Achieving Work-Life Balance and Preventing Burn-Out

Journeys in Construction

Achieving Work-Life Balance and Preventing Burn-Out

Work-Life Balance or Burnout Street Sign

Sometimes people get stuck in a rut of hard work and need new perspective. Stepping out of a routine or temporarily stepping away from a difficult situation often provides new ideas for moving forward more effectively.

I will share some tips with you to improve your work-life balance and prevent burn-out. First some background…

My Experience and My Goal

I try to avoid working as a regular employee dedicated to one company long-term because I’ve found other ways for a more satisfactory work-life balance. An employee’s typical schedule with one or two brief vacations per year does not fit my desired lifestyle.

I used to work on a back-to-back rotational basis with other managers. For example, on long-term projects in distant locations where we would typically work every day for several week, then take a few weeks off.

Now being self-employed, I like to hustle 50-60 hours per week for a while and then take extended time off. I’ve found that having a long sabbatical allows me to go places and do things that I would not experience during a brief vacation.

That’s not everybody’s idea of work-life balance, and has not always been mine, but for the past several years that’s what I’ve been trying to do, with some success. In fact, I have managed to take off 2-3 months every year for the past 14 years.

This is possible because I have a sense of ownership. I can maintain effectiveness during my time off by training people to take over, preparing systems to keep people informed and accountable, and checking in regularly. The key to success at this is not to work so hard as to burn out and crash, but instead to work intentionally toward the goal of my presence not being needed.

It may take a lot of preparation and hard work to achieve your version of work-life balance, but it’s worth the investment.

Definition of Burn-Out

Burn-out is defined by the WHO in their International Classification of Diseases as follows:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

An Example of Burn-Out

I worked with a senior superintendent on a big building project to help finish it. He told me that he had been working for almost 3 years without a vacation. I had not been there from the beginning, and I didn’t know that guy previously, but it was apparent that he was a good guy who got burnt out. He had an excellent reputation from his career history but had been reduced to barely showing up to meetings and faking his way through the last phases of the project.

Whether his burn-out was caused by his stubborn refusal to take a break, or the company not adequately supporting him and the project, or other reasons, it certainly caused a lot of strife among the project stakeholders. His reputation was diminished, several people quit, and relationships were damaged. In the end, the project was finished but the process was much messier than it should have been.

How to Improve Work-Life Balance

There is some good advice in this article from the Harvard Business Review about improving work-life balance: You Can Be a Great Leader and Also Have a Life

Similar to the story that I told above, this article describes some typical situations;

“These intense work styles are often celebrated as the only way to get to the top and be a super-productive leader. Indeed, surveys show that managers and executives describe the “ideal worker” as someone with no personal life or caregiving responsibilities. And a majority of leaders themselves — the ones who set the tone for organizations and model behavior for everyone else — think work-life balance is “at best an elusive ideal and at worst a complete myth.” In an interview, three CEOs rated as top performers by HBR said the job was 24/7 and admitted they weren’t great role models.”

The article goes on to explain some solutions;

“Some of the most effective strategies… include planning vacations, where possible, around the seasonality of work; delegating and reviewing essential team work two weeks before leaving; creating a “what can wait” list one week before vacation; and avoiding scheduling meetings and phone calls one day before and one day after vacation to concentrate on essential priorities.”

Articles like this often point out examples of big-shot executives in giant corporations, which might seem out of reach for most people. However, I know that many small business owners and independent consultants can also achieve similar results, as well as some employees of some companies. 

Job satisfaction and balance with life outside of work are possible to achieve. Maybe you need to learn to better cope with your situation. Maybe you need time off to refresh. Maybe you need to change your employer, your career, or yourself.

If you hate your job or are burnt out, find another way. You can do it.


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