Balance

In high school and college many young adults, who listen to their parents complain about not having enough time to do everything they want to do, proudly say, "That won't be me. I'll manage my work and free time better." It does not take these idealists long to learn that finding the right balance between work and pleasure is not easy. Companies love the 20-somethings; the firms work these young people to death and do not care if they leave after a few years. There will be another whole bunch of newbies coming in to take their place.

The second and third jobs that these young people take may not be 80-hour weeks, but will still be very demanding. During one's late 20s and early 30s, people also hope to meet a lifetime mate and begin raising children. Putting these extra "duties" into the equation, make the days/evenings even shorter.

Is it possible to find the right life balance? Yes, but this does not usually happen on its own. Ironically, some extra hours have to be put aside for finding the right approach. One of the most productive ways of accomplishing this challenge is looking at the issue in the long-term. Promising to fulfill certain goals over a year, five years or a decade is much less stressful than trying to do so in a few months. The important thing is to continually assess where one is in relationship to these goals. How many people make New Year's resolutions and forget about them in a week or two?

The psychotherapist and executive coach David Zelman sees this as a crucial skill people must learn. Those who succeed learn to "dance with change," he says.

They are regularly reviewing their lives to ensure it is going according to plan. Such people, according to Zelman, make personal decisions all the time. They are regularly conducting a reassessment of personal investments of time and attention to home, work, and enjoyment. If bad habits or outdated attitudes are running away with spare time, it is necessary to go back to the drawing plans (McCarty, 11).

The well-known business consultant guru Stephen Covey lists his "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" to help individuals find this balance.

Habit 1 - Be Proactive. Control one's environment, rather than have it control you, as is so often the case. This consists of self-determination, choice and the power to decide response to stimulus, conditions and circumstances.

Habit 2 - Begin with the end in mind. Covey calls this the habit of personal leadership. Or, that is, leading oneself toward what one consider are personal aims. By focusing on relevant activities an individual will build a platform to avoid distractions and become more productive and successful.

Habit 3 - Put first things first. This is the habit of personal management, which concerns. organizing and implementing activities in line with aims established in habit 2. First comes mental creation and then physical creation.

Habit 4 - Think win-win, or establishing the habit of interpersonal leadership. This is critical since achievements are largely dependent on cooperative efforts with other individuals. Win-win is based on the assumption that there is plenty for everyone and success follows a cooperative approach more naturally than the confrontation of win-or-lose.

Habit 5 - Seek first to understand and then to be understood. This is Covey's powerful habit of communication or what he calls "diagnose before you prescribe."

Habit 6 - Synergize. This is the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, or the challenge to see the good and potential in the other person's contribution.

Habit 7 - Sharpen the saw. Most importantly, this means to continually self-renew and regularly do something that will encourage continual personal growth and enhancement.

A in the spiritual, mental, physical and the social/emotional, which all need feeding and developing.

Older individuals in their 30s and 40s who are juggling work, family, friends and free time may not even have the time to look at improving one habit let alone seven. How can they find a balance?

2001 study by Brigham Young University researchers called "Finding an Extra Day a Week: The Positive Influence of Perceived Job Flexibility on Work and Family Life Balance" concluded that it comes down to belief. Those individuals who think they have flexibility have the capability of working eight hours or more a week and still feel they have work-life balance. The study, which surveyed IBM personnel, is unique in that it actually quantifies the relationship between flexibility and work-life balance.

The hypotheses, tested by researchers Jeffrey Hill, Alan Hawkins, Maria Ferris and Michelle Weitzman, were: "Given the same workload, those with perceived job flexibility will have less difficulty with work-life conflicts, and will be able to work longer hours before having problems with work-family balance." Both hypotheses were found true. Of those working 40 to 50 hours per week, the 46% who were not allowed to either change their starting or ending times, work a compressed workweek or work from home had difficulty balancing work and personal life. This compared to only 28% of those working the same hours with flexibility.

For men with preschoolers the flexibility advantage was even greater: Fifty-nine percent without this flexibility had problems compared with 38% who could work more flexibly. The largest discrepancy was between women with pre-schoolers, who were allowed to work from home and could put in 43 hours per week without experiencing a lack of balance, and women not allowed to work from home who reported balance problems with a 32-hour week. The researchers concluded: "In a heavy workload environment, perceived flexibility in the timing of work enables personnel to work an extra day a week before work-family balance becomes difficult."

Telecommuting is increasingly becoming another means for finding extra time. More and more individuals who have put in very long hours on site during their first years of work are finding that they can strike agreements with their companies for telecommuting from home at least one or twice a week if not more. Certain positions lend themselves better to this approach than others, such as communication and marketing, sales and even some personnel positions. Of course this is much more difficult with any positions that require greater teamwork or on-site production.

According to the International Telework Association and Council, 44.4 million Americans worked from home at least part of the time in 2004, up 7.5% from just one year earlier. Advances in technology allowed these workers to perform their jobs effectively from home, on the road and at other off-site locations.

However, as with anything else, telecommuting is not for every person. A study was conducted of more than 800 individuals from 33 countries using an Internet survey that was hosted by the Telecommuting Jobs website (Kalensky). A total of 686 individuals completed the entire questionnaire. The primary goal of the research was to determine the characteristics of the person or job that need to be present in order for telecommuters to balance the competing demands of work and family. The results showed the following:

Neuroticism is the strongest indicator of work/life balance for telecommuters among all aspects of personality. In other words, individuals who reported being anxious, nervous depressed, angry and discouraged also reported lower work/life balance. Also, telecommuters exhibiting neurotic traits noted they received a lower job performance evaluations.

Conscientiousness is significantly related to a telecommuter's work/life balance. Telecommuters who reported being more careful, organized, and goal-directed, had higher life-balance scores. This personality variable was especially crucial for part-time telecommuters sharing their time between their main job site and telecommuting.

Extroversion, or being more outgoing, was positively linked to a more advantageous experience work/life balance.

Central Life Interest (CLI) is an expressed preference for a certain locale in carrying out an activity. Those who see work as their CLI view the workplace as their most important social sector where all the social activity needs will be totally fulfilled; those who do not adopt this view regard the workplace to be only one of many important social sectors, so they are not dependent on work to serve as their primary source of social interaction. As CLI interests increased, indicating CLI outside of work, work/life balance declined; as CLI decreased, indicating work as a CLI, work/life balance increased. It can be argued that these individuals are weighing their work life as more important when evaluating work/life balance issues.

Supervisor Support is a significant predictor of work/life balance for telecommuters. The more supportive the supervisor, the higher work/life balance the employee experienced.

Family Support, both emotional and instrumental, is significantly related to work/life balance of telecommuters.

Home Work Environment is crucial in determining a telecommuter's work/life balance. Those with a more positive home work environment had greater work/life balance.

The results of this study are indicative of all research conducted on life/work balance. Although it is reported by researchers, "gurus" or other specialists that a certain way of…