Is The Pursuit Of Work-Life Balance Burning You Out?

Michelle McQuaid
4 min readApr 29, 2022
iStock:Dmytro Varavin

Three Evidence-Based Ways To Set Better Boundaries At Work

When it comes to balancing the opportunities and demands of your work and your life, how have you gone over the last week? If it’s felt like your “work” has often been competing with your “life,” know that you are in good company. Researchers have found that for many of us trying to find work-life balance can feel like a zero-sum game in which we are always making sacrifices.

But is there an alternative?

“Almost 30 years of research suggests that we don’t have to sacrifice the things that matter most to us in our personal lives in order to succeed in our careers,” explained Dr. Stewart Friedman, an organizational psychologist at Wharton Business School and founder of its Work/Life Integration Project, when we interviewed him recently. “In fact, our studies have found that we’re more likely to be successful, perform better, feel less stressed, and be more in harmony when we’re able to integrate the four key domains of our lives — our career, our family, our community, and ourselves (mind, body, spirit) — so that life is better in each of these areas.”

Stewart suggested that rather than seeking work-life balance we instead look for “Four-Way Wins” that benefit and enrich ourselves, our family, our community and our work. By seeing that these domains are interconnected, it makes it more likely we’ll find possibilities for enriching all the areas of our lives, rather than assuming that one must always come at the sacrifice of another.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who begin to apply the Four-Way Wins approach most often start by directing some their attention away from work and toward the other areas. While this may cause concern for some workplaces, paradoxically this redirection can result in better performance at work as well as the other domains because people are likely to be more grounded, less distracted, more focused, and intentional about the things that matter.

Unfortunately, Stewart’s research has found that currently many of us rate our satisfaction with each of the four domains, on average, around five out of ten. So, what can we try to improve our “Four-Way Wins”? He recommends:

  • Be real — Creating more harmony and connection in the different parts of your life starts with being real about your values and your vision. It takes looking within yourself and clarifying what matters most. What are your values? What do you care about most? Where have you come from? Where do you want to go?

Try this effective way to articulate your vision by taking a few minutes to describe a day exactly 15 years from today. Imagine, ideally, what happens on that day? You wake up, what do you do? What do you do in the morning? In the afternoon? In the evening? Who are you with? Who are you interacting with? And most importantly, why are you doing what you’re doing? What’s the impact that you’re having? What’s the legacy that you’re creating?

Articulating your values and vision, and then sharing them with others can create the foundation for taking meaningful, productive action as a leader, and generate more support as others understand what you’re about, and see how they’ll benefit from your vision.

  • Be whole — Recognize and respect yourself and others as a whole person. Ask yourself why the four domains of life matter to you? Who are the people who matter most to you? Why do they matter to you? How do they fit with your values, your vision of yourself, and your life as a leader? Rather than assuming you know what others expect of you, talk with them about what they actually need. And then be able to listen, inquire, and help others feel comfortable telling you what they need from you, as well as expressing what you need from them.
  • Be innovative — Experiment with ways to make things better for yourself, the people who matter most to you, and the world around you. Set yourself a specific goal — such as turning off technology, mindfulness training, exercise, going for walks, reading books — and consider how this might improve the four domains. No matter what you choose to do, the key is to think that it isn’t just for you, your work, family, and community, but rather it’s for each of these, even if it’ll only have an indirect or ripple effect. Then try it for a month and see what does and doesn’t work. Think of your world as a kind of laboratory in which you’re the scientist discovering new knowledge about what it takes for you to create meaningful change. This can help you feel more confident about trying something new, and also can help you feel less guilty about focusing on you, as you’re making things better for you and others.

How might you find more balance between the areas of your life that matter to the most?

For a series of simple free assessments from Stewart and his team click here.