Work-Life Balance Seeks An impossible Solution

Work-life balance is a popular topic today. But what does it mean? It seems we want to balance work with life, like work isn’t a part of life, and work is bad. That’s absurd. I am not referring to oppressed employees in companies with toxic environments that oppress employees for short-term gain. Often, these workers have no short-term practical choice but to endure. That’s why we must expose these toxic workplaces. Firms that mistreat workers don’t recognize the dual benefits of fair treatment: it’s what’s right and optimizes stakeholder benefits.

An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) study published in 2020 concluded

finding a suitable balance between work and life is a challenge for all workers, especially working parents. The ability to successfully combine work, family commitments and personal life is important for the well-being of all members in a household.

Do we need balance, or do we need a better understanding of work while we define priorities and set up explicit boundaries? 

Work-Life Balance

Work Life Balance And on My Attitude to Work
Work-Life Balance And on My Attitude to Work

Work is inanimate. When we have a choice, it’s how we view work that’s vital. Being aware always of my ABC Principle™ (attitude, what we believe, leads to how we behave, which produces consequences) defines my work style. I believe I should create a challenge in everything I do. That’s how I approach work. In my 32 years at the same company, former Alcan Inc. (now part of Rio Tinto), in different countries and provinces, mainly in senior jobs, I loved every moment, just as I love the past 21 years volunteering as an adviser, adjunct professor, and speaker. To be sure, I was a senior executive and had options not available to others, but my message is, where possible, seek always to use today as a learning platform.

According to Psychology Today, look for aspects of work you dismiss or devalue.

There might be benefits you underestimate or take for granted. If you don’t fully appreciate these, their importance can come as a surprise if you make life decisions that result in losing those benefits.

Think about your long-term plan and how you might use what’s happening as the base for a future activity.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) makes a case for a six-hour workday to improve productivity. The article quotes Adam Grant, organizational psychologist and New York Times bestselling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

The more complex and creative jobs are, the less it makes sense to pay attention to hours at all. Yet despite all of this, the eight-hour workday still reigns supreme. Like most humans, leaders are remarkably good at anchoring on the past even when it’s irrelevant to the present.

Microsoft Japan’s 4-day work week trial showed a 40% productivity improvement. Elsewhere, the 4-day work week proves better results than the status quo for stakeholders. We need insightful leaders to realize the current work arrangement isn’t sustainable. Remote work, flexible hours, and the four-day week will be the future, but leaders must start trusting and empowering workers.

Priorities

In my early years at former Alcan Inc. as a young married person, I prioritized my work while zooming up the corporate ladder. Meanwhile, I neglected my wife and young children. After my teenage son confronted me, I realized what I was doing and promised to change. Happily, I changed my priorities and implemented boundaries and guardrails. The irony is, I became even more productive because I took time to recharge. 

When we change our focus from seeking balance to setting priorities and boundaries, we see actual issues clearly. Psychology Today points out work-life balance isn’t a zero-sum-game because we need to take care of careers that provide for our families. It is a circular way of framing the problem.

Think Marketing Magazine states work-life balance doesn’t exist and people have been chasing a mirage. They say, accepting there is no balance is the start of being more productive. Each employee is different with separate needs and priorities, and each day is different, needing sacrifices sometimes to do something else — the opportunity cost.

Inc.  recognizes work as integral to life, and asks, what is balance? How do you segregate life to balance its parts… life is messy? They say, balance is what you make of it, and we should focus on work-life integration, not work-life balance. 

Boundaries for Work-life Balance 

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a boundary as something that indicates or fixes a limit or extent and a guardrail as a railing guarding usually against danger. The implication is the former is temporary and situational while the latter is fixed, more permanent. 

I had one key boundary and one guardrail at work once I realized I needed to prioritize time with family. I traveled about 60% of my time so when I was home, my boundary was not attending breakfast or dinner meetings, which was a fad at that time. 

My guardrail protected my time on vacation. I took my six-week vacation in two-week chunks: spring, summer and winter. When I was on vacation, I told my colleagues I was dead! So, if someone “needed” to contact me, I was dead, unreachable. The subtle difference between both my boundary and guardrail was on the rare occasion I might attend a dinner meeting. But I turned off my phone and didn’t open my emails, so I wasn’t reachable on vacation. It worked! Yes, I had options not available to many folks. Still, people should evaluate their situations and set physical, mental, and emotional boundaries and where possible, guardrails.

Conclusion

Work-life balance is a myth. Fortune claims it is a generational illusion.

The work-life dichotomy was always misleading. We need to move beyond the notion that work is simply the thing we do for a paycheck, and ‘life’ merely the momentary reprieves between showing up at the office. Work, when it engages us, is life-affirming.

It’s not a zero-sum-game and work can be fun, exhilarating and challenging. Let’s focus on priorities and boundaries. Meanwhile, we need to expose those situations where firms exploit workers in horrid conditions in the name of maximizing profits. The best profit maximizing approach is to treat employees well. They will treat your customers well and all stakeholders benefit. Don’t believe me? Try it!

 

© 2023 Michel A Bell

SEE ALSO:

Effective Executive’s Four Powerful Traits

Moving From Time Management to Self management

Managing God’s Money Tool Kit

Michel A. Bell

Michel A. Bell is a former senior business executive, author of seven books — including his first children's book published in 2022 — speaker, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. Michel is a Fellow of the Chartered Certified Accountants (UK), holds a Masters of Science in management degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctor of Business Administration honoris causa from Briercrest College and Seminary. He is founder and president of Managing God's Money™ and Stewarding God's Resources.

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