Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Work/Life balance

For some reason, every spring a new rash of articles makes the rounds on work/life balance. HR folks weigh in. Leadership voices an opinion. Journalists and career coaches lay out the arguments and ideas.

I confess: I don't understand the concept.

What is ‘balance’? Is it about less working hours? Less expectation of long hours by a manager? Ability to get personal things done during working hours? Not being tired when you get home? Angst over not having much to get home to?

Is this really a weird backlash about how women are told we can have stellar careers and functional nuclear families with lovely homes and time to volunteer while baking cookies with great hair?

Our daughters and nieces are watching some of us heroically keeping all the balls in the air and wondering if that’s really the life for them.

Here in North America, we're not in the Industrial Revolution any more when even young children worked 12 hours a day or more, 6 days a week. While I agree we're quietly working long hours, we've been complicit as a workforce in allowing this to grow. (to wit the woman at the next desk who clearly should be in bed with a hot mug of something but who Must get out a powerpoint deck before collapsing)

Maybe work/life balance starts with a decision about how you want to run your life – before you agree to work for someone who might try and sway you from your decision?

I'm not saying corporations shouldn't do their part. I think we need to also speak up and articulate what we want when we say work/life balance… and maybe we need to take the time back.


Cameron Phillips said...

Hi Dennie,

I enjoyed your post.

I am one of those “career coaches” to whom you alluded. More specifically, I give keynotes and workshops to the corporate sector, geared towards men (but applicable to all) on how to achieve a better work life balance. (

My suggestion to you in your not understanding the concept of “balance”—don’t’ get caught up in semantics. You might not clearly be able to define balance, but I’ll bet you are certainly aware when your life doesn’t have any.

I think you are bang on when you say it begins with how you want to run your life. In essence, it all comes down to the big picture: what do you want from life and what are you willing to do/give up to get it.

I also think work life balance isn’t just about working less. It is about being more organized, wasting less time, living fully in the present, and ensuring you are taking care of the most important relationships in your life. I tell clients they can improve work life balance without working less if that is what they choose.

Not only should corporations do their part, they will have to if they wish to thrive. I don’t mean they need to give everyone 12 weeks vacation, a personal concierge and two massages a week. I do, however, think they need to offer more flexibility and training when it comes to their employees. Did you know that, according to a Harvard study, men who report a better work life balance are more productive in their work and more loyal to their employers? What company doesn’t want to increase productivity and improve employee retention?

As an interesting side note, did you know that it is men who are reporting higher levels of work life dissatisfaction? The numbers for men keep spiraling upward, while the level for women largely remains unchanged. I can only assume this is because that, when women entered the work force en masse a few decades ago, they were still expected to do all the home making and child-rearing. In other words, from day one, women have carried the enormous responsibility of “doing it all.” In the last generation, as men have been rightly expected to start doing more help on the domestic front, they have also wanted to be more involved with their children than previous generations of men. However, society still glorifies the powerful, distant and breadwinning dad (the same society still glorifies tiny waists and big boobs.) In other words, men are torn like never before. They want to be with their families, but still feel they are best serving them by earning lots of money. Part of the solution here would be if employers would stop paying women .70 for every dollar a man earns. Wage equity would allow for much more flexibility in the family unit to try and create better balance.

Thanks for the chance to post.

Cameron Phillips
Vancouver, BC

Dennie Theodore said...

What a thoughtful comment. Thank you Cameron. My intention is usually to provoke debate (vs. create a finite answer) and your suggestions should be of interest to many.

What do other folks think?