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Work-life balance: are we saying this right?

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

Within the world of work and organizational psychology, a buzz phrase I hear often is work-life balance. Reflecting on different areas of health (like psychological, social, physical) and the purpose of balance, I am intellectually challenged by the notion of work-life balance. I propose two counter truths.

1. Balance: Part to Part Approach

A story told over and over to the point that it is adopted as truth is considered a myth. If we adopt a concept like work-life balance, we are accepting the idea that comparing a whole to its parts is logical. This monomyth approach may look at a concept like work-life balance and say that it’s a life imbalance and the main activity identified is work. But if we took this strategy and applied it to other areas of healthful living we may find ourselves identifying sleep or exercise or non-work related social relationships. Are you striving for a sleep-life balance? Are you striving for social-life balance? Are you striving for fitness-life balance? Should we be comparing parts to parts versus parts to whole, like work-nonwork balance? While this is a focus on semantics, our thoughts are semantic expressions, like codes to a software. If the codes are not matched, the software does not perform its desired function. Having the correct verbiage for circumstances, gets us closer to finding solutions for helpful outcomes.

When you consider the philosophical idea of balance, it is the idea that a constant desired state can be achieved once desirable parts have been identified; working separately yet in unison to maintain the constant desired state.

Change is the only constant in life. – Greek philosopher Heraclitus

Rather than trying to achieve a constant desired state, what if we had an inverse approach adopting the ability to alter to continually meet our needs in helpful ways. When our needs are met through helpful and high quality means, our satisfaction and self-actualization deepens to support long-term life satisfaction. Rather than trying to complete the same routine over and over to protect the desired status quo, wouldn’t it be more achievable to develop practices around meeting your needs, expanding behavioural freedom and curiosity?

2. Synergy: Compensation Approach

Another idea is using a compensation approach: take away from one part to improve another part, i.e. fitness to work ratio. This would mean you are interested in achieving a certain amount of fitness for every amount of work you are performing. As a career coach, this is a helpful strategy because it focuses on adding experiences through compensation, rather than taking away. Moving 30 minutes every other day from a work activity towards a fitness activity. This process approach toward habit building and learning has been shown in the research to be more effective than taking an outcome focus. Identifying the activity with a low return on investment or an activity that would elevate performance within another life area, i.e. increasing sleep activity will elevate work experience; increasing meditation will elevate social relationships; decreasing work hours will provide opportunity for fitness regime. The process focus or micro-step strategy supports specificity and sustainability within changing environments and/or interests.

Resistance is proportionate to the size and speed of the change, not to whether the change is a favorable or unfavorable one. --George Leonard, Mastery, 1991

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