It’s no easy task to achieve a balance in life between work and the rest of our lives, especially in today’s unpredictable and fast-paced world. We see so many people experiencing poor time management, constantly rushing to juggle different commitments; trying to achieve more and more every day. It has become all too common to check emails at all hours on our phones, take business calls at the dinner table and work on our laptops on weekends. But, why has this become acceptable?
According to the United Nations, Australia is the second-best country in the world to live, due to its excellent quality of life index. But, Australians work hard — with more than 1 in 10 employees working more than 50 hours per week, which is considered ‘very long hours’. The Better Life Index, surveyed 40 countries, and Australia ranked a disappointing but unsurprising 31st for work life balance, with 13% of our population working very long hours. As technology makes it harder to switch-off, the appreciation and value of having a healthy work-life balance has grown.
How Important is Work-Life Balance?
Maintaining a balance between work and life is crucial for your overall health and wellbeing. All too often, we start experiencing burn-out; physical and emotional exhaustion, reduced efficiency and a lack of a sense of achievement at work. Although experiencing stress is a natural human response to challenging situations, long-term and repeated exposure to stress can become physically and mentally draining. Chronic stress has become one of the most common health issues prevalent in the workplace. It can lead to physical impacts such as hypertension, digestive troubles, as well as negatively impact mental health by creating a higher risk of depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Having a healthy work-life balance is not only important for your health but also your productivity. The 2017 World Happiness Report found that work-life balance is the strongest driver of happiness, leading to greater job satisfaction and overall well-being. People who are happier at work, will work harder, be more motivated and perform better. If you’re one of those people who are struggling to find or maintain balance, all is not lost. Finding a balance is not a ‘one size fits all approach,’ but more about making intentional changes in the way you live your life to bring about change.
But, What Is Work-Life Balance Anyway?
Having work-life balance is dependent on a combination of factors that include the amount of time we spend at work and the time we devote to leisure and personal care. For most of us, this is exactly how we have come to think of balance too. Work on one side, everything else on the other. We put the two into nice, neat, little boxes, tie them up with string and never shall they meet. But we all know this isn’t how it works. Work and life are not separate. The fact is we do not have a work self and a life self that can be separated as we walk through the office door.
Achieving a work/life balance is very subjective and transient. Work Life balance is not fixed. It changes with seasons and with every stage of our lives. The whole idea that there’s “work” and then there’s “life” is problematic at many levels. Firstly, it assumes that work is the center of our lives and everything else is peripheral and on the side. Secondly, it assumes that work can never be integrated with life and that there’s a boundary separating the two. The goal needs to be to create harmony between work, life, community and our personal lives.
Everything that happens to us or that we do both personally and professionally impacts all aspects of us. Maybe the reason why this balance is so hard to attain is because we try to excel in both work and life, separately, instead of realising that we need to establish work-life harmony. Rather than trying to balance the opposite sides of an imaginary fulcrum, we need to balance our work and our life and have them work together to achieve this balance.
This is exactly the ultimate goal of Islam – to attain harmony and balanced progress in life.
Instead of thinking of work life balance in terms of what others expect from us, we should think of work life balance in terms of fulfilling rights. The rights of our body, the rights of our mind, the rights of our families, the rights of our friends, and of course, the rights of our workplaces. The elegance of Islam in this is that it takes away the guilt associated normally with work life balance. For example, if we know that we’ve fulfilled the rights of our workplace, then we shouldn’t feel guilty if we leave by 5pm just because everyone else expects us to stay longer.
The key to have balance in your lives is to give each part of your life the time, effort and dedication it deserves – whether it is work or anything else. Islam teaches that everything you do in life can in actuality become worship. When we take every action in an effort to please our Creator, appreciating His bounties and being grateful for these blessings, we practically live our faith and practice our beliefs.
Ultimately, once we shift our thinking of work-life balance from subjective and idealistic notions to rights of others and ourselves, it becomes very clear and intuitive where to draw the line between the different parts of our lives and how to balance our lives given the circumstances. Once we achieve this balance, it leads to true happiness in life – we are taking actions and steps in our lives, making sure we do justice towards all aspects of our lives – for not only peace of mind, but to fulfil our purpose in life.
Take Time Out
It might seem strange to think about the teachings of religion when you are trying to find that work-life harmony in your life. But Islam is a universal, practical religion that does not separate the spiritual and worldly aspects of an individual’s life. Islam provides guidance which covers lives from all angles. Certain life changes when implemented can revolutionise the way you approach work and life.
Let’s take the simple example of the Islamic 5 daily prayers. Muslims take time out of the hustle of day to day life to perform five prayers at their designated time. These prayers are a stepping stone to success, they reinforce this idea of balance by providing a way to disconnect from our busy lives.. We see this same idea reinforced through modern day technology with so many phone apps and smart watches, sending its users reminders to take a break, to breathe, to take a moment to reflect. Mindfulness has become a trend, forcing one to consciously notice oneself without any distractions, yet, Islam has done this for centuries and has provided a way to reconnect with our Creator throughout the day.
Gradual Progress Leads to Perfection
Ultimately, achieving a work-life balance takes time. Rushing to achieve success, burning ourselves out to achieve our goals, is not only unhealthy but won’t provide us with lasting results. Rather than trying to achieve perfectionism, we need to give ourselves the time and effort required to gradually progress in our lives. All progress takes time and happens when it is meant to be. The concept of becoming is a life process, just as nature is always in a state of becoming, always moving forward, never rushed.
Consistent, measured effort to progress in our lives by ensuring that we give justice to ourselves, our families and our communities will eventually create balance and harmony in our lives. Think about it, when God created us, He took His time and created us in His image. So then, would it not be anything but a disservice to live a life of chaos, without harmony, without taking time to remember Him and without fulfilling our rights, as we are guided to do so?