I have long been a staunch advocate of work-life balance. Though I’ve been reflecting on the principle quite a bit recently and have come to realize that work-life balance is, at best, an abstract concept. Most of us have a general idea or opinion of what work-life balance looks like but there is no standard way to explicitly define or identify what work-life balance really is.
When two things are truly in balance, there is an even distribution of something. If I’m looking for balance between “work” and “life”, how exactly would I measure that? The simplest solution is to find a common denominator between these two ideals. For instance, one of the most used commonalities when discussing work-life balance is the amount of actual time spent on “work” versus the amount of actual time spent on “life.” However, even when using this simplest of measures, I encounter a couple significant stumbling blocks:
- What is the answer to the equation?
Is it 24 hours (day)? Is it 120 hours (work week)? Is it 168 hours (full week)? Or, should I choose to measure in minutes or days?
- What is the equation to the answer?
Let’s say I decide the answer to the equation is 24 hours. I need to set up the equation to give me the answer I’ve decided upon. Initially the equation is: 12 “work” hours + 12 “life” hours = 24 hours? Hmm, seems a little “work” heavy to me. Perhaps I factor sleep in separately so that the equation now becomes: 8 “sleep” hours + 8 “work” hours + 8 “life” hours = 24 hours. Still seems off…sleep probably should count as “life” time but I also have a one hour round trip commute to and from work that should probably count as “work” time. But, I’m paid to work an 8 hour day though I also have a one hour lunch break that, while technically is “life” time, feels more like “work” time since it’s smack dab in the middle of my “work” day…
…see where I’m going with this?
Even if I am able to settle on an answer and an equation, it’ll most likely change tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next year. Variables will inevitably come into play shifting the focus heavily in one direction or the other. I’ll have an important project that requires more “work” time. Or, I’ll have a family emergency that requires more “life” time. Ideally, there is flexibility built into the equation to allow for these shifts so that I still feel in balance or can cope with a temporary imbalance.
Of course, time is just one of many considerations that go into an individual’s internal definition of work-life balance. Other factors such as finances, family, emotional and physical well-being, growth potential, work passion, and others, will likely be considered, and weighted differently, by individual employees. A single employee will likely have a different definition or work-life balance than a married employee. A male employee will likely have a different definition of work-life balance than a female employee. A Gen-Y employee will likely have a different definition of work-life balance than a Baby Boomer employee. Perhaps most importantly, a manager will likely have a different definition of work-life balance than each individual member of their team.
As leaders, it is important to understand that everyone’s definition of work-life balance is different. Take the time to help your people define what work-life balance means to them so that you can support that individual in achieving their version of work-life balance. Help them transform work-life balance from an empty dream into an achievable goal.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on work-life balance. Is it possible? If so, how do YOU define it? What does it look like to YOU?
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6 thoughts on “How Do YOU Define Work-Life Balance?”
Work-life balance is possible, but probably won’t be in equal weights. I view it cyclically – some times are more “work” and other times are more “life”. And, I try to look at it as a whole, not this week or this month but a longer term balance. It really is important for individuals to understand what works for them – know yourself. As you state, it is an individual’s version.
The work life balance issue is one of the primary challenges which I deal with in leading my people (nearly 50 recent college grads). I always find it interesting b/c in seeking a work life balance what (and essentially what your post is about) is seeking an equilibrium. And in seeking that kind of balance we mo longer have one whole life but two lives, my work life and my social/family/personal life.
When we seek equilibrium one area is always succeeding at the expense of another part. What if the balance was more like riding a unicycle, which takes furious effort and constant adjustment. A novice unicycle rider must always learn from their mistake, ie why did I just fall on my face? And how can I prevent that from happening again. We must seek a holistic approach to life..”I have one life, in which I live and work and they must benefit each other.”. With out this approach we are in danger of the same challenge that happens when driving in ice and we be into slide…there is more danger of spinning out of control when we over correct. I highly recommend Steven Covey’s book First Things First, with it’s six step planning process. I have trained my people in it and they share that if has made a world of difference. Check out: http://www.treasure project.org for a planning tool that is designed to help find this type of balance. It has a simple two page explanation that really works.
Work life balance should be studied more and regulated so that a manager could likely have an equal definition of work-life balance like each individual member of their team and a Baby Boomer employee. My computer is 1000 faster than 10 years ago , this means that if I use the same Work life balance of ten years ago I am 1000 time stupid 🙂 I mean regulation impact more than management and equation consideration . We need a ROI equation to be allowed, using next generation software to change our lives. Thanks for the great article, something goes on.
These are good thoughts Adam. As you point out, each person has a different perception of what “work/life” balance means.
Similar to what Mark mentioned above, I think the term “work/life” balance is a misnomer. Do you cease to have a life when you go to work (unfortunately many people could say “yes”!)? Do you cease to do “work” when you’re not at your job? If you must have work/life balance, do you also need fun/life balance? Parenting/life balance?
It’s really kind of silly when you think about it. Work is just one of the many elements that comprise our life, all of which ebb & flow in varying degrees through the seasons of life. I think a holistic approach to examining the priorities, desires, and needs of your life has to take place so that you feel you are devoting the right amount of time and energy to each one.
We only have one life to live here on Earth so it’s in our best interests to get clear on how we’re going about living it.
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