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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