Added 16 October 2023

In search of work-life balance

Work-life balance is a concept suggesting that there is a balance between work and personal life. In practice, it means setting clear boundaries between work and leisure, taking care to keep these zones tight and avoiding situations where one dominates the other.

In definition, simple: you work when you are at work. After work, you rest or take care of private matters. In practice, for some reason this is sometimes more difficult. Instead of achieving the desired balance, we continue to strive for it and become frustrated by the lack of time to develop at work or suffer from stress and overtime, which eats away at our enjoyment of leisure time or deprives us of it. Let’s look at the reasons for this frustration to better understand the problem.


Work-life balance as an antidote to … exploitation

Work-life balance emerged as a concept in the United States in the 1980s. It was then that the free market economy began to take off and the labour privileges offered by the welfare state were severely curtailed by Regan’s policies. Thus, responsibility for one’s own wellbeing and lifestyle hygiene was shifted to workers. Work-life balance and its recommendations were revealed as a miraculous solution.

Does this mean that people did not have work-life balance before? It depends where and when. Either they had it so much that they did not need to discuss it, organise conferences and trainings on it (e.g. indigenous tribes of American Indians before colonisation, socialist France, Scandinavia after the discovery of oil), or its absence was not a problem for the owners of enterprises or land estates, because they did not treat the employee as a subject at all (serfdom in Poland, slavery, times before the industrial and workers’ revolution).


Progress as a promise of work-life balance

A lot has changed since then, both in the Labour Code and in the culture of many organisations. Work-life balance has also undergone a certain image facelift and transformed from an antidote to the pathologies of capitalism into an element of employer branding and sometimes even organisational culture. Add to this the advances in technology and civilisation, which have made our lives unbelievably easier – take washing machines, dishwashers, dryers and other household appliances, for example, which have freed women from slave-like unpaid work for the family. In addition, high-speed internet has come under the roof, and with it remote working, instant services, entertainment and social media. It should therefore be easier for us than for our grandparents’ or parents’ generation to achieve work-life balance. So what are the obstacles? There are many obstacles: from the individual (such as poor time organisation, wrong priorities, workaholism), to the organisational (such as a poor boss or faulty management) or the systemic (such as a lack of support from the state in terms of family planning or childcare). Some of these obstacles can be dealt with, others require strenuous education and systemic change. So it becomes clear that work-life balance is difficult to achieve alone. For this we need a community, a support network and a change in collective consciousness. It is a long road, but you have to start somewhere. The best place to start is with yourself and your environment.


Imbalance the price of living standards

In order to avoid the frustration associated with these changes, it is worth putting things even further into perspective and taking the entire burden of responsibility for one’s own well-being off of oneself as an employee. Instead – look at the work-life balance problem from the point of view of economic processes and social trends: the standard and comfort of living has improved significantly in Poland in recent decades. At the same time, in order to maintain this standard, it is necessary to work with more commitment. And even if we do not give our work a dozen hours a day like a serf, we certainly give it a lot of energy, attention and sometimes our own soul. Progress and the maintenance of its gains are proving to be very costly not only to our taxes but also to our energy resources. The acceleration of civilisation is growing exponentially, and there is no upper limit for growth and profit. At the same time, the evolution of the human organism is much slower. Our nervous system has a finite capacity and time to process stimuli, the diurnal rhythm has not changed, despite the fact that we have been independent of the solar world since the 19th century, and we still need to get regular sleep. Physiologically, we are unable to keep up with progress. At the same time, its advances have become so important to us that we have started to serve them instead of simply using them.

So, if you have endless lists of work tasks on your desk and a list of household chores on your fridge, if you have laundry coming out of the bathroom, if you forgot to pick up your child from karate out of exhaustion, if you are perpetually behind schedule and are blowing deadlines, you now know why. You cannot catch up with the Japanese shinkansen by horse-drawn wagon.


Work-life balance – a hit or a myth?

Does this mean that work-life balance should be forgotten? Abandon the pipe dream of this mythical balance? Before answering this question, it is important to understand that work-life balance is not a state or anything permanent. It is a constant striving and balancing between things that are important to us. And in this balancing lies the secret. Just as in sport the subtle movements of tensing our deep muscles give us greater agility, in the area of work-life balance this muscle of desired balance has the chance to strengthen and allow us to catch it more and more efficiently.

How to do it? Beyond the rather trivial, but fundamental in its importance, daily practices like regular sleep, healthy eating, recreational exercise, building relationships and boundaries for work life, let’s look wider, beyond direct control. Let us go into the area of influence, pressure and resistance to the all-consuming rush under the dictates of the big stock market players.


Let’s try to:

  • put limits on unrealistic goals at work and the constant raising of performance standards,
  • find people who think and feel the same way to create a critical mass and engage in constructive dialogue with employers about the meaning, purpose and pace of work
  • identify the minimum or optimum financial resources needed to maintain and function healthily without feeling backward, and use this as a criterion for workload,
  • discover what is most important in life. This will be different for everyone depending on their stage in life. Whatever your values in life, it is worth bringing them down from the level of lofty ideals to the level of everyday life, such as: “I’ll be nicer to my family if I don’t have to answer work calls after hours.” “I will be calmer and more productive if I get enough sleep or take an after-dinner nap.”I’ll be happier and more fulfilled if I bring one project to a conclusion with care, instead of five at once, but in a headlong way.” And that’s what to stick to when under pressure from those around you.

And finally: let’s be gentle with ourselves. Apparently, in adulthood, there’s always a backside.

Author: Aleksandra Blaszczyk


P. S. In the Mental Health Centre’s offer, we have prepared a “self-care” package for companies that want to invest in building the well-being of their employees, take multidimensional care to build mental resilience, positive thinking, show how to use mental resources and how to develop them. A list of workshop and lecture topics can be found on our website under “Offer”.

For the full lecture offer, please contact us by email:


Go back