The Science of Coaching Work/Life Balance
It is important for our clients to achieve work/life balance because the “life” part of the equation is the support environment for the “work” part. Our clients need to enhance the environment they are coming from in order to cope with the stress they will face at work. Getting this right reduces stress leave, sick leave, turnover and the costs associated with individuals leaving their jobs.
There are different kinds of stress—some are good, some are neutral and some are bad for us if experienced in the long term. When focusing on work/life balance, coaches also need to keep in mind that stress might be arising from life at home or at work.
Research shows that work is a leading cause of stress for adults. Consider that 65 percent of respondents to the American Psychological Association’s 2012 “Stress in America” survey cited work as a significant source of stress in their daily lives. As coaches, however, we know that our clients’ performance and resilience in the workplace are strongly influenced by the goings-on in their non-work lives. It may be helpful to visualize your client’s day as divided into three segments: pre-text, context and recovery. Each of these segments impacts the other two.
The pre-text—what happens before the workday begins, including the morning routine and daily commute—plays a major role in determining your client’s work performance. I have found that the single most important element in a client’s pre-text is the home life, and especially the family dynamic. On the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (aka the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale), which measures the stress load carried by an individual, family dynamics account for eight of the top-10 stressors.
Techniques clients might use to boost resilience to stress include:
- Building role distinction. When at home, clients should make an effort to focus on their identity as partners, spouses and/or parents instead of bringing work home.
- Being fully present at work. Taking personal calls during the workday can decrease resilience to stress.
- Maintaining good physical health. Support your clients in planning to eat more healthfully and exercise for at least 30 minutes daily.
Take into account how stressful the workplace itself is. Each job is different: Consider that in 2013, CareerCast.com’s annual survey of the least- and most-stressful jobs identified university professor and jeweler as two of the lowest-stress professions. On the other end of the spectrum were careers in military service, firefighting and law enforcement.
Techniques for improving coping mechanisms include:
- Developing boundaries. Clients need to know when to say yes and when to say no.
- Recognizing the signs of stress. Coach clients to recognize warning signs of stress, such as increased heart rate, distraction and sweating when stationary. Taking regular breaks or making time for a longer walk during the workday can help keep stress at bay.
- Learning mindfulness. Support clients as they learn how to separate self from activity and performance.
Does your client have a close-knit work group to provide support through tough times? What about a strong support network away from the workplace? Does your client volunteer in the community after-hours? Although volunteerism can boost positive emotions and decrease stress, this isn’t always the case with more stressful obligations, such as volunteer firefighting or participating in local government.
Clients can enhance their ability to bounce back by:
- Taking the long way home. Getting some physical and chronological distance from the workplace before arriving home yields dividends in a person’s home and professional life.
- Seeking new experiences. Encourage clients to try something new, meet someone new or eat something different.
- Unplugging. Setting a technology curfew will help your client “turn off” the workday and ensure more restful, intentional time spent away from the workplace.
The Social Readjustment Rating Scale was developed in the late 1960s by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe to measure the impact of common, stressful life events on individual health and well-being. The mean value (or life change unit) assigned to each event is based on how traumatic it was perceived to be by a large sample group. An individual’s SRSS total is the cumulative total value of life changes experienced within the last 12 months or expected to be experienced in the near future. If an event has occurred or is expected to occur more than once, its value is multiplied by its frequency.