By Tracy Tsai, PCC, CPC
“Work-life balance is a pipe dream” one of our Her New Standard participants declared in a recent discussion. “I’m just aiming for survival and an occasional good night’s sleep.” The other women leaders in the group nodded in agreement.
At HNS, we often hear frustration with too-heavy workloads, overwhelming home obligations and no time for self-care. We regularly speak to women who are on the verge of burnout, pushing themselves relentlessly in all areas and not feeling successful at anything. Finding a way to feel healthy and satisfied in all areas of our lives is a challenge in a world where technology is ever-present and demands on our time seem to only increase.
Why does it matter?
Balancing work and personal life has been a long-standing challenge for employees, especially women leaders, but Covid-19 really spotlighted the issue. According to a 2021 global survey by Catalyst, 92% of workers said they were experiencing burnout caused by stress related to their workplace, their pandemic work experiences, and/or their personal lives.
Women are even more affected by burnout than men. Deloitte’s Women @ Work 2023 report showed that women still bear the greatest responsibility for household tasks, adding to their mental and emotional burden. Despite this added stress, women leaders also continue to do the extra work to support their teams, consistently doing more to promote employee well-being and provide emotional support, compared to men at the same level. This makes work-life balance for women even more critical.
|What Companies Can Do||What Women Leaders Can Do|
|Provide Work-Life Policies||Implement family-friendly policies, flexible work schedules, and remote work options.||Advocate for and utilize family-friendly policies, such as flexible work arrangements.|
|Managerial Support||Encourage managers to provide support, resources and problem solving.||Communicate openly with managers about personal needs and work-life balance concerns.|
|Employee Well-Being||Promote wellness programs, mental health support, and stress management resources.||Set boundaries, prioritize self-care, and participate in wellness programs.|
|Equal Distribution of Responsibilities||Encourage men to take parental leaves when needed.||Communicate with partners to ensure a fair distribution of household and childcare duties.|
|Mentoring and Support Networks||Establish mentoring programs and support networks for women leaders.||Participate in mentoring programs and engage with support networks to share experiences and advice.|
How can companies help?
Employers play an important role in providing work-life support for employees. One study showed that manager support and family-friendly policies and practices have a positive impact on employees, which in turn leads to increased engagement at work. In addition, research by Catalyst found that workplace burnout decreased by 43% when employees have remote-work access and their managers demonstrate empathy.
Another study, using data collected over 30 years at 800 U.S. companies, found that when companies offered programs such as flexible work schedules, childcare support and family leave, the percentage of women and people of color in management rose significantly.
What can women leaders do?
While it’s clear organizations have a crucial role in facilitating work-life wellness, each of us can also take proactive measures to live a balanced life and prevent burnout. Here are some strategies that make a real difference:
In the midst of day-to-day pressure, it can be easy for our stress to pile up and difficult to find the time to alleviate it. However, being aware of your stress levels and taking stock of your overall well-being is crucial, so it’s important to find the time to pause and reflect. Think about what habits you currently have that make balance challenging for you. For example, are you constantly checking and responding to emails, even during your personal time? Are you often skipping breaks in order to get more work done? For many of us, these behaviors are rooted in deeply-seated assumptions about what it takes to succeed. By challenging these assumptions, we can combat our inner critic and make decisions that enhance our overall well-being.
Get clear on your values:
When how you spend your time is not aligned with your core values, it can be draining and cause you to feel resentful. This disconnect leads to stress, and over time, burnout. For example, if you value balancing work with family, but your role demands frequent travel and around-the-clock availability, you may feel torn between your commitment to your job and your desire to be present for your family. If you value your physical health but you’re working too many hours and not allowing yourself ample time to eat well or exercise, the misalignment can lead to deterioration of your health and well-being.
Is your time aligned with your values? Here’s how to assess:
One way to identify your core values is to think about what contributes most to your satisfaction in life. In Her New Standard’s Fast Track program, for example, we do the following exercise with our participants, which helps them assess their values in a systematic way.
- Choose 4-6 categories that contribute most to your satisfaction in life, e.g. career, health, relationships, personal growth, giving back, spirituality, etc.
- Assign a percentage to each of the values you’ve identified, representing how important that area is to your overall life satisfaction (the percentages should sum to 100%).
- Next, evaluate how satisfied you currently are with each of the areas by assigning a percentage to each category; for instance, you may be 90% satisfied with your career but only 40% satisfied with your health (these percentages don’t need to sum to 100%).
- Multiply your satisfaction percentage with the weight you’ve given each category to get an indication of how satisfied you are with each area of your life and where you may need to better align your time with your values.
Make some changes:
Once you know what’s most important to you, consider what changes you need to implement to increase your satisfaction in those areas. If your workload prevents you from spending quality time with your family, perhaps you need to say “no” more often or start delegating work to others instead of taking everything on yourself. If your health is suffering, prioritize self-care by intentionally carving out time each day for activities such as meditation, exercise, eating well, and drinking plenty of water. Or maybe it’s time to finally take that PTO that you’ve been holding onto all year.
Mindfulness as a tool:
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present and aware of the current moment, without judgment or distraction. By paying close attention to your thoughts and feelings, you’re able to observe your experiences and also recognize your habitual patterns of thinking. Being aware of the choices you’re making and how they affect you allows you to react consciously, rather than reflexively.
Practicing mindfulness can help you better manage your work-life balance, as it gives you an opportunity to reflect on and prioritize what’s most important to you. In addition, by taking time to notice signs of stress in your body, you can then proactively choose ways to decrease that stress before it intensifies. Some consequences of stress include:
- Physical: muscle tension, stomachaches, headaches, sweating, rapid heartbeat, difficulty sleeping, fatigue
- Cognitive/Emotional: depression, anger, irritability, difficulty concentrating, tendency to cry, emotional numbing
- Relationship: withdrawal, aggression
- Spiritual: loss of faith, hopelessness
For instance, by taking a mindful moment, you might notice that your muscles have become very tense. At this moment, you can choose to take a break, go for a walk outside, or talk to a friend.
The self-awareness that mindfulness brings can also help you better manage the negative thoughts voiced by your inner critic. An example might be: “If you are not constantly at your computer or don’t respond to emails immediately, people will think you’re lazy or incompetent at your job.” Recognizing that you don’t need to listen to this voice can help you make a more rational decision and focus on what’s most important.
The best part is, mindfulness isn’t something that requires a lot of time. Even six seconds of mindful breathing can activate the parasympathetic nervous system, resetting your body and mind.
Next time you feel stressed, try this:
At HNS, we teach the S.T.O.P. method, which is a simple but powerful mindfulness strategy that can be used to mitigate the negative effects of stress in less than a minute. When you find yourself becoming triggered or overwhelmed:
- Stop and take stock: Ask yourself, “What am I experiencing right now?” Tune into your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without judgment.
- Take a breath: Gently direct your attention to your breath, noticing each inhale and exhale as they follow, one after the other.
- Observe and expand your awareness: Expand your awareness beyond your breathing so that it includes a sense of your body as a whole (including your posture and facial expression).
- Proceed toward your values: Rather than reacting habitually, make a choice to respond that’s reflective of what really matters to you.
In addition, you can try this 7-minute mindfulness meditation by HNS Co-Founder Dr. Ellen Keithline Byrne to help you tune into your mind and body and bring awareness to what you’re feeling in the present moment.
While employers have a critical role in promoting better work-life balance, individual efforts – such as self-reflection, aligning with core values, and practicing mindfulness – can be equally essential. Setting boundaries and making choices that support your well-being ultimately sets you up for success, increasing satisfaction, decreasing chances of burnout, and ensuring you’re showing up at your best for the things that really matter.