Everybody’s talkin’ bout it– work/life balance

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It is finally summer here in Maine. The lupines have bloomed already, and the wild roses and peonies now have center stage. The windows are wide open, and I smell roses in the front, peonies in the back of my house. At night, the lightening bugs light up the sky in synchronous bursts of glow. It is, as our license plate boasts, vacationland.

Our seasons are different than other states: winter (long), mud season (spring?), guest season (summer), leaf peeping season (fall). We are definitely in guest season and are happy to host friends and family from across the country and abroad, too. As we catch up over lobster dinners, the conversation drifts from family, friends, work, and into life balance. We have a wide array of guests including entrepreneurs, artists, journalists, small business owners, professionals, academics, as well as those who work in the not for profit and government agency sectors.

They are all singing the same song: too much work time, not enough down time. Too much work, not enough time to do it, not enough people hired to be able to catch up. Working at their desks through lunch, sometimes dinner. I feel torn, too, just by their being in my house. On the one hand I miss them and want to spend as much time as I can with them while they are here. On the other hand, I am not on vacation and have much work to do.

The wild roses outside my kitchen door.

The wild roses outside my kitchen door.

The conversation is everywhere in the media too, these days. Just this past week, Lisa Earle McLeod entitled her blog in the Huffington Post: Why Work-Life Balance is a Flawed Concept (and what to do instead). Her point is that there is no work-life or life-life, there is just your life so trying to parcel out time for work and non-work is useless. She says: The key to making your one and only life richer isn’t about maintaining proper balance; it’s about creating congruence. It’s about living a life doing work that connects with the essence of who you really are. Each of us have a contribution to make. When your work is in alignment with your skills and talents, it doesn’t take away from your life… it adds to it…..Instead of trying to balance the needs of others, you have to think about who you really are and what you really want. So if your work is your passion, it will actually feed the other aspects of your life and not feel like work.

This month in the Women’s Learning Studio’s Virtual Lean In Circle we discussed LeanIn.org’s educational video on using “time multipliers”. Rather than multi-tasking, the video advocated constructing activities that bundle together different aspects of what you want to do. For example, if you want to spend more time with your partner but also want to be outside and exercise more, take a walk with him or her. If you have a friend who wants to walk, invite them along.

Although these resources are helpful, we can’t always live our passion or bundle activities to maximize our time with those who matter to us while doing what we want to do. I looked further.

Also last week, CNN.com posted an article entitled Work-life balance not just a women’s issue. In this article, it debunks the perception that this is a woman’s issue especially in this connected and available 24/7 world. In a Pew survey, 56% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers said it was hard to balance family and work. Contrary to popular belief, more men than women telecommute on a regular basis. “Nearly one-third of the 556 full-time employed adults who were surveyed said they do most of their work remotely, and nearly three out of four of those telecommuters were men.” The article states that until the work-life, or life-work balance is perceived as a working issue, not just a woman’s issue, rethinking job flexibility won’t change and real changes will be thwarted.

“The significance of the research is that it proves that the way we think and talk about work-life flexibility doesn’t track with reality,” said Cali Yost, chief executive officer and founder of Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. “As a result, both business and people aren’t reaping the rewards of a more thoughtful, deliberate, strategic approach to managing work and life.”

Working remotely successfully requires new skills and ways of working. “Only 40% of those surveyed who had work-life flexibility received any guidance or training from their employer on how to use work-life flexibility most effectively. What all this means, said Yost, the expert on workplace flexibility, is that the majority of workers with flexibility “are flying by the seat of their pants and are not optimizing the flexibility they have to benefit themselves and the business.” The Women’s Learning Studio is the place to learn this – we offer online learning concierge services to help people learn how to maximize their time online for more productive results!

These articles certainly touched on many of the discussion items around my dinner table. There is no distinction between the men and women, parents and non-parents: we all want more time to be with family, friends, and to smell the roses and peonies. The big learnings for me from my friends as well as my media reading/viewing is that:

  • Perceptions about this issue have to change
  • Everyone really is talking about this and feeling the pinch, and that
  • Finding the balance is an individual quest that can be aided by the culture, policies, and flexibility of the organizations, businesses, and agencies we all own, work with, or work for.

What does your workplace do to foster better work and non-work balance? What do you think would work even better? What suggestions do you have?

Featured image Photo Credit: cwaunion

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2 replies
  1. Lisa Levinson
    Lisa Levinson says:

    Thanks for your comments, Lyn. I agree that busy does not necessarily mean we are making a difference, happy, or even productive. Making a contribution and a difference, whether it is in our life work or in other ways in our lives certainly adds to a feeling of self-worth, contentment, and fulfillment. I wish our society valued that more!

  2. Lyn Boyer
    Lyn Boyer says:

    Lisa, You you raised some very important issues. I like the idea that it is all life and the issue is congruence and alignment with talents. One of the perceptions I believe we must change is that being busy (working) means we have more significance. I have read that in some cultures, people believe if you work too much, you are inefficient. We all know that on their deathbeds, no one says they wish they had worked more. However, I think all of us want to be able to say we made a contribution and we made a difference. It is when we have a good idea of our mission and we work to achieve that mission that we can feel a balance.

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