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Building work-life balance requires a team effort
Research has made it clear that anyone who wants to achieve better work-life balance must understand that it isn't an individual pursuit. As with most things in life, our chances of success increase dramatically if we make this a team effort. - photo by Greg Kratz
I often ponder what I need to do at work and at home to build a more balanced life.

But the fact is, I can't succeed in that effort if I'm trying to do it all by myself.

Research has made it clear that anyone who wants to achieve better work-life balance must understand that it isn't an individual pursuit. As with most things in life, our chances of success increase dramatically if we make this a team effort.

That means we need to communicate with everyone from bosses and co-workers to family and friends and make sure they understand what we're trying to accomplish.

It also means we need to lean on them for help, support and encouragement as we try to change our lives in positive ways.

As better balance has become a goal of more workers, I think people have started to grasp this truth. A March survey of more than 1,400 U.S. adults by Fairfield Inn & Suites seems to support that belief.

When asked how important it is to surround yourself with people who help you maintain balance in life, 87 percent of respondents said it was either important or very important, according to the Fairfield Inn & Suites report.

The survey went on to ask, "Who is instrumental in helping you maintain balance in your life?" The top response this time, at 69 percent, was a person's spouse or significant other. That was followed closely by a friend (68 percent); a parent or parents (53 percent); a pet (48 percent); a co-worker (32 percent); and children (30 percent).

I don't have a pet, but I do have people in those other categories in my life. All of them help me as I try to maintain balance.

For example, I've written frequently about my spouse, and for good reason. She sets an excellent example for me and our children, as well as so many other people in our neighborhood and community. What I haven't mentioned is how she encourages me to find balance in life.

I depend on routine, almost to the point of becoming a slave to it. My wife, on the other hand, is skilled at quickly adapting to changes. I've learned a bit about that from her, and it helps me see and take advantage of opportunities to build better balance.

For instance, she makes sure I know about events involving our children that I really should attend. Then she helps me figure out how to rearrange my work schedule to get there. As a creature of habit, it would be easy for me to stick to my routine and miss important activities, but with her support and assistance, I am able to overcome that tendency and take care of the life side of my personal equation.

My wife also helps me maintain a healthy perspective on my life. I tend to be pessimistic, seeing doom and gloom in minor setbacks. She brings me back to reality, points out the many positives in our little corner of the world, encourages me to push forward and sets me on the right track.

Without her in my life as a positive force, I'd likely get sidetracked by irritants that would make me even more anxious and grouchy than I sometimes am now. (Of course, helping me avoid that helps her, too, because no one wants to live with a whiner. But I believe her motives are mostly altruistic.)

Friends also help me in many ways, large and small, like convincing me to leave the office for lunch now and then instead of eating at my desk or wolfing down something while sitting alone in the break room.

My parents and children are fully aware of my desire for balance, and they lend a hand, too, often through simple words of encouragement. Finally, without the patience, kindness and understanding of a great boss and co-workers, my work-life quest would be over before it started.

Again, my feelings are reflected in the Fairfield Inn & Suites survey, which asked respondents the extent to which various factors described how people mentioned in the earlier question helped them maintain balance. In this case, 88 percent said that those people both "make life fun" and "make me feel less stressed." That response was followed by another tie in which 86 percent mentioned that such people "are supportive and a personal cheerleader" and "inspire me and help me strive to be my best."

This reminds me of last week's column on employee recognition. It's vital to help people feel appreciated and inspired if you want them to be both productive at work and happy in their lives.

I know my family and friends make my life fun every day, often with something as seemingly inconsequential as a knowing smile or a kind word. I also know that dozens of people are cheering me on, hoping I'll succeed in all aspects of my life, and that is part of what helps me get out of bed every morning.

Who helps you most in your efforts to build a more balanced life? What do they do that makes a difference? And how are you trying to help others meet their work-life balance goals?
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