Work-Life Balance has been the name of the game for decades, but in our post-Covid world it's becoming clear that the goal should be work-life...
Does Work-Life Balance Exist?
We explore whether work-life balance still exists in today's ultra-connected workplace.
In the 1970s and 80s, there was a strong push from workers to start creating some sort of balance between their work lives and their personal lives. This time was a crucial societal shift - women were entering the workforce in droves. Middle-class Americans were obtaining 4-year degrees in record numbers.
Simultaneously, technology really took flight as computers entered the workplace. Workers could suddenly achieve a greater output during work hours, and expectations rose. When cell phones became mainstream in the 1990s, it became a lot easier to reach employees outside of their physical office.
And, throughout all of this, the cost of living was increasing exponentially. In the 1960s, a single-family home in the United States cost an average of $11,900. By 1980 that cost had quadrupled to an average of $47,000. The average family went from being able to subsist on a single income to requiring both parents to work outside of the home.
As technology and connectivity advanced and living costs soared, workers began feeling pressure to prioritize one portion of their lives over the other. And since working is what brought in money and paid the bills, many found that they were prioritizing work at the expense of their personal life.
This led to burnout and dissatisfaction with their careers but was also difficult to remediate due to the continuously rising costs and advancements. There was no slowing down - the upward trajectory of the American dream meant that US workers needed to keep up the pace.
What Is Work-Life Balance?
And so, the theory of work-life balance was born. The idea is that, theoretically, no one area of someone’s life is more important than another - that “work-life” and “personal life” are two separate but equal spheres of ones identity.
In an ideal world, work-life balance would mean that a worker engages in a set schedule every day, and when they are outside of their working hours, they are completely free to enjoy their own activities. Similarly, when a worker is enjoying their personal activities, they should be unburdened by expectations from their bosses, coworkers, or the job in general.
A line is drawn in the sand, and the two spheres of life don’t meet.
Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?
The idea of work-life balance is incredibly important. And perhaps in the 1970s through the 1990s, it was achievable. But in today’s highly interconnected, Work From Home focused work, it’s simply not realistic. How can you expect to maintain a perfect work-life balance when you’re working from your kitchen table and your kids are in the next room?
How can you maintain a work-life balance when it’s Sunday evening in your timezone, but one of your biggest clients is across the globe, already in the middle of a Monday morning at the office?
Does Work-Life Balance Exist?
While the idea of work-life balance seems incredibly simply (and desirable!), most of us realize that in today's ultra-connected world, it's not generally feasible. It's something that people strive for, but often, by trying to draw hard boundaries between work and personal time, they are left feeling guilty about neglecting one thing in favor of another.
Is Work-Life Integration More Reasonable?
The solution to finding some semblance of equilibrium is no longer work-life balance but work-life integration. When you’re able to have your daily schedule ebb and flow around the priorities of that day - or even that moment - rather than hard and fast rules about what’s expected and when you’re able to create more flexibility. And that flexibility is what’s needed in our current climate of Zoom calls and Slack messages with cross-country, and multi-national teams.