Underneath Work-Life BalanceFebruary 23, 2010
I was reading a column recently by human resources consultant and author, Peter Weddle that struck a chord. In “Rethinking Work-Life Balance” on the ISTE website, Weddle suggests that the term “work-life balance”
implies that work is a negative activity that has no personal value other than a paycheck that is almost always less than what we want or need. Our jobs cannot lift us up, but they can drag us down, so we must find a way to counteract them. We must balance our day-to-day experience in the workplace with activities that occur outside of the workplace and have enduring value. And sadly, survey after survey confirms that balance is exactly what a growing number of Americans struggle to achieve in their lives.
Ok, time to go back to bed and pull the covers over my head.
But wait! Weddle may be on to something. Maybe work-life balance is what The Huffington Post referred to as a “banishable buzzword.”
I mean, after all, supermoms to singles with no children still seek the “holy grail” of a balance between working life and non-working life. For many of us, the hours we work are up to our employers, not us. You are hired into an environment, but rarely do you get to create it. So instead of looking at work-life balance as an “either-or,” how about looking at it as a “both-and” situation?
In Work-Life Programs and Organizational Culture: The Essence of Workplace Community, a paper presented at the Academy of Human Resource Development International Conference, authors Neal Chalofsky and Mary Gayle Griffin speak to the root of the elusive “balance”:
The concept of the workplace community represents the essence of work-life balance. Work-life balance is not about having equal time every day for work and personal time, as some critics have suggested. It’s about being in an environment that honors both needs and builds in consideration for meeting work and personal needs as appropriate. The western philosophical concept of balance is an either-or proposition; you are either on one side or the other. Rarely are the sides of equal value and in balance. The result of the struggle for balance is usually a win-lose situation. The eastern concept of balance is the yin-yang symbol, representing an acknowledged tension of opposing forces. It’s a both-and proposition rather than an either-or one. Both sides can “win” because day-to-day one or the other side will have greater needs. All this is to say that those organizations that are humane know that caring for employees means the employees will care for the organization. One day the situation may call for everyone pitching in on an important project, another day it may mean covering for a team member whose child is sick, and another day everyone may be going to a company picnic. In the long term, everyone wins.
Chalofsky and Griffin’s conclusion — “it’s not about the perks; it’s about the culture” — appears to be supported by many in the organizational behavior arena, among them, Paula Caligiuri and Steven Poelmans in their book, Harmonizing Work, Family, and Personal Life: From Policy to Practice.
Once upon a time, I worked in an organization where the president and CEO would regularly say — to her mostly female staff, by the way — “those with children can leave early.” Perhaps by getting at the root of the ongoing debate of work-life balance, such ignorance can be banished too.
This post was written as a contribution to Fem2.0’s work-life blog carnival, which is part of the Wake Up, This Is the Reality! campaign.