Does the quest for a ‘perfect ‘balance’ set us up for failure?
It’s been hard to ignore the recent debate over the issue of work/life balance. ‘Work/life balance’ previously being viewed as something for all to strive for, has come under fire of late, as a vague buzzword, void of any real meaning. The term was slammed by Kate Hilton in the Huffington Post: ‘Is there a more over-used and empty phrase in modern life than “work-life balance”? I can’t think of one. Perhaps that’s because I am asked several times a week how I achieve it.’
Others admit that the fabled happy medium is rarely achieved by successfully juggling all areas of life simultaneously, and that placing ‘work/life balance’ on a pedestal only sets us up for unrealistic expectations for our careers and lifestyles. The situation may be even more challenging for working mothers and fathers, who all too often, view a perfect work life balance as a way to cancel out ‘working parent guilt’.
A recent Forbes article by Edmund Ingham told us that entrepreneurs should simply forget about the concept of work life balance altogether: ‘ the curse of it is, the more successful you are, the less downtime you have.’
Even recent graduates are being told that attempting to balance work and life is detrimental to career progression. In this controversial article, the CEO of Backupify Rob May states that in order for graduates to get to the ‘equivalent of the Olympics’ in their career, they must stop trying to master balancing life and work, and instead focus aim to focus their energies on the latter, ‘The rewards in the future will be worth the sacrifices you’re making now” May assures us.
In 21st century employment it appears that work and life are constantly merging closer and closer together. We work from home, we check our emails after clocking off in the evening, and often pick up work from Friday at the weekend. Now far removed from the 20th century attitudes of our forebears, many of us find ourselves ‘living to work’ rather than the opposite. So is work/life balance a myth? Is it better to cast off the idea as an outdated concept and move on, rather than to continue to strive obsessively for an elusive harmony which continually evades us?
One solution is to stop aiming for a perfect harmony between work and life, instead setting up a system of rough boundaries to limit the crossover between work and life. This might mean refusing to check your email after 7pm, or limiting the amount of time you spend working at the weekends to less than 60 minutes.
Live Well Spokesman Adam Green advocates using the ‘third space’ to improve work/life balance, which he describes as the period of time spent between finishing work at the end of the day and beginning downtime and leisure activities in the evening. He believes that a positive attitude is key to this:
‘Most people tend to dwell on the negative things in their day which can be bad news for your family who have to deal with you when you walk in the door. Try focusing on being positive and what went well in your day, what you achieved and how things will be better tomorrow’
Therefore, when understood as a matter of setting boundaries, work/life balance becomes a more tangible and achievable reality. If you do ‘live to work’ aiming a degree of separation between the two will have a positive effect on both your work and your life.