A recent Microsoft study that was highlighted in Bloomberg gave a startling look at what is happening in the global workforce today. The two most eye-popping statistics for me were 54% of the workers that said they are overworked and 39% said they are exhausted.
This study is not the first to come out that shows the stress that many are under and the lack of work-life balance. It is also not the first one that seemingly lays the blame at the feet of COVID. However, the pandemic is not to blame. Long before masks and social distancing became part of our everyday existence, 70% of people stated they struggled to find a “work-life balance that works for them”.
Attempting to find work-life balance is where I believe we get it wrong. I myself have written and spoken about the value of work-life boundaries as opposed to balance. However, the more I give these ideas thought and the fact that the concept is not working, I believe it is time to rethink how we treat the equilibrium of work vs. life.
It is Not Work or Life, It is Just Life
One of the things I hate about the term work-life balance is it assumes we have two lives – one for our work and the other for the rest of what makes up our life. My mind immediately goes to the Seinfeld episode where George is trying desperately to keep his “worlds from colliding”.
The reality is, we have one life, we are one individual and no matter how hard we try and separate our work from the rest of our life, what happens in one area of our life will most definitely impact the others.
Rather than thinking about work-life balance, boundaries, harmony, integration, or any other terms used to permit an unhealthy obsession with work, you would do better to establish boundaries in your life – the single one that you have.
This includes establishing boundaries around the time spent with our families, tending to self-care (emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical), your work, and whatever else that you value.
By establishing life boundaries and viewing life holistically, you will begin to define what is important, how you want to live life, and will no longer be driven by irrational bosses, expectations of others, and a pull to over commit.
Rather than trying to find the elusive balance between work and life, you should design your life, establish boundaries and realize that this includes your work.
We Don’t Actually Want Balance
A few weeks ago I had a call with the client who said “well, it is hard to not work as the laptop is always right next to me.” I asked him what would happen if he put the laptop away? He replied by saying, “I am not sure I could do that”.
This is something I have heard from many and while it may not be the laptop, it is just as easily the phone, email, text, etc.
I once heard it said that we can tell what is the object of our affection based on where we spend the most time. Unfortunately, for a good number of people, the thing receiving their affection is work.
I understand the excuses of bosses’ demands, deadlines, unrealistic clients, and the need to be there in order to make the wheels of the business go around. I used to believe in those too and honestly, they were excuses for poor behavior.
If you are going to live a life that is off-balance and is not aligned with what you say you value, at least be honest with yourself and others that balance is not something you want. The current state of things, no matter how toxic, is what you prefer.
We Are Addicted To Imbalance
Not all addictions are as obvious as alcoholism or drug addictions. They are often more subtle and some can even appear to be noble. I mean who was ever criticized for being a hard worker?
An addiction is anything that we use to avoid dealing with something. In my experience over the years in working with many professionals, is that their addiction of choice is work. And when they get real honest, the work addiction is most often used to avoid dealing with insecurities, shame, pain, or fragmented relationships.
There is a difference between work addiction and hard work. I am a firm believer in hard work. Conversely, no matter how much time and effort you put into feeding your work addiction,
there will be no outrunning what you are trying to avoid. You have two choices; deal with that thing you are trying to avoid or continue to let it fester and grow and over time allow it to become your master.
The challenge of finding balance and defining boundaries in our lives will never go away. There will always be ample opportunity to lose focus and let life design you. However, when you rethink your approach and begin to live life by design, you can then do away with the idea of work-life balance and begin to live a singular wholehearted life!