Work-life balance has been a hot topic for years – maybe because so many of us feel it’s just out of our reach. Our recent Insight Series event tackled the subject of Work-life Balance for Leaders – It’s Personal!

In the lead-up, we surveyed a range of leaders about whether they felt they had good balance in their lives between work and non-work activities. While 58% said they somewhat agreed they had good balance, the average response was 3 on a 5-point scale. Clearly we have a way to go in this area.

The top three responses regarding the factors most contributing to imbalance were:

  • A demanding environment, work pressures and market changes
  • 24/7 communication expectations from customers and staff
  • Staff capability

Of course, the backdrop to these factors is our own core sense of health and wellbeing and that was the focus of our event.

Coach and business consultant Margie Ireland (MLI Executive Mentors), sports psychologist Tracey Veivers (Performance Perspectives) and sleep expert Jim MacDonnell (Circadian Australia) all shared from their professional experience. Their insights were compelling and, at times, confronting, but all pointed to the unavoidable fact that we individually control what work-life balance means and looks like in each of our lives.

Margie shared material from her recent honours thesis that looked at self-belief, career goals and well-being. A key insight from her research showed the acceptance of negative self-talk actually led to an increase in self-belief and career self-efficacy. Rather than fight the negative stream of ideas or dialogue that often runs through our minds, she talked about the power of acknowledging those as simply thoughts and continuing in our goal-directed behaviour. This technique is called Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and her research showed it has the potential to influence positive general well-being. She recommended resources from and the ACT Companion App. As the event wrapped up, Margie encouraged us to think of our lives as being integrated – and that an increase in well-being and performance will ultimately be connected to whether we are living in line with our values.

Tracey suggested that work-life balance does not exist and that it is not what’s going to help us succeed. She said it comes down to prioritising and choice. Tracey focused on the concept of periodisation – where a high performance life should come with an expectation that things will be ‘out of whack’ for a season as long as the individual recognises it isn’t sustainable. She recommended constant reflection to combat the imbalance and know when to re-evaluate. She said that for leaders, it’s the process and not just the outcome that matters, and creating an environment conducive to success is the critical foundation for team and individual performance. At an individual level, she talked about the value of constantly reflecting. She said to regularly ask ourselves what are we doing well, what’s working and what’s not working…and then to look at our available choices and what’s important to us to determine how we can make things better. Her encouragement was that sometimes it only takes small changes to achieve improvement.

Jim talked about the power of good sleep and its role in regenerating and repairing our minds and bodies, with benefits for everything from our immune system to memory retention to motor skills to general mental well-being and more. He said the optimum length for sleep is seven to nine hours each night, timed to allow full sleep cycles (and not ‘break’ part way through a cycle). He said that missing even just one hour of sleep can increase our desire to over-eat, impair our ability to judge risk and effect our ability to reason. Don’t skimp on sleep was the clear message! Jim cited research that showed the physical impairment of five hours of sleep each night for 13 days straight was in fact the same as that of a person who went without sleep for 36 hours! On the whole, he did offer some minor consolation for the mild insomniacs in the room – the biggest sleep debt can be overcome with a couple of nights of quality sleep. Two key tips from Jim: get good at napping, with a 15 to 20 minute nap (no longer) able to support a four-hour boost in alertness, and switch off from all mobile/tablet devices at least one hour before going to sleep, to avoid the damaging ‘it’s day time’ impact the blue light encourages.

Happy to hear what you have done to improve work-life balance for yourself and your staff, and your feedback on these insights!