Allow me to let you in on a little secret, Work/Life Balance is bullshit.
Much like the Easter Bunny, the Lochness Monster or calorie free macaroni and cheese, work/life balance is a myth. Just as Hallmark made up Sweetest Day to boost it’s bottom line, Work/Life balance was made up by Corporate America as a concocted promotion to convince employees that work and life are binary.
Corporate America created the problem, named the problem and then offered “solutions” to the problem. Corporate America created the problem, squeezing every little ounce out of its employees to increase their revenue streams, fatten the owners’ pockets and please its shareholders. Not surprisingly, this turned Americans into over-worked, over-stressed humans who felt put into a position to choose job or family and life. And voila, Corporate America invents the concept of Work/Life balance capitalizing on this zero-sum game. Americans choose work and lose, and Corporate America reaps the rewards. To quell the simmering anger, Corporate America threw us all a bone by offering “Work/Life” balance programs such as flexible scheduling, part-time opportunities, work-from-home, job shares and childcare-at-work. Yet, even with these programs Americans still report being just as overburdened as they were 5, 10, 15 and 20 years ago.
In a 2016 New York Times Article by Susan Dominus, Rethinking the Work-Life Equation, the author recaps the TOMO study by Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly, professors studying the interaction between work, family and health. Moen and Kelly offer up what they call “Work-Life Fit”. Think of this concept not as life and work on the same linear plane, think of work as one little cheese wedge in the Trivial Pursuit playing piece of life. Like this:
And, in order for this mind shift to take place these things need to happen:
1) Give employees almost total control of how they work- including where, when and how they work. Focus on the outcomes of work against company goals and objectives and not how many hours employees work. As the TOMO paper states, this shifts flexibility from being a privilege to a given. Treating employees as self-sufficient human beings by empowering ownership of their work product should result in adult-like behaviors. In the end, most employees just want to do the work. Who cares how they do it?
2) Pay more-than-living wages. Let’s actually rethink compensation and the value of the work that employees provide your organization. Stop basing compensation on your competitors, FLSA mandates and wildly fluctuating market conditions, and pay employees based on the purpose of his or her work towards the desired results of the company. Can’t find the money? Look no further then your top executives. Does the success of the company really and truly fall on the shoulders of one or two men and women? I can’t even really think of a scenario in today’s world where that could even remotely be true. As workers become more specialized in their expertise and skills, CEO’s and President’s, rely on a more collaborative team of knowledge workers to achieve the company’s vision and mission. Consider this, in 2015, CEO pay increased 16.4% from the previous year while every-day workers got dicked with a meager 2.4% increase to base salary. The money is there, it just needs to be given to ALL of those in the organization that bring value and worth.
3) Paid Family and Medical leave for all working Americans. Fair warning, throughout my blog, I’m going to beat this one to death. The United States is literally the only developed, first world country with ZERO nationally mandated paid parental and sick leave laws. So you can give us all the stupid flex schedules you want company, but if I have to decide between my health and work, I’m choosing my health. If I have to choose between my family or my job, I’m choosing family. This is not because I’m financially secure but because my more actualized self compels me to make decisions that I will not regret on my death bed. And also, I’m little pissed Corporate America that you would force me to choose one or the other.
In reality, all of these things will take time and a great cultural shift to happen. As an employee of a company, think about how you can individually set boundaries for yourself, think about when and how you will turn work off, think about what emails and calls you will accept outside of work hours if any at all, and consider flexibility and ownership of work when you accept a job offer.