We’ve Got Work-Life Balance All Wrong

We’ve Got Work-Life Balance All Wrong

With the economy struggling and organizations reducing headcount, many of us feel as if we must put in more hours than usual on-the-job. We equate job security with face time in the office and connect time on our PDAs and mobile phones. If you have any doubt about that, the next time you’re lying on a beach somewhere or taking a cruise or simply out for dinner in a restaurant, look around. More than a quarter of your fellow citizens will be on the phone talking to the office or checking their email for a message from the boss.

So, how do we deal with this clearly unhealthy habit?

We buy into a notion that’s come to be called the “work-life balance” and proselytize on its behalf with the senior leaders of our organization.
• We argue that people need a break from the hot house atmosphere of the modern workplace or they run the risk of burning out.
• We point out that tired and worn out workers are not as innovative and creative as they could and need to be.
• And we connect the dots between long, stress-filled days and the rising incidence of mental and physical disability claims.
We do all of this to protect ourselves, and by doing so, we inadvertently diminish the value of one-third of our lives.

How could that be?

Think about what’s implied in the notion of a balance between work and life. In this equation, life is defined as a good and fulfilling experience, something which can be used to balance the effects of work. So, what does that imply about our work? It positions the time we spend on-the-job as demeaning, demoralizing, and desperate. In short, the work-life balance encourages us to see our work as something to be endured until we can get to the fun stuff.

And that’s plain wrong. Social scientists have discovered that work is the single best source of happiness. It is the one experience where a person can discover and express their inherent talent. Work alone, of all human activities, delivers the opportunity to challenge ourselves in a meaningful yet difficult endeavor and be rewarded, monetarily and psychologically, for our success.

Now, admittedly, several conditions must be met to achieve such an outcome: a person must be doing the kind of work that engages and stretches them in an organization that encourages them to perform at their peak and supports them so they can. If those factors are present, however, the time we spend on-the-job is every bit as good as the time we spend on the rest of their lives. That’s a balance, to be sure, but not one that counteracts bad with good. This alternative vision of the work-life balance is an equilibrium of good and good.

So, here’s my modest suggestion. Yes, let’s endeavor to achieve work-life balance in our employers’ workplace policies. But, let’s not do so by trying to block off time from our work; let’s do it, instead, by looking for ways to make our time at work better. Let’s do what we can to make the one-third of our day we spend on-the-job every bit as meaningful and fulfilling as the time we spend on the rest of our lives. If we can implement that vision of a work-life balance, we will have transformed the nature of our employment and enriched the promise of our careers.

Thanks for reading,
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  1. Peter, nice post. This brings up a corollary issue: How many of us can match our personal values to our workplace’s values? How many of us ever even thought about values as a litmus test of compatability? Do we really know what our workplace’s values are? Can we improve our relationship to our work by making choices based on aligned values? I think this is the conversation we should be having. Love the one you’re with before you ditch it!

  2. Peter,
    and therein lies the challenges. Firstly, how many people really know what the “one thing” is that lets them blur work and life?
    I wrote a post from a survey about the worlds 10 happies places here http://virtualjobcoach.com/blog/?p=1216

    And secondly, how many people even if they do figure out the “one thing”, will follow through on it? This article from the new york times http://is.gd/Lyml about a Ph.D. in political philosophy who turned to be a motorbike mechanic, not only “got it” but “did it”. As the article highlights, there was a major shift needed.

    Great post thank you
    Simon at virtualjobcoach.com