28 January, 2011

One of the biggest challenges facing modern families is to maintain a healthy balance between work and home life. Covering basic living expenses can be challenging enough, without the additional pressure to keep up with the latest products, trends and luxuries. This can lead to pressure to earn more - working longer hours, taking on multiple jobs or seeking higher paid (and more demanding) employment. In one way or another, most families struggle to find a healthy balance between work and home life.

Under these types of pressures, parents may find it difficult to maintain a healthy relationship with their children and partner. In Saulwick’s (2003) survey, 58% of employees expressed that the pressure of work was detracting from their family and personal life; 54% said that work left them too tired to go out; and 33% of women said their work pressure was such that it left them sexually disinterested. These and related issues can create strain on family relationships.

Why is this phenomenon happening? A 2004 study by Breakspear and Hamilton found that families endure long hours in unsatisfying conditions to pursue the long-term dream of a ‘happy’ retirement / lifestyle later on. They called this the ‘Deferred Happiness Syndrome’.

The motivations for deferring happiness are various, but three major factors lead people to continue working even though they were unhappy or felt guilty for the time that they could not be spending with their children.
1. Growing aspirations for more expensive life style dominate some people’s lives. The desire to stay in this race often means longer, harder hours.
2. Some workers felt the need to accumulate as much as they can to prepare for retirement. Many participants expressed that they were concerned when it would come time for them to retire that the pension would not meet their need and that they would be on their own.
3. Some participants become fearful that if they change from their demanding jobs that there may be catastrophic consequences. This ideology often remains unchallenged until some crisis at work or home forces them to consider alternatives.

When people decide they no longer want to be driven by the Deferred Happiness Syndrome, research shows that downshifting, or a voluntary decision to change their lives in a way that reduces their incomes and spending is an alternative option. The most important reasons given for downshifting is to spend more time with family (35%), a desire for a healthier lifestyle (23%), more personal fulfilment (16%), and a more balanced lifestyle (16%).

However, for those who are not in a position to downshift right now, there are ways we can better manage our time and stress, to encourage a more balanced work/home life:
• Take some time out to relax
• Try and do a bit of exercise (great release of stress)
• Leave work at work. Do not try to take paperwork home. If you work from home, when it comes ‘knock-off time’ close the office door and don’t go back no matter how tempting
• Try to balance your diet and try not to eat too late in the evening. If heavy foods are eaten late, it can affect sleep.
• Make rituals with the children and partner - these rituals create a habit. For example, every Sunday you may develop the ritual of taking the children to the park.
• Learn to say ‘no’ to unreasonable demands at work. A bit of assertiveness can help you maintain a healthy work-life balance.

For more tips on creating a healthy work-life balance please contact Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277 or visitwww.raq.org.au to find your nearest Relationships Australia branch.