Recently I was consulting with a client on what issues are currently facing her
company. She asked me to stay away from the topic of work/life balance because, in her opinion, it’s not achievable. This company has faced the consequences of
stress and burn-out in the workplace including poor morale, attendance problems, reduced productivity, retention problems and poor customer satisfaction ratings. Employers recognize that out of balance and stressed employees can contribute to all of these things. In fact, work/life balance is one of the most elusive and sought after values in business today. In a recent Aon Consulting poll, 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life.
The problem is that balance is not something that can be provided as part of a benefits package. One organization can’t offer more work/life balance to its employees than another. Some employers offer a flexible work schedule, child care, financial services, etc. but these things can only help you manage life more efficiently, they can’t give your life direction, momentum or the feeling of balance.
Despite recognition of the problem, surveys show that employees have been driven
further away from achieving work/life balance over the last several years by being pounded consistently with messages like “9% unemployment”, “if we can just survive this economy”, and “doing more with less”. Each of us has been forced to value simply having a job, regardless of how much stress we are under. Many people have had to take on more
responsibility and more tasks just to stay where they are in their careers. Each day has become a race to complete our to-do list and “meet expectations”. That is not seeking balance, that is seeking survival. But staying in this survival mode for too long without moving forward or making progress in life is what leads to burn-out.
The term work/life balance itself suggests that work is what we have to do and life
is what we want to do, and that these are two opposing forces between which we
must constantly make choices. It suggests that when we choose to give time or thought to one, the other loses. This is an unfortunate suggestion because you don’t have a separate professional life and personal life, you just have a life. This dichotomy leads people to say
things like they want to work really hard and retire at 50 and have the rest of
their lives to do what they want. Would that produce balance? Would it be wise
to wait until your life is half over before you start living it? Would your spouse or friends even wait around that long to enjoy it with you?
Trying to manage the clock on an everyday basis doesn’t guarantee balance either. Spending half of each day in the office andhalf at home can’t guarantee that you would leave stress behind when you left work for the day. It can’t guarantee that you would have satisfying personal relationships just because of the number of hours spent outside the office or…