Work-Life Imbalance means….?

May 17, 2014  |   Inner Critic,Leadership,Values   |     |   0 Comment

If you have worked in an organization, then you have heard about, read about and talked about work-life balance and what that means. 

I have heard, read and been involved in many passionate debates on this topic and one thing I have noticed is that people can be very positional on this matter.  The terms defensiveness and judgemental often ‘fit’ here in my view.  I am curious when I reflect on this why are we defensive or judgemental?  Who cares what others do with their time and energy if it works for them and it isn’t actually hurting me in any way.  If what others do isn’t aligned with what works for me and my life, why should it bother me? 

What is work-life balance or work-life imbalance anyway?  According to Wikipedia….

The expression “work–life balance” was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s to describe the balance between an individual’s work and personal life.  Most recently, there has been a shift in the workplace as a result of advances in technology. “Increasingly sophisticated and affordable technologies have made it more feasible for employees to keep contact with work” (Bowswell and Olson-Buchanan).  Employees have many methods, such as emails, computers, and cell phones, which enable them to accomplish their work beyond the physical boundaries of their office.  Employees may respond to an email or a voice mail after-hours or during the weekend, typically while not officially “on the job”.  Researchers have found that employees who consider their work roles to be an important component of their identities will be more likely to apply these communication technologies to work while in their non-work domain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work%E2%80%93life_balance).

At one point in my career, work-life imbalance went beyond this definition.  I was consumed by the job.  There was an adrenalin rush that came with always being on, always responding to that email/that phone call, always at work (in my head), not taking time for lunch or a coffee break – coffee break, who has time for that…and so on.  It was fun in the beginning, and then it became exhausting.  I recall leaving one position and it wasn’t until I moved into my new position that I realized how exhausted I was.   

We often tend to blame others for our work-life imbalance…

– Blaming your boss who has no work-life balance and therefore expects the same of his/her employees (or so you believe)

– Blaming your colleagues who don’t carry their share of the work load and quite frankly if they’d do their part, you wouldn’t have to do their work too (or so you believe)

– Blaming your partner because he/she doesn’t understand the demands of your work because if they did they would get off your case about being online while at home or on vacation (or so you believe)

Looking for external causes of one’s work-life imbalance provides a rationale for continuing the behaviours associated with a life of imbalance.  When I am blaming others it allows me to be the victim in all of this.  If this is the story I tell myself, then I am telling myself that I have no choice and no power in all of this….it is ‘happening to me’. 

In today’s organizations there is a common belief among many that in addition to the 8-10 hours put in at the office, management is expected to be available evenings and weekends.  This belief (true or not) supports behaviours that support work-life imbalance.  There is an underlying belief that we simply have to respond and if we don’t the boss will think we are not committed to the job or the organization, or that we are lazy.  In some cases this may be true of the boss, but in most cases I would argue it is simply not true.  I once had a boss who told me, “I would not think less of you or your abilities if you went home at 5:00 instead of 6:00.”  In my mind, at that time in my career, my success was attached to my work ethic, and I believed that if I worked less it would be perceived negatively and hinder my opportunities for advancement within the organization.  That was my internal story. 

At one time in my career, according to the definition of others, I simply had no work-life balance.  My direct reports told me in a 360 survey that I demonstrated little work-life balance.  They were correct from their view of what work-life balance was.  At that time, work was the centre of my life.  Was that wrong?  I did not think so at the time.  I was choosing to be who I was.  No one was standing over me with a stick demanding I put in all those hours.  I can honestly tell you that I was driving myself and for most of the years I did this it was fun, I had exciting files and I was gaining upward mobility within the organization.  Although I understood the 360 feedback from my direct reports, I did not change my behaviours at that time because I was doing what I wanted to do.  Today, I have a different work-life balance as I define it.  I don’t eat, sleep and breathe my job; I do not define who I am by my job title.  Do I like my work – YES, I love my work – but today my partner and our relationship and our two German shepherds are the centre of my life.  Does that mean I have work-life balance while the person who puts in 60 hour weeks is living work-life imbalance?  I would not dare to judge!  I simply believe they are doing what they want to do which is different than what I want to do. 

To me it is about choice and I challenge each of us to own that.  If you are unhappy with the balance in your life then take action to change it.  If you work 60 hour weeks because truthfully that is what you want to do, then own it and don’t blame others for your choice.  Either way you will be empowered in the recognition that it is your life and your choice.   

Self-Check:

  1. 1. What is YOUR definition of work-life balance?
  2. 2. Where are you not living this fully?
  3. 3. What is one thing you’d like to change right now to reduce your work-life imbalance?
  4. 4. What is holding you back?
  5. 5. What are you gaining from not changing anything?