Work-life balance is something employers and employees alike often talk about — but is it a real thing?
Does it actually exist?
For many, it is a sort of nirvana – something to aspire to if they can get the balance right and have a career they love while being able to spend meaningful amounts of time with their family. For others, it is just a bit of nonsense their organisation’s HR departments like to talk about because it looks good on paper, but their managers ignore.
And then there’s the school of thought that for many, work is part of life, so what is there to balance? Just suck it up and get on with it.
Flexibility of course is necessary for most working parents, and even in 2016, it often falls on working mothers more than fathers to juggle child-related issues with their work life.
There are many ways you can work flexibly – part time hours, split shifts, working from home, job sharing and so on. Whether your employer is willing to let you do any of these things, of course, is an entirely different matter.
Whether flexibility is “balance” comes down to whether or not your work and personal life have an exact ratio between how much time you spend doing work (or thinking about work) and doing everything else in your life.
There is no magic formula. The balance is a myth.
We don’t describe other parts of our lives in this way. There’s no family-life balance. No hobby-life balance.
Life is fluid, and your work priorities and family priorities are always going to change. You might have seasonal deadlines and a sick kid. Or have a quiet time at work and your kids have no pressing needs. Life changes day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.
Think you’ve struck some “balance” today? Wait until next week and see what mayhem life throws at you. Maybe you’ll be in an important meeting, your husband is in another city for work and the school is blowing up your phone advising your kid just fell off the monkey bars, has hurt her arm, and they’ve got an ambulance on the way.
Research has found that happiness is one of the biggest factors that influences how well you do at your job. What we do outside of work influences our energy, focus, creativity, motivation and the mental energy we bring to our jobs.
If you’ve got a demanding job with ridiculous hours, unreasonable management, toxic colleagues, stupid workloads, you’re always bringing work home and you’re constantly stressed, you’ll crave “balance” of course.
The reality here is that your job is probably making you miserable – you need more than “balance” to sort that white hot mess out. Because other people are perfectly content immersing themselves in work more than 8 hours a day if their work makes them happy.
Many workplace cultures reward people who have no life outside of work and put people who have other responsibilities, like caring for their families, in a difficult position if they want to remain working there. They are rigid organisations, not flexible ones, often helmed by a dinosaur who still wants to do business like it’s 30 years ago while also wanting you to be contactable 24/7 via modern technology.
That’s not something you can balance. How can you? You are being robbed of your personal time so you can earn a dollar, and your career future is probably being held to ransom by a psychopath.
But even if we don’t work for a crusty old dinosaur, the modern world means people can’t just leave their desks at 5pm, go home, and not think about work anymore. There are still jobs out there like that, but for many, we find work encroaching on our personal time, checking emails, answering calls, dashing off a document here and there, eating lunch at our desks; instead of taking a break.
A 2014 report by Cisco revealed workers value flexibility over almost everything else and was the second most important factor after salary they considered if offered a job. At least 66% of American Gen Y’s felt an organisation that adopts a flexible, mobile and remote work model has an advantage over one that requires employees to be tied to an office from 9am to 5pm every weekday.
Again, flexibility is the key here, not “balance”.
The quest for “balance” is a zero-sum game that wants you to value one part of your life over all the others, and will see you chasing your tail and probably burn you out trying to reach it.
Do you think it’s possible to achieve work-life balance?
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