How Most Work Life Balance Strategies Get It Entirely Wrong, Ep #6
Play • 8 min

If you do a quick Google search for “Work-Life Balance Strategies,” you’ll find suggestions from industry journals, universities, and even health organizations - not to mention your average entrepreneurial bloggers. It’s great that people want to resolve the tension they feel between their work life and the rest of life. But my friends, I respectfully submit to you that 99% of the people attempting to address the issue have it all wrong.

This episode may push some buttons for you, and I hope it does. Why? Because I suspect that the work-life balance strategies you’ve tried to implement in your life are not working. I want to help you understand why that’s the case and what you can do about it. It’s not an issue of finding a new approach or hack to help you achieve work-life balance, it’s an issue of how you think about it. Listen to hear what I’ve learned on this subject as I’ve worked alongside leaders and employees in organizations of all types.

The words we use to talk about work-life balance strategies is part of the problem

Words matter. The language we use affects how we think about things. It’s not hard to see that language changes our very concept of everyday issues. In the case of work-life balance and the strategies we employ to address the tension we feel, any thoughtful individual can easily get the point.

Stick with me, this is important.

Let’s take a moment to examine the phrase, “Work-life balance.” In particular, let’s look at what the word “balance” implies.

When you think about balancing two things, your mind pictures the two things are on opposite ends of a balance scale with a fulcrum in the middle. If one goes up, the other MUST go down - and vice versa. OK, now imagine that those two things are your work and your life. Is it true that if one moves up (a potentially good thing) then the other must go down? I don’t believe that’s true. Keep reading - and listen to this short episode. You’re going to find that the words you use to speak and think about this issue of work-life balance will change not only how you look at the tension, but also cause you to abandon most of the balancing strategies you’ve been taught altogether.

It’s absurd to think you can leave life at the office door and leave work at work

As much as we’d like to think it possible, none of us can be entirely compartmentalized in the way we live. For example, we can’t leave work at work, or drop our enthusiasm about a hobby the minute we stop working on it, or forget about an experience the moment it’s over. In fact, it’s not healthy to live in such a separated way. We should be striving for integration - or integrity, correct?

So why do we even use the term “work-life balance" at all? The phrase itself goes against our need to be whole, integrated individuals. In this episode, I walk you through a conversation I had years ago during a client engagement. I was working with an up and coming leader named Bob. He’s told me since, that the concepts I pointed out to him at that time are things he still uses today to live and work in an integrated way. I hope you listen to hear his story.

The work-life balance strategy that truly works isn’t a strategy at all

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “strategy” as “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” We develop and put strategies to work in our lives all the time. But in order for a strategy to be a good thing, we have to be aiming at the right overall aim in the first place.

As you might guess, I believe that striving for “work-life balance” is the wrong goal. Instead, we should be aiming at “work-life synchrony.” Imagine what would happen if you were to move work and life closer to the fulcrum of our imaginary balance bar, closer to each other. The task of “balancing” them would become less and less difficult. What would happen if they eventually got so close that they began to overlap? You’d need to change your language to describe it. You'd need to talk about the synchrony between the two, not balance.

I’m not suggesting that we need to entirely merge “life” and “work.” Not at all. What I am saying is that if we truly want to create mutually meaningful work engagements and if we really want development to be an exponential force, we leaders need to work at developing the people we lead and serve as whole people. We want them to have professional and personal lives that can have greater synchrony to each other, providing greater gains for all, in all ways.

SUMMARY: Instead of another work-life balance strategy, here’s what I propose:
  1. Realize that it’s absurd to think that work and life can be compartmentalized
  2. Change your language - “balance” isn’t helpful imagery
  3. Instead, imagine work and life overlapping, creating synchrony, not competition
  4. Recognize that we are whole people, in need of integration, not balance
Outline of This Episode
  • [0:58] Why I hope this episode bothers you a bit
  • [1:25] My experience interacting with Bob about work-life-balance
  • [3:25] Work and life can overlap, and therefore be in synch with each other
  • [5:20] The impact a new concept about work life balance can have on your life
  • [6:17] It’s absurd to think work and life can be entirely separate
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