I struggle a bit with the notion of “work life balance”. I know it’s me, how I read it. I worry it implies that we’re in an either/or condition: we’re either doing work or we’re doing life. If life is something that only happens when we’re not working that seems to me to be more than a little bit sad. (Though if I only count as life the time I wasn’t working, then I think I am still in my early twenties – yay).
At the risk of over-complicating things - what is work anyway? Do we just mean the paid work we do for an employer? Is it different if you really, really enjoy it? What about voluntary work in leisure time? Or training for a marathon? I know the days in my life when I did the hardest work of all was giving birth to my kids. And I’m clear that was most definitely mainly about life.(They’ve been hard work ever since – gloriously so.)
If we take work to be the stuff we need to do to earn money to live, many people may be lucky enough to have found something they love to do, and people they love to do it with and for. For some, work can be the main component of life and something which makes it enriching and fulfilling (even when it’s exhausting). For many, without work, they lack purpose and the leisure bit of life ceases to be as meaningful.
There’s lots of different elements to life (and work). Sometimes the home bits may be turbulent and the paid work bits provide a refuge… Sometimes the paid work bits will be pressurized and something about home provides the respite.
Fundamentally then, it’s all about the balance. The key is finding a way to hold paid-work, life-work and other life in balance in a way that allows your own self-care. That probably means having time and space; for your loved ones, for nutrition, for sleep, for exercise, for distractions… for a bit of nothing and some boredom… and enough work to give you purpose and the opportunity for fulfilment. Your recipe - what you need, how much of it, and proportions of each ingredient is going to be unique to you. When we find that balance, we can do life (all of it) better.
Employers have a huge part to play. Offering flexibility enables employees to find a balance that works for them. At different points in life people need that flex for different reasons (health, IVF, parenthood, caring, menopause, bereavement…). Providing a workplace system or structure which allows (trusts)people to find their own balance pays dividends in loyalty, in engagement, in talent retention, in skill development, and for diversity, equity and inclusion.
The pandemic and its aftermath have changed perceptions, blurring the work/lifelines even further. As things continue to change many employees are seeking more from employers. Now’s a moment to decide how far we are prepared to adapt. The future is agile. With research suggesting that many employees are ready to resign, supporting employees to find solutions for better balance seems the obvious way forward.