Can we all agree that in 2017 work/life balance is not a thing? Let me clarify. The idea of work/life balance is a thing. In fact it’s such a thing that there are books, websites, coaches, apps and basically a whole industry dedicated to seeking that which does not exist and maybe never has. You can thank Generation X for perpetuating the myth.
The push for greater work/life balance in the U.S. began in the 1960s and 70s when record numbers of women began entering the workforce. Working mothers managing the demands of their jobs and raising children brought the issue to the forefront. By the 1980s it was no longer simply a women’s issue, and many high-profile companies created policies and programs that addressed work/life balance.
Generation X was witness to this, and entered the workplace pushing hard for greater work/life balance. Of course, the bosses thought. They’re the slacker generation. But GenX was looking to work smarter, not harder. The truth is that GenX has a strong work ethic, even if it looks a little different from that of their Boomer bosses. While it’s important to GenX to have time outside of work to spend with family and friends, that time allows them to return to work refreshed and recharged. GenX saw technology as the solution to work/life balance issues and pushed hard for it.
We know how that story ends. Our access to technology has created an “always on” mentality. A study by Gyro and Forbes Insights found that 63% of workers check their email every one to two hours when they’re out of the office. We’re not working harder or smarter. We’re working longer.
Let’s finally throw the work/life scale out the window and replace it instead with “work/life integration”. Don’t think of it as a term of surrender, as if work in some way won out, but rather a more accurate descriptor of reality. Work/life integration takes a more holistic view of how work fits with other aspects of a person’s life. It accepts the blurred lines that we know already exist. People work from home and home from work.
The modern workplace is evolving and responding, but it’s a long slog. It’s easier for employees to accept and understand work/life integration than organizations themselves. It requires employers to re-define work as that which gets done, not when or where it gets done. That’s an exercise worth doing. When employees feel trusted and supported in this way, they feel a stronger commitment to the organization.
Optimizing work/life integration can still be challenging, but unlike work/life balance, it is at least attainable. And though the lines between “work” and “life” are indeed fuzzy, it’s important to set boundaries for yourself that make sense for your type of work, work style and employer expectations.
Work/life is not a zero-sum game. Let’s stop treating it like it is.