Not a Fan of Work-Life Balance

Encouraging work-life balance in your business – HR Gurus

I’m not a fan of work – life balance.

Its’ not because I desire a life that is out of control , but rather that I believe the term is a dangerous mis-nomer. What do we mean by ‘work- life balance’ exactly? My guess is that when we
speak of this, we are wanting to keep in check the possibility of work dominating our lives. We very rarely (if ever) use it to express concern for a life that is overly devoted to fun, relaxation and recreation.

My problem is not with ‘balance’ per se, but with the way the idea is framed. A “work – life” balance implies the need for adjusting the dials between two discrete elements; work and life. The problem here is that work is a subset of life, not an opposing entity that needs to be held in check.

I could buy the idea of a ‘work- recreation’ balance – a realisation that I need to moderate both my time spent surfing and my time spent earning an income and serving my community. But when we speak of a ‘work- life balance’ we separate work from life and in some way seem to construct work as an antagonist to life. This adds to the idea that work is the thing getting in the way of my having an enjoyable ‘life’. I would view work as an essential part of a fulfilling and meaningful life so it should never be held up as the opposing force we must moderate if we hope to have a ‘life’.

Perhaps we would be better served to simply speak of ‘life balance‘ – not a revolutionary term, I know – but it is the obvious alternative. By this is implied a holistic way of life that recognises a healthy interplay between a number of factors, of which work is only one. A healthy life balance will ask questions of sleep, diet, spirituality, exercise, relationships as well as work and finance. But when we remove work from life in a phrase such as ‘work – life balance’ we construct a binary that is unhelpful and more likely destructive.

Our goal ought not be that of taming the demands of work, so that we can have a life, but rather to view work (paid or unpaid) as an essential and valued component of life that needs to be engaged in with healthy, sensible boundaries. At this time in my own life I am handing over a business, which means I am working intensively (more than I would hope to under normal conditions) for a short time to train up the new owners. It isn’t that my work – life balance is out of kilter. It simply that right now the demands are high and I can go hard for a short period, recognising it is not going to be permanent. In time I will adjust the dials and work at a more sustainable pace doing things that I enjoy.
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So can I suggest we do away with the unhelpful binary idea of a ‘work-life balance’ and embrace the more holistic concept of life -balance? Perhaps as you do this you may be able to place your work within the context of your whole life and you may be able to enjoy and appreciate it more. Alternatively you may see that your work is dominating and influencing every facet of life. If so then it’s time to tweak the dials and restore a balance that is healthy – but that is very different
to recognising work as the enemy of lifework

So can we please stop speaking of ‘work-life balance’?

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