Athletic Training and Sports Health Care

Professional Practice 

Recommendations for Enhancing Work–Life Balance of the Athletic Trainer: Making It Personal

Stephanie M. Mazerolle, PhD, ATC, FNATA; Christianne Eason, PhD, ATC

Abstract

Work–life balance has become a central focus for working professionals, especially athletic trainers working within sports organizations. Organizations have begun to implement work–life initiatives as a means to support their employees as they navigate balancing their professional and personal lives. Most research and editorial reports focus mostly on the organization's efforts to provide strategies and policies to create work–life balance, yet the individuals themselves must also develop their own practices to create work–life balance. In this column, strategies are presented that can help the individual athletic trainer find work–life balance while working in a demanding work setting. [Athletic Training & Sports Health Care. 2018;10(2):60–63.]

Abstract

Work–life balance has become a central focus for working professionals, especially athletic trainers working within sports organizations. Organizations have begun to implement work–life initiatives as a means to support their employees as they navigate balancing their professional and personal lives. Most research and editorial reports focus mostly on the organization's efforts to provide strategies and policies to create work–life balance, yet the individuals themselves must also develop their own practices to create work–life balance. In this column, strategies are presented that can help the individual athletic trainer find work–life balance while working in a demanding work setting. [Athletic Training & Sports Health Care. 2018;10(2):60–63.]

Research regarding the work–life balance interface has mushroomed during the past decade, particularly for those working in the sports industry and college practice settings.1–7 There are many reasons for the increased attention, but it is largely due to the demands and expectations of being available and present at all times,1–3 which has directly contributed to job burnout, job dissatisfaction, and attrition.8–12 Although the literature regarding this topic within our profession is growing, athletic training is not the only profession with growing concerns regarding work–life balance. Stewart Friedman, the director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, shared that many working professionals struggle to take time to address non-work considerations.13

Employee performance is often directly associated with an individual's level of stress, which has been linked to work–life balance. More and more organizations are recognizing that their employees want balance and, when it's fulfilled, those employees are more productive. Recent research has found that productivity increases when individuals have more control over their work time12,14 and when they feel supported by their organization. Because of work–life initiatives, they are empowered to work harder.14 Today's working professional is one who has multiple meaningful life roles (eg, professional, parent, and spouse), and such individuals have better overall health and well-being because they are often able to gain strength and satisfaction from each of these roles.15

Although organizational benefits and policies (eg, flexible schedules, vacation, and sick time, work–time control, and childcare subsidies) are important in work–life balance facilitation, individual strategies must also be present, as demonstrated by the multilevel work–life interface model proposed by Dixon and Bruening.4,5 Because work–life balance is an individual level outcome, a working professional must not only be aware of and ready to use organizational policies, but that individual must also have his or her own approaches for work–life balance.

The literature often focuses solely on the professional and organizational strategies available to promote work–life balance for the working professional.1–3,16,17 The existence of these policies and strategies is paramount for the creation of work–life balance, but should not be the only mechanism by which an individual is able to find it. The purpose of this column was to address strategies that are on a personal level and are separate from those within the organization itself.

Practical Recommendations

Mindset

Achieving work–life balance is not easy. It is critical to have a mind-set that is realistic and to accept that challenges will be constant when trying to balance everything. The need to achieve it all and be competent in all roles is often described by working parents. We can refer to this individual level emotion as “parent guilt.” Parent guilt is a silent yet intrinsic part of parenting where feelings of guilt surface regarding doing everything wrong and nothing right, or not having enough time to do it all. The guilt often manifests from the need for the perception of perfectionism, which means that we must be superhuman and do everything seamlessly and effortlessly. Too often, parent guilt is associated with specific gender norms (ie, working women), but both men and women who are working full-time need to have balance in their lives.

Challenges with work–life balance are not only experienced by working parents; any individual who is balancing multiple roles can have issues and must have a mindset that is realistic and accepting. So, regardless of one's martial or family status, the mentality may need to be focused on “letting it go” and not feeling guilty. Athletic trainers should shift the focus on what can be done and find mechanisms to stimulate positivity and adaptation to the daily challenges of life. For example, start outsourcing various domestic household duties as a means to create more family time. Outsourcing responsibilities such as lawn care and grocery shopping can reduce the stresses associated with those chores. Although the strategy of outsourcing could be costly, it can directly improve one's balance because it reduces the stress of having to complete the task (ie, time conflict). Delegating tasks that are important to the success of the household but are less meaningful to the individual can allow for improved balance because a sense of control and the recognition that one individual cannot do everything is present, which supports the mantra “it takes a village.” The reality is that working individuals trying to balance everything must ask for help and have support networks in place as a way to accomplish it all.

Locus of control is an individual's perception of how much control he or she has over life events. This theory was developed by Julian Rotter in 1966 and discusses how individuals' perceptions of the underlying causes of events in their lives can be measured.18 Individuals with an “internal” locus of control believe that outcomes are the product of their own efforts, whereas those with an “external” locus of control believe that life events are beyond their control and can be attributed to fate. Individuals with external locus of control will be less likely to take personal responsibility for the consequences of their ethical or unethical behavior and vice versa.19

This idea of control is related to what Dweck18 calls “mindset.” Dweck18 explains that there are two primary mindsets an individual can possess. The first, a growth mind-set, is one in which there is a belief that personal characteristics are malleable, not fixed. Thus, growth and adaptation can occur through reflection and feedback. Additionally, individuals with a growth mindset believe in their abilities and can overcome stress and conflict. The second mindset, a fixed mindset, is one in which individuals believe that personal characteristics cannot be meaningfully changed. This mindset reflects the theory that an individual can only manage a certain amount of stress and that will not change how they adapt or cope.

Positive Coping Behaviors and Attitudes

Research suggests that conscientious individuals are able to cope more effectively and often suffer less conflict between their personal and professional lives.20,21 Fundamentally, this speaks to the personality trait that is characterized by efficiency, attentiveness, and organization. Viewed as a positive coping mechanism, individuals who are conscientious are able to succeed and find balance due to time management skills and choices that are deliberate and well planned.

Conscientiousness encompasses the predisposition to demonstrate self-discipline, aim for achievement, act respectfully, and demonstrate control. Individuals who demonstrate high levels of conscientiousness are efficient time managers, careful planners, and organized. Often, these individuals demonstrate lower levels of conflict because they are able to use their time wisely through time management. Furthermore, conscientious individuals develop effective strategies that they implement as a means to reduce the stress and negative spillover that work and family can have on one another.21

Athletic trainers perceive themselves as conscientious and often identify this as a way to remain focused, find balance, and keep their motivation for their success in and out of the workplace.22 Conscientiousness is considered to be a fixed trait of an individual's personality, so although it is implied that conscientiousness is naturally occurring, borrowing from the overall strengths of the trait may assist others in finding work–life balance.

Research continually links conscientiousness and extroversion to lower levels of stress and conflict.20,23 Although these distinct personality traits are often thought to be intrinsic, we can take away from their overall personification. When stress is high, having goals and sticking to them can be helpful in reducing the negative effect it can have on life. Asking for help and drawing from the energy of others can also reduce stress because this can provide support and reduce the responsibilities to lessen the demands placed on an individual.

Emotional stability and positive emotionality are two other main buffers to the negative influence of balancing professional and personal roles.20,23 Individuals who display warmth, positive affect, and calmness are more likely to adapt, accept stress, and find ways to actively deal with stress compared to those who over-react and display unhealthy responses to stress and overload.20,23 Improving one's response to stress can be as simple as learning to accept what is out of one's control, using self-talk, and remembering the big picture (ie, today's stressor may be transitory).

Self-care

Athletic trainers often demonstrate an affinity for the needs of others, especially their patients and student-athletes. Sometimes this sacrifices their own personal needs, including time for exercise, sleep, and other important healthy habits. In the few research studies that examine wellness and overall health, athletic trainers are not meeting the standards established by the American College of Sports Medicine for health and fitness.24–28 To meet those standards, individuals should be sure to set aside time each day for personal time, which may include 30 to 60 minutes of exercise. Ways to ensure that exercise is a daily priority can include establishing a routine of when to exercise each day, meeting a friend to hold oneself accountable, keeping variety in the routine, and setting goals for exercise habits. Prioritize your exercise needs as you would your patients. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that an individual get no less than 6 and no more than 9 to 11 hours of rest per night.29 If a good night's sleep does not happen, a power nap, which should be between 15 and 30 minutes, may also help improve one's mood and productivity. Taking care of one's self is essential in reducing stress and finding work–life balance. It requires thought, time management, and prioritization. Self-care is not simply about managing one's professional stressor, but also enhancing one's overall well-being, which includes the reduction of stress through various physical and mental activities.

Conclusion

Although organizational situations may vary, there are universal strategies that individuals can take to move toward a better work–life balance. Perhaps we should consider this in our quest for balance and happiness: when traveling with a young child, we are instructed to place the oxygen mask over our face first to better assist and care for the child. The same should be said for working toward a work–life balance. The positive spillover can be rewarding on all fronts of life. So be willing to ask for help from others (ie, be an extrovert), stay calm and think (ie, avoid irrational thoughts), be positive and optimistic, and remember to take some time for yourself (ie, self-care).

References

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Authors

From the Department of Kinesiology, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut (SMM); and the Department of Athletic Training and Exercise Science, Lasell College, Newton, Massachusetts (CE).

The authors have no financial or proprietary interest in the materials presented herein.

Correspondence: Stephanie M. Mazerolle, PhD, ATC, FNATA, Department of Kinesiology, College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, University of Connecticut, 2095 Hillside Road, Unit 1110, Storrs, CT 06269-1110. E-mail: Stephanie-mazerolle@uconn.edu

Received: July 10, 2017
Accepted: January 10, 2018

10.3928/19425864-20180131-01

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