary Care. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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