The Mirage of Work-Life Balance

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Let’s stop chasing work life balance as the Holy Grail. It entirely misses the point. Work life balance implies two binary, mutually exclusive events that occur in an individual’s life and compete with each other.  It misses the point that for people who have careers rather than jobs, their work is very much part of their life. Technology has blurred the time and place that work happens, which can be a positive and a negative.  Social life too is entwined as many people meet their partners and form lasting friendships at work.  

In the modern world, ‘work life balance’ misses the point.  

Rather, we need to consider that time is finite.  The list of things you must do and want to do is infinite. What you spend your time on every minute of every day is a choice.  That choice results in a trade-off of some kind.  Put yourself in the shoes of one of your employees for a moment.  Imagine you are a working parent, and you leave work at 5pm. Will you go directly home and be with your kids for 3 hours before they go to bed, or will you go to the gym on the way home for a workout and be with the kids for 2 hours before bed?  Here you are trading off family time with personal health goals.  Instead you could trade off finance to achieve both family time and health if you leave work at 5 and get a taxi instead of a bus so it takes you half as long to get there – it gives you more time, but you literally bought it by trading off your finances.  Perhaps the finance trade off isn’t for transport, but for a more expensive but instant pre-prepared family meal so you don’t have to shop or cook.  Maybe your trade is to go to the gym during work hours, you get less work done today but you know you have more to do tomorrow.  Perhaps you leave at 4pm everyday, but is the price for that your career advancement? 

There are endless options to weigh up in order to make these seemingly simple decisions about how to use your time to best advantage. Consider for a moment how much mental energy is spent continually calibrating these trade-offs each day.

When individuals make trade-offs they aren’t happy with it leads to guilt, high stress, poorer output, resentment, burn out and eventually opt out.   

We need to empower individuals to make their trade-offs consciously and creatively to get the best outcome for their unique situation at any point in time and give them the skills to adapt as their situation evolves rather than behave in a way they think is traditionally expected of them in spite of the high price.

We also need to help companies fundamentally rethink their operations, whether that be policies, culture, structure, employment contracts or compensation to realise maximum productivity, retention and engagement of their workforce, ultimately leading to competitive advantage and higher profit by simply making more practical options possible for employees.

At Juggle Strategies, we are a catalyst for corporate ecosystems where the economy, society, individuals and families mutually benefit. Find out more

We wont achieve gender equality for women until we achieve gender equality for men