Why Work Life Balance Is Nonsense

Reservoir and hills

Since the pandemic began people have used the term “Work Life Balance” to explain away how the improved productivity they promised their employers for years if they could only work from home has not materialised.

The term work life balance has become a proxy for any discussion about getting balance between the amount of time spent at work and on your life. The implication being that if you spend too much time at/on work you don’t have a life. We believe this to be a false dichotomy.

Firstly, for the people it applies to (those in work), to suggest that life happens only outside work is fundamentally wrong. The search for meaning in our work, feeling valued by the people we daily engage with, and making contributions that increases our self-esteem; all are huge factors that affect the quality of our life. It’s work that makes a huge contribution to our identity and place in society, which is why people can be so unhappy in the ‘wrong’ job or no job, and so thrilled with their lot when in the ‘right’ job. It follows that there is no ‘correct amount’ of time, effort or thinking that a job deserves, to be in balance with your life, because any amount is too much in the wrong job and vice-versa.

A functioning, well adjusted, happy and fulfilled human being will never talk about work/life balance issues, because they won’t recognise that fracture separating the two things.  We would suggest from our own work in this area that there is an interesting clue that often points to unhappiness at work, where people are tying to get this ‘better work life balance’ . Such individuals will vigorously, even obsessively, compartmentalise their different worlds. Clock watching, never being available for out of hours work events, not socialising with work colleagues, and never taking work or thinking home, are all techniques to keep work at bay. Notice also how they are time centred as well.

But we’ve seen no evidence that these ‘coping strategies’ makes people happier or more fulfilled in their work, indeed its often such people who dread Sunday evenings, Monday mornings, and the weekly (weakly?) return to the grindstone.

We are not suggesting that work should be the dominating force in people’s lives, or that every job or every employer is fabulous. For too many people earning a living and no more, is all they can focus on. But the answer is not better (separated) work life balance, but a greater awareness of the importance of the effective integration of the different dimensions of our lives. Including; work, family, friends, broader social networks, communities, hobbies and interests.

Charles Handy has written very compellingly about the misunderstandings of work life balance.