There is no such thing as work/life balance.
At any moment in time, one of those sides to the seesaw will have more attention than the other. There is no balance if one side has all the attention. What “balance” means in this context, I believe, is balance over time. If you look at your life and work mix or balance over the last week, or last month, or last year, does it look more or less balanced to you?
I say the work/life equation is a rollercoaster, and we should all hang on for the ride. As long as we are striving to find balance, in the long run, we should be able to look back and see balance. So, when people talk about work/life balance, it is clear to me that we should continue the search for it, but at any given moment, the seesaw will be tilted more to one end than the other.
Several years ago, an executive at a large company that is notorious for over-working their minions told me that they no longer refer to balance in this equation. Rather, their new term was work/life integration. And while the recent pandemic experience of working from home has definitely integrated work with life in many ways, I believe the concept of “integration” was simply a ploy to unbalance in the favor of work.
Being proud of requiring more work from employees because they are required to integrate their work into the non-work parts of life seems to be disreputable. In fact, working from home requires each of us to focus more on stepping away from our work, so we don’t lose ourselves on the work side of the seesaw. Life is even more important when work is truly integrated into our homes.
Even more recently, I was informed that companies are now using the word work/life harmony. If companies truly believed in that, things like this would never happen. A friend took a vacation and left town to enjoy some off-time. During the first day, their boss texted them and demanded their presence on an important call the next day. This unbalanced their vacation, causing them personal angst and frustration. Work invaded life. There was no integration, no harmony, and definitely no balance.
Most stories told about work/life are about the lack of balance. They tend to show employers as wanting more than expected, not just in productivity, but also in time away from life. Employees are often caught in a situation where they feel that if they do not accede to the unbalanced requests, they will be treated poorly by their manager or even fired. With the new post-pandemic great resignation underway, it is possible that saying no or refusing to unbalance on behalf of the company may no longer have the consequences that raise fear in employees. It’s time for a few more people to take one step forward and, at least, ask about the consequences of saying no. This may set a new benchmark of expectation that might actually provide more leaning on the life side of the seesaw.
Another perspective is that work and life are not the only two things in which we are engaged. There are family, friends, hobbies, one’s self, to start with a few. You might argue that those are all included under the category of life. That means life is a larger category than work, yet we put work first in the equation. It’s my contention that we should always refer to our search as life/work balance. Interestingly, when I use this term, most people hear it the other way and tell me it is too overused. When they realize what I did say, they agree that life should come first in the equation.
Let’s focus on life/work balance.
Let’s say no more often.