Modern men and women lead very full lives – sometimes too full. We play various roles – as a worker, as a spouse, as a parent, as a carer for elderly parents, as a cleaner and housekeeper, and as a person with hobbies. All too often, these different functions conflict with each other and they place stress on us as individuals, families and employees.

At work, our office hours tend to be long. And even when we are at home, technology has made it difficult for us to leave our work behind at the office. We are constantly checking in or updating something via our mobile devices – sending emails and text messages and making or taking phone calls – and the limited time families get to spend together is disrupted.

Unless we can assert some sort of control over our lives and separate our home and work life, this behaviour can cause overload and work-family conflict. There have been many studies on the question of finding a balance between our work and home lives. In most cases, our caregiving roles take second place to our work roles, making us feel guilty that we are neglecting our loved ones in one way or another.

At work, the main sources of stress include long hours, job insecurity, lack of support, work demands, job dissatisfaction, conflict, and communication technology. Global issues of poor economic growth and high unemployment also play a role. These difficult job conditions make it hard for employees to coordinate work and family life, and they have been linked to health risks such as depression, weight gain and increasing smoking and alcohol consumption.

As workers face these physical and mental challenges, employers are also affected by issues such as absenteeism, loyalty, performance and productivity costs. As a result, some have put wellness programmes in place to give their staff members something a little extra. Some offices, for example, offer lunchtime exercise classes, massages, healthy eating advice or more holidays. Other incentives include flexible work location and times, and more support from managers.

Combining a good career with a great family life and interesting hobbies may sound like an impossible dream. After all, there are always going to be compromises and sacrifices on one side or the other.

However, it is possible to limit the damage if work and family are carefully managed. Although deliberate choices don’t guarantee complete control, they can make a difference. Students at Harvard Business School conducted a major study involving around 4,000 executives over a five-year period. Its findings pointed to five main themes that successful business people considered when trying to balance their busy lives.

Define success for yourself

Success is not necessarily about money or reputation, it could be defined as spending at least four nights a week at home or making an effort to understand and appreciate family dynamics.

Manage technology

Technology gives you flexibility but it also infringes on family time. It’s therefore important to set boundaries and decide when, where, and how to be accessible for work. Most executives viewed technology as a good and useful servant, but as a bad master that should not rule your world. Many noted the benefits of making the effort to rather communicate in person.

Build support networks

Managing both family and a professional life requires a strong network of supporters. At home, this might mean helping with practical things like shopping or cooking. At work, it might refer to surrounding yourself with the right team. Emotional support, like having someone to talk to, is also important both at work and at home.

Travel or relocate selectively

Time management is vital, but so is your location. International work experience may sound like a good move for your career, but it’s not necessarily the right thing for your family. Know that it’s ok to say no to an opportunity if it conflicts with other elements of your life.

Collaborate with your partner

A shared vision will make your life at home and in the office much easier. A couple should ideally complement each other. The pair should understand, believe in and respect one another.

Striving to achieve a balance may not be easy. And life may throw you a curve ball and send your best intentions spinning out of control. However, there is more than one way to achieve success. If you try to look at things differently, maybe you’ll be able to regain your feet and create more harmony in your life. Just note that you cannot do it alone.

Article taken from InHealth, Issue 5 2015. Click here to download the publication