The Imbalanced Problem with Work/Life Balance

Balance…it requires an equal distribution of value between two or more subjects to maintain steady composure and equitable proportionality.

Balance is used in the workplace to describe many components that are important to maintaining a successful business.

Examples of this include finances, production, and time. However, one of the most popular applications of the word “balance” used by managers everywhere is the ideology of employees maintaining a good “work/life” balance in order to positively separate their personal lives from their work lives in an effort to improve the individual wellbeing of each employee on the payroll.

Did you hear it? In our efforts to improve our work cultures as leaders, did we just try to convince our employees that their families, mental health, physical recovery from the work week, overall wellness, and enjoyment of their lives should be “balanced” with their work?

Are we asking our people to value the job the same way they value their time with their children or taking the time to do the things that make them happy? Should those elements of life be equal and “balanced”?

This toxic ideology manifests itself in trending phrases that are overused by managers every day in businesses everywhere, such as: our team is like a family.

That is, needless to say, kind of weird.

“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management. Balance means making choices and enjoying those choices.” —Betsy Jacobson

Counterintuitively, this type of bargaining with your staff tends to make them feel obligated to acquiesce to exhausting requests from their managers like working unscheduled overtime, participating in extraprofessional work functions, taking calls or answering emails outside of business hours, and feeling guilty for using accumulated sick time. There goes your “balance”.

While we are still clutching tight to an antiquated work model developed in 1926, and the 40-hour work week does not seem to be going away any time soon, we are only attempting to placate our employees’ concerns and exhaustion by dictating the narrative that they can achieve a balance between their personal lives and work lives, and if they don’t, it’s alright, because work is like their family anyway. It’s ultimately kind of a power move and one that tends to leave employees feeling dejected and apathetic.

Are we ready to change the narrative yet?

Good leaders value happy employees.

Good leaders want their people to have their priorities straight.

Good leaders encourage vacations, holidays, and time off. It inspires rejuvenation, creative thinking, innovation, and energy.

Good leaders support their staff when they put their families first.

Good leaders do not expect staff to respond to emails, texts, or phone calls during their scheduled time off.

Good leaders understand the difference between a team and a family.

Good leaders recognize when someone on their team is struggling.

Good leaders do something about it.

Good leaders provide opportunities for growth without competing with paid time off or scheduled time off.

Good leaders lead by example.

Good leaders don’t force unhealthy narratives in the workplace to inspire allegiance.

Good leaders act as a support, not an imposition.

Good leaders don’t use their employees’ families and external obligations like bargaining chips.

Balancing is for your checkbook, gymnastics, and nutrition; not for your people’s work/life ratio. Be the leader that tips the scales on the work/life balance.

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