Written by Dr Kathy Barrett
I was heartened to see from your contributions to the recent Careers in Research Online Survey in response to the statement “I am satisfied with my work-life balance” that more than half of those of you who responded (66%) agreed or agreed strongly. I hope that the articles in this blog series on work-life balance helped the remaining 34% of you move in the satisfied direction.
At an early stage in my professional training as a Careers Consultant I was introduced to the theories of Donal Super1. Super’s theory, summarised by his rainbow (Figure 1), struck several chords with me. One of these was about work-life balance. We tend to think about work-life balance as simply between work and life, rather than a complex mix of roles that we take on in our lives. Super reminds me that work is a part of living and we are free to define for ourselves how big a part it is.
Super’s theory says that we take on several different roles during our lifetime. These are child, student, leisurite, citizen, parent, spouse, homemaker and of course worker. The amount of time we spend on each of these roles will be defined by our life stage and our priorities. For example we will be a child for most of our lives, firstly as a dependent child and later potentially as a caring child of an elderly parent. Most of us will also take on the role of worker, but only intensely from the end of our education to retirement, after which we generally stop working. The amount of time we spend on each of these roles will also vary, for example it is unusual to be parents before the age of 20 and our children need us less and less as they get older.
The rainbow also reminds me is that there is so much more to life than being a worker. When considering how to balance our lives towards fulfilment rather than frustration we should take into account all of these roles, their relative importance to us as individuals and the amount of pleasure they each bring. Of course we also need to consider reality, such as the need to earn enough to keep ourselves and our dependents alive, but would this really mean we need to spend all our waking hours working?
I have seen people gain great insight into how they can make improvements by increasing or decreasing the time spent on one or two of these roles. Try creating a pie chart of the proportion of your time you actually spend on each of them and a second one of the time proportions you would like to spend, identifying the reasons why you make these distributions. You may find that it already helps you to improve your perspective on the importance you place on each role and lead to setting a more fulfilling balance.