Work/Life Balance is Wrong


The Argument

I’m not saying there should not be balance; I am saying the statement “work/life balance” is wrong; at least wrong for the current economic reality and the majority of the new generations entering the workforce.  Why?  Because at its heart is a separation between one and the other.  There is work, and there is life.  What an artificial separation?!  Is work not a part of my life?  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) American’s spend over 8.8 hours a day doing work and get an average of 7.6 hours of sleep.  By the separation in the above term, that leaves 7.6 hours left for our “life” each day.  So in reality, “work” absorbs more time than ”life”.  Since it is seemingly already out of balance, is there a need for equalization, yes, but why the separation?

The Situation

In an economy that operates on a 24 hr world clock, the idea that you can compartmentalize like many used to, just does not seem to make sense.  For many people, work occurs at 4 am as the moon is barely saying goodbye to the night, and for others, the term “weekend” is a metaphor rather than an actual calendar event.  As a result, the dichotomy of work and life has become much more coalesced and harder to separate.  For people who cling tightly to the “work time” and, um, “life time”(?) separation, there can be a great deal of stress between keeping them from interfering with one another.  It causes anger from a spouse while you are working through dinner, sadness from a child whose parent it not able to make it to the soccer game, and career suicide for leaving early to attend a dance recital.  And all this stress is caused by this artificial separation and adherence to an old model.  What old model?  The “Nine to Five” model.

The Origin

“Nine to Five” was the call that became ubiquitous with the workplace in 1980…but unlike shoulder pads, big feathered bangs, and skinny ties, this is still the fashion of the workplace.  Despite contradicting expectations of the global 24 hr economy, we still hold to this antiquated notion that business happens from 9-5 even if we are expected to be on the conference call from London at 3am.

The Conflict

And here is where the balance piece starts to wobble, when work comes into my “life” time, and when life happens during “work” time.  This artificial separation is not necessary, people are not looking for a work/life balance, they just want balance.  This requires a cast off of the antiquated notions of traditional “work hours” or the whole “9 to 5” model.  Since I am working at 4a on the conference call for two hours…I probably will want those 2 hours of “life” back.  But that is not how the “9-5” model works.  You still go in and “put in your hours.”

The Resolution

Ultimately, our culture does not separate work from life either.  Many people identify themselves with their career, and during social gatherings or a plane ride, “what is it you do?” is an inevitable question.  If we truly were able to separate them then we are only our careers from 8-5 (inflated circa 1990).  Any more, I can answer that question in a number of ways and often do.  I am a father, an OD professional, a husband, a leadership trainer, and an adventurist.  My life has many facets, and work is a part of it.  I don’t look to separate, I look to balance.

A paradigm shifting workplace movement known as ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) is one way some companies are helping their employees control their own balance.  Where “flex-time” is an attempt by the company to structure balance, a ROWE gives the control to the employee.  Within a ROWE, there are no schedules, attendance policies, or vacation policy.  The only thing that matters is you are getting results, how and when you do it, is up to you.  As a result, people can find their own balance and manage their life more effectively and equalize each part, including work, family, sleep, development, and every other part of our lives.

The Message

With technology that allows you to do business in real time around the world despite the time of day where you are, balance is easier than ever to achieve.  We have so many more tools to help us get work done whenever it makes sense to, or whenever we want to.  What keeps us off tilt is going to “work” simply because you are expected to be there…even when it does not translate to getting more done.

If you are a business leader, let your employees control how they get balance rather than telling how they should by imposing more structure.  If you are an employee, use the tools you have to find the balance between all the parts of your life, including that work part.

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2 thoughts on “Work/Life Balance is Wrong

  1. Excellent article, Dave.

    I read a similarly-themed article that argued that work/life balance = mediocrity.

    Individuals who excel in their field (Olympic athletes, research scientists, politicians, etc.) have to make sacrifices in their personal lives (diet, time, relationships, finances, etc.) in order to achieve outstanding results.

    For example, Michael Phelps did not achieve what he did by maintaining “balance” in his life. In order to be the best swimmer, some areas of his life had to be off-balance in order to devote the time, energy and resources required of his sport.

    The article was written by a woman who was arguing the fallacy of work/life balance as a working mother. She said that if she maintained “balance” between these two competing facets of her life, she would end up being only a mediocre mother and a mediocre working professional, and that she had to decide whether she was ok with being mediocre, or decide which was her priority so that she could excel at it, and give up the notion of work/life balance.

    As with your article, it was very thought-provoking…

    • Thanks, Jaxon. I neglected to include that “balance” is subjective as “equal” is not always the balance you are looking for. At different times in my life I was focusing more on one area or another dependent upon my goal and I would say I still had balance. You make an excellent point. Thanks for your comment.

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