Work-Life balance is in your head

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Simply put, for the knowledge-worker economy, in a classic sense, there is no objective work-life balance, and never will be. Companies have one goal: to make money. The more they are able to extract from each worker, the more they leverage their investment. The massively interconnected reality we live in is wonderful at times (if I have the ability to work from home, then home can be just about anywhere!) but also guarantees there is no boundary between personal and professional lines.

And honestly, that’s just fine. The trick is to find your personal boundaries and find your own balance. Do not expect an employer to do that for you, or even to respect whatever boundaries you establish. For there to be any balance, you have to be pretty strict – with your employer as well as yourself. And quit worrying about pre-conceived notions of what the equation should be. Personally, I have come to realize that I am in a far better state staying connected and being available more or less 24×7, than I am disconnecting and wondering what’s going on. I’m still mentally connected after hours anyway, so I may as well just deal with (insert issue). I get the balance I need by completely disconnecting when I’m on vacation.

That may be a horrible equation for you though. The point is, find what works for you, and stick with it. And if you don’t have an employer that will accept your boundaries, find a different job. The situation isn’t likely to change, and over time, if you allow your job to encroach on your personal life in a way you don’t find acceptable, the price you pay will be likely professional AND personal. If you set a rule about not reading or replying to email after 6PM, then don’t budge from that. The minute you do, you signal that the boundary you set was actually, not. Sure, there will be the inevitable crunch time, but that should be a defined event vs. an opportunity to redefine the rules.

I don’t think this will change, if anything, as all the cool technology advances, it’s likely to get way worse. Workforces are international, connectivity is ubiquitous, and expectations for responsiveness are more or less immediate.

(Stop to think about that for a moment: not too many decades ago, it was normal to write a letter to a client or supplier, mail it, and wait for the written reply in the mail to proceed – try THAT now!)

So what this means is that the very concept of work-life balance needs to be fundamentally changed, and the measurement needs to be internal. When you are interviewing for a job and the recruiter is telling you about the great work-life balance in the company’s culture, that’s one of two things: a complete sales pitch that is absolute BS, or the result of management actually respecting boundaries. But what it is NOT is a statement about the workload you’ll have, or the hours you spend at the office, or the interruptions you’ll get during your kid’s holiday play.

The balance (or lack thereof) you will experience will be a direct result of way you approach your job and personal life. Don’t blame it on (or give credit to) your employer. It’s on you.

One Comment

  1. Nina Chew said:

    Jon,
    What a great read. It took a few years for me to learn that I needed to make my own balance. I was pleasantly surprised how easy it was to negotiate with my employer something that works for all parties involved and they have a much more productive employee for it.

    December 18, 2014
    Reply

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