Wikipedia writes about work life balance: “The work-leisure dichotomy was invented in the mid-1800s. In anthropology, a definition of happiness is to have as little separation as possible ‘between your work and your play.’ 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. In the United States, this phrase was first used in 1986.” Cambrige Advancer Learner’s Dictionary defines work-life balance as ‘the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy’. (Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
Life is the time we have between birth and death. I define work as being a part of that life, not an independent factor in the equation. You can work the life balance or act upon how to balance the role work plays in your life, but work and life are not comparable as the recently established phrase “work-life balance” suggests. There are a growing number of commercial organizations eager to help fix your life-work balance and it is easy to get lost in interpretation and motives that aren’t driven by your needs and desires. The fact remains that only you can be in charge of what balance means in your life and what significance you give to work in this balance.
Are you working hard or are you working smart?
Work-life balance is one of the buzzwords in today’s society. We are extremely competent and ingenious in designing increasingly sophisticated technology. Our focus is on technology and our driver is the company, neither of which has a heart, mind or body capable of independent thinking, feeling and touching. Nations, companies, teams, individuals pride themselves in being hard workers and therefore good, responsible citizens. Not that many boast on being smart workers exploiting technology to improve life quality and taking time to simply do nothing to allow for the brain to reflect. Mental capacity – our ability to work smart – is derived from regular fluctuation between expending and recovering energy.
The heightened attention to the concept of work-life balance has emerged from the increasing number of people who cannot keep up with the race. More and more people in Western welfare societies are suffering from burnouts and depression. It is now in the interest of the heartless, mindless, bodiless companies to address work-life balance in the name of efficiency.
What would you change in your life if you were diagnosed with a terminal disease and the doctors estimated that you had 18 months left to live?
When facing this question in real life, most people change their lives drastically. There is suddenly more clarity in what is really important in life, which are the people that matter and the ones we still want to meet but have not had the time. Previous excuses to change priorities cease to exist. The question is: why do we need to get an expiration date to understand the value of life and to put people, work and activities into perspective?
Whose life are you living?
Only a few decades ago, the contract between good employers and their employees was a relationship of mutual loyalty. For many, the ideal was to work devotedly for the same employer from beginning of work-life until retirement. The company would do the career planning and take care of its loyal employees.
This is not the reality any longer – global competition, continuous emergence of new technologies, and other major structural changes in the working environments are enemies of status quo. Loyalty is a virtue now present just one day at a time, and while no one is irreplaceable, many may become redundant practically overnight.
Who is making the choices for you?
You cannot give your soul over to the hands of a commercial company, because companies are designed to maximize output on the input or resources available, and human resources are not excluded from this mandate. Most companies work on the basis of maximizing their profit from the input or resources available and affecting the bottom line. While the concept of HR has emerged in an attempt to reconcile this incongruence, “Human Resources (HR)” as an entity is still a means to that end. Even the modern approach of valuing people as the company’s most important asset is still in its infancy, especially when attention is immediately diverted to the “bottom line” in the face of financial or other major crisis.
Certain job and career choices are, for example, fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged with a young family. Two hundred days of travelling at work means spending more time investing in relationships at work than with family and friends.
Nobody is going to solve the problem from the outside, nor with the help of any entity within the company, despite its good intentions or will. It is up to each individual to take control and responsibility for the type of life he or she wants to lead. If you don’t do it, somebody else will. Only you can set and enforce the boundaries necessary to live your life.
What does a life well lived look like for you?
Life consists of many phases and each of them comes with different challenges. Money matters, of course, but when there is enough for a decent living, it also overwhelms us with too many choices and blinds us. We buy and consume things we don’t need, purchase houses that are too big, summerhouses that we don’t use. It is necessary to acknowledge the reality you are facing and make choices accordingly. Whatever self-help books, programs and consultants promise, we cannot get everything at once. On the other hand, you cannot postpone living your life until you retire, get a new position, or when the kids have left home. Work your own life balance by approaching these elements in an honest, reflective way – what does a life well lived look like for you right now, whilst you are living, not after you are dead?
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