The prejudice of work life balance

dilbertworklife.jpg

Okay, so if the Dilbert cartoon is not really you, do you nevertheless think of work life balance as a scale, with work on one side and life on the other? There is something about the term that inevitably conjures this up for me, and if I imagine it further work ends up the dark, heavy weight pulling down the colorful, iridescent bubbles of life on the other side!

But this is not how I actually view work and as a matter of fact, I have two bones to pick with the whole idea of work life balance. First, it pits work against life as if the two are in competition, usually casting work as the bad guy.This ignores the fact that work, aside from the financial benefits, offers opportunity for achievement, builds esteem and forms part of your identity.Even if you don’t have a calling or feel that work gives meaning to your life, the intrinsic rewards of your job shouldn’t be overlooked.

The second is the balance part of work life balance. Its implication of a 50/50 weighting or of equilibrium just doesn’t seem very realistic, especially if you try to translate it into time management. Work life balance at companies is usually envisioned as flextime or part time work – fine offerings that they are, they don’t get at the heart of the challenge some professionals, typically women, face: how can I live up to the demands the company places on me to build my career while having primary responsibility for children and housekeeping. Without going too far down that path, the simple answer is, you cannot do everything at the same time. Give up on the idea of 50/50 and instead be guided by a conscious consideration of your life‘s priorities.

A recent video interview on “How to achieve more work life balance” with Jill Allemang of Jalle honed in on this. Jill speaks of life choice and work integration. The basic tenet is that you identify your life choices (what matters in your life, what are your priorities) and then you integrate work in to that. This is not about work being an optional add-on, but about seeing it as something that has its place within a holistic view of your life, not something that competes or conflicts with it.

This approach doesn’t magically give you more time to juggle demands, but you will feel differently about them. Actively considering your life choices forces you to be clear on your priorities, puts you back in control and makes it easier to know which demands you meet and which you don’t.

(Originally posted on LinkedIn 24 October, 2014)