You may remember a few months ago I wrote an article around my take on workplace culture , what it’s like here at Single Malt and how maybe that fits into the work-life balance somehow.

Following on from that it seems a great time to talk about what work-life balance means to you, to me, to our bosses. It’s been banded about for a while now, but I can’t help thinking it’s one of those phrases that people use but without thinking about or truly understanding the meaning.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of work-life balance is this:

“..the balance that an individual needs between time allocated for work and other aspects of life. Areas of life other than work–life can be, but are not limited to, personal interests, family and social or leisure activities.”

But to me that just seems a little bit too literal and too expected as an answer. Although I guess it’s the answer that most people would give. What would your answer be if I asked you right now?

I found this 5 step process to achieving a healthy work-life balance. See what you think. I know what I think…

Step 1: Prioritise work tasks, determining the most important ones first and allocating enough time to complete them. This will help you keep on top of your workload.

Step 2: Structure time at work by defining your day around your priorities. Group similar tasks together to make you more efficient.

Step 3: Take breaks during the work day and do something that is not related to your job. Run errands during the day if you can’t fit them in before and after work.

Step 4: Use your holiday allowance to recharge, relax and unwind.

Step 5: Leverage technology to work smarter and increase productivity. Use video technology to avoid travelling and work at home if your commute is long.

For me, I can see a couple of bits in there that I agree with, but it feels like these 5 steps have been written by a business owner or senior manager who wants their staff to feel like they have been given a work-life balance, but actually they are just being asked to work more productively. And where is the real acknowledgement of the ‘life’ bit? I can really only see the ‘work’ bit. And to me, that really isn’t work-life balance. Of course, I’m not saying my view on it is 100% correct, but the most important thing is that our version of work life balance works for me and our business.

If you asked me what my work life balance is, I’d say something along the lines of… I enjoy my work so it’s no chore to get up and go in the first place. Our business is not only a great place to work, but we aim to employ the basics of encouraging a great work life balance – specifically the ‘life’ bit. Some of the points mentioned above such as being able to work at home if you have an appointment, starting late and leaving early if you need to, plus flexible holiday structure (so if you need a day off – take a day off) are standard for us. We also have lots of team socials, team lunches, birthday cakes, beers in the fridge, cinema trips, Summer parties, Halloween parties and Christmas parties. 

‘Do you even work at all?!’ I hear you ask! But there itself is the point. We work extremely hard, work late when we need to, work on weekends when we need to, come in on bank holidays if a client needs us, be on hand for emergency amends during the night for events and much more. Our clients are really important to us and so we aim to give the best service we can, which means we balance the books by having all of the nice things I’ve just mentioned. For me, that creates the perfect work-life balance, and that in turn creates the culture I talked about last time.

That said, there are times when we have to remind each other to leave on time or book some time off, but that’s because we enjoy our roles so much we almost don’t want the time off! I know I’m very lucky to work in such a place, but consider this – is it really that difficult to adapt and work that way? I don’t think it is, and if you do, you’re likely to find that your staff work naturally better because they are happy, they won’t take advantage of the flexible holiday because they know they can have a day off if needed, and the team will be efficient because they love what they do.

The way to get to that point is to know WHY your business is in business. Everything is linked. Whacking some ciders in the bottom drawer in the fridge won’t cut it. Why are you here? What do you want to do with your business? Do you want to inspire a small marketing campaign for a client or do you want to help them totally rebrand, refresh their offering and transform their way of working? Work in the spaces that you fit. If there’s a round hole and you’re a square business, well, it speaks for itself. You can’t have a great work life balance if you don’t know why you work or what your work is trying to do. 

So not as simple as we might make it seem here at Single Malt. We know where we’re going and how long we expect it to take us to get there. We make decisions based on feelings, not purely on results. And we are courageous in our decisions – if it doesn’t fit with us and we don’t fit with it..then we’ll recommend someone else. I found this great couple of lines in an article called ‘The WHY in Action’ by Simon Sinek, who you’ll all know of. He’s a big believer in this.

“The WHY is a tool that can bring clarity to that which is fuzzy and make tangible that which is abstract. Used properly, it can be used to hire, to develop strategies and to communicate more clearly (internally and externally). The WHY can help set a vision to inspire people. The WHY can guide us to act with purpose, on purpose.”

So to sum up these ramblings, your work life balance is set by more than just your ‘work’ life and your ‘life’ life. You need to start with your business reasoning and feed this into your personal reasoning. Then you can arrange employee benefits and rewards to feed into your culture, which then speaks for itself.

It’s simple stuff but with a bit of strategy behind it too which is why I made my comment at the beginning that I’m not sure everyone understands the true meaning. I guess as long as we are all truly happy in what we’re doing, then it doesn’t matter.

So now you’ve read this, would your answer to what work-life balance is to you, be different now compared to what it might have been at the beginning of the article? If so, I’m grateful because it means you’ve considered meanings and personal needs simply from reading a few lines from someone like me who waffles on and has opinions! But part of knowing yourself well is knowing the rationale behind your life choices and your decisions.