Work-Life Balance Is Dead – Thank Goodness

Sociologists confirm what mothers-in-law have been saying for decades:  you feel guilty when you  take work home.  Work-life balance doesn’t work. It probably never did. Here’s what does.

Doesn’t flexwork sound great? Grab that Blackberry as you run out the door at 4 p.m. and finish up that client e-mail while you’re waiting out the kids’ swim practice.

In truth, it’s not that great.  You’re not paying as much attention as you want to either the kid in the pool or the email on the screen. You’ll have to catch up later with both.

Now, sociologists at the University of Toronto confirm what mothers-in-law have been saying for a couple decades:  yes, women do feel guilty when they take work calls, emails and projects during supposed family time. It’s not much of a problem for men. And both genders get the work done. It’s just that women feel bad about it.  

I’m not a mother-in-law (yet) so I’ll share this wisdom with all of you: work-life balance only existed for about ten years. It barely worked then. It doesn’t work now. There’s no point in striving for it. It’s not going to happen.  And that’s good.

Back in the late 1980’s until about 1998, flexwork and telecommuting worked pretty well.  I even wrote a book about it. Modems could grab your text from your buzzing personal computer and bleep it down to the mainframe so you could pick up where you left off. Phones were connected to wall jacks. That meant that they weren’t with you all the time.  The immobility of technology created an organic balance because you could leave it behind.  Even with flextime, bosses and coworkers had limited expectations of when and how they could reach you. If you weren’t at home, working, you were…unavailable. You had some control over when and where you tackled the work that you took home.  And that led to the concept of work-life balance. You could parcel out who got what: 8 hours for work, divided into 6 + 2. Six hours for family, divided into 1+ 5. A couple of hours for chores and commuting, plus some sleep, and there’s your 24.

Mobile technology, of course, has erased any semblance of balance. Women know that. Mothers-in-law know that. Now, probably thanks to a government grant, sociologists know that.  When there are no boundaries, there is no balance.

The hard thinkers at Gartner Group announced last August that work is becoming ‘increasingly chaotic,’ and that by 2015, 40% of an organization’s work will be ‘non-routine.’  Care to second that? It’s the inevitable result of telescoped communications, which require faster responses, which force continual change to strategic plans.  Teams will be replaced by ‘swarms’ that quickly land on a task and devour it. Work will be take place in your head….not at a desk or in a meeting.  

If this sounds like a blend or a blur, you’re catching on. Finally freed from the artificial expectations of the balance, you’ll be able to give yourself permission to immerse wholly with your family, wholly in your personal pursuits, and wholly at work. Some days it’ll be all of one. Other days it’ll be a bit of each. 

Having one foot on either side of the fulcrum isn’t balance. It’s a balancing act. Give in to the blend. Your mother-in-law will be happy, because you’ll be giving in to her greater wisdom. And you’ll be happier, too, because you’ll be going with flow of your life.

Image courtesy of Morguefile contributor dancerinthedark.

3 Responses to “Work-Life Balance Is Dead – Thank Goodness”
  1. L Turner says:

    “Where there are no boundaries, there is no balance.” Being accessible 24/7 is both good and bad. The potential for increased communication is wonderful. But it can be stressful if a person does not feel in control of their own professional boundaries. A friend was pressured to be at the the beck and call of her employer late at night on weekends, and basically any time he wanted to reach her. She works in a competitive sales environment and in addition spends much of her time traveling outside of the typical “40 hour” workweek. She became a slave to her Blackberry, and was miserable. Recently, she tucked her Blackberry away, and completely stopped checking it late nights and weekends, instructing friends to call her home number instead. She seems much happier now. She still has a fast paced, chaotic career, but she had to really assert herself to get balance back.

    • jycleaver says:

      Great story, Lonnie, thanks for commenting! I try to ‘go Amish’ on Sundays and ignore my phones, stay off the computer and unplug as much as possible.

      • L Turner says:

        Thanks. You’ve got some very good points here, Joanne. Phones are no longer connected to walls, and with laptops, ipad, and smart phones, so business can be conducted anywhere and anytime. This monumental shift in the way we live is here to stay! The increased flow of creativity, communication and new opportunities that are available is very exciting. And people who adapt and excel in this more organic way of living will thrive.

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