We are often told that our best work is done when we find the perfect balance between life and work. And there is much truth to this way of living. After all, we are not robots and can not continuously work without tiring.
Also, we can spend loads of time having fun with life, but if we do not feel useful, we struggle to find a sense of meaning. So, work is an important part of many of our lives.
Thanks to a pandemic and war, people are becoming less satisfied with their working environments. And despite job satisfaction increases over the years, we are starting to see a turn of events as we enter a difficult period.
People are becoming dissatisfied with their pay, and many are looking for new jobs. We are also seeing a lack of ambition from workers as they feel undervalued.
Work is becoming a challenge people no longer want to face. And this causes us to question if our work-life balance model is working or not? Companies have spent a lot of time adjusting to the needs of their employees over this time of crisis.
They have allowed hybrid working, flexible hours and built better working environments. However, people are still unhappy, and companies are seeing their people go.
You would think that people would have more time to balance life and work now that they have more control of their time. But it appears that people are still struggling to find the balance they want.
I was a strong advocate for work-life balance, but now I am starting to question it. In this article, I hope to explore why this model may be too simplistic. Then, I will propose a new model we should potentially think about.
Work-Life Balance Is a Privilege, Not the Norm
We often say that people need a work-life balance to excel. Although I agree with this, the way life is often defined in this model is vague. And although we would like to think that people have this balance all perfect, the reality is, many do not.
We all understand the term work, but life seems different for everyone. Unfortunately, many people assume that life in this model means time away from work. However, we all know that is not what is implied by the phrase “work-life balance”.
In the ideal world, we would see people pack up their things from work and go out and do the things that bring them energy. That may be socialising with friends, gaming or writing. However, many people leave tired with many things to do when they get home.
Many get home to a sink full of dishes, children to feed and still need to prepare for the next day. Not to mention that getting home is probably a struggle as people have to sit in traffic or get on a sweaty train.
For most of us, all of the time we spend away from work is not living in the flourishing sense. It is giving our energy to our families and potentially getting ready for the next day. None of which we would call “life”.
Although I believe that work-life balance is ideal, I do not think it is achieved easily. Many of us throw the term around, but it is not the reality for most.
Those working and then living a life of flourishing after are amongst the privileged. And by privileged I do not mean rich. I mean they have truly found a unique balance that few will ever obtain in their lifetime.
When we define life in this model as a flourishing human experience, this work-life balance model becomes extremely hard to achieve. And that is why I propose a new model to many of us.
Recently, I watched a well-informed lecture by Howard H. Stevenson. In short, he was discussing what success looked like for many of us. And many of us envision a life where everything is perfectly balanced.
We have just about enough work to keep us going, a good sum of money and time to spend to do the things we want. However, this is a picture of an ideal world that does not exist for anyone.
The reality is, life is all about opportunity cost. As a result, the choices we make will lead to us tipping the scales.
Choosing to do overtime at work will make us more money, but we will sacrifice some time with our family. Taking time off of work to go on holiday will halt our progression to completing the project we were working on.
In his lecture, he suggests that life is less about balancing and more about juggling. We are always in an unbalanced state. We are only one person, and we have a tonne of things to manage in our lives.
So, by default, our attention will always be allocated to the things we find most important. And this leads to the tipping of our scales. So, if we seek to perfectly balance life, we may never find the happiness we seek.
However, if we see life as a set of balls we need to juggle, we may find a little more satisfaction. The juggler does not focus on every ball they are juggling at once. Instead, they ensure to pay attention to the ones that are coming down so they can catch them and throw them back up.
Although this sounds more complex, it seems to be a better picture of work and life. We have to focus on our careers, but also all the other aspects that life brings. And a perfect balance may not be achievable, but concentration on the areas that are lacking might be.
So, the first step is to start paying attention to those things that are lacking in your life. That may be your health, family bonding time, career progression or hobbies.
The areas in our lives that are on a decline show the things we are neglecting whilst we are in pursuit of something else. As a result, take time to implement good practices and pick those things up again.
You may find that another area starts to drop off when you do this, but do not worry. That is life. We are not robots, so we can not operate all the times of the day. And no matter how many good habits you implement into your life, there will always be something you could be doing better.
We are human. And much of our life experience is not one of perfect balance. It is one of weighing up our opportunities and choosing those things that matter the most to us.
So, I was wrong about work-life balance. I do not need to have a perfect balance. Instead, I need to make sure that my energy is allocated to the things that matter most to me. And that I pay attention to areas that need a bit more attention whilst I am juggling.