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Is ‘Work/Life Balance Enough?

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Published by: Dutyfy

28th August 2013

Are terms like ‘juggling’ and ‘balance’ distracting us from a more fulfilling aim?

In the last few weeks I have read an awful lot about what we call “work/life balance”. Apparently, it is what we are all searching for, often fruitlessly.  We constantly “juggle” different priorities and try our best to stop our work life from encroaching into our home life, and vice versa.

What occurred to me, when I read yet another advice page on how to “juggle” having a family and a job, was the underlying suggestion that this language makes. It is one that might even be hindering us, and not helping us at all.  When we “balance” or “juggle” with our lives, we are dividing our lives into separate, incompatible spheres.  We risk a situation where, rather than finding any kind of happy equilibrium, we find ourselves constantly starving one part of our lives to feed another.

If it were possible to act as one person with one life that involves all of these separate areas – our occupation, our hobbies, our friends and family, and more – maybe we would stop straining for the impossible.

Perhaps the real aim should be to melt down the division between home and work, between work and play, so that it no longer feels like a struggle to satisfy them all.  This might be anything from workplaces offering yoga, so that it is no longer just a working environment, to encouraging activity within the local community.

The Co-operative group, for example, score particularly highly in employee satisfaction on TheJobCrowd.com, the UK’s leading graduate job review website. Employees cite the fact that they are encouraged to take part in volunteering and fundraising drives, and that the company even actively facilitate such opportunities.  One employee attributed her satisfaction to “a feeling you are contributing to the wider community.”

The SAS Institute in North Carolina, which makes business analytics software for industries, occupied the number-one spot on Glassdoor’s third annual ranking of the top companies for “work-life balance”.  The company goes so far as to provide a dedicated work-life department staffed by eight full-time social workers who provide services to employees, for free, that include support services for child development, ageing and elder care, and general advice.  SAS also offers a summer camp program for children of employees on the company’s main campus.

The only mistake made here is Glassdoor calling this intermingling of work and home life “work-life balance”, which does not do it justice.

When we apply the term “work/life balance” to families, it gets in the way of an altogether more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding aim.  If we stop expecting parents to “balance”, we can focus on creating a workspace and an employer mentality that doesn’t exclude children, or at least one that doesn’t expect men and women to switch off ‘parent-mode’ the moment they hit the office. I’m thinking more compassion, more flexibility, and a more open-minded approach to working parents

Being given the flexibility to work from home can also mean this barrier between ‘work’ and ‘home’ is blurred.  It could open your mind to a working environment that children and family fit into, and a pattern that includes those who are important to you.

I’m not suggesting we have any solid answers…yet.  I just think we should refocus and open up a new discussion about work/life compatibility. This means no more assumption that we can, should and must cut our life into segments, because the danger, if we do, is that all are doing is working out how much sacrifice we can make before something snaps.

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Dutyfy is a network for women who want to make space for personal goals, such as motherhood, volunteering and philanthropy, alongside and in partnership with their career. Join the conversation as we strive to re-define ‘normal’, and challenge the assumptions that prescribe our choices and dictate how we see ourselves. Together let’s explore a path that recognises and values all aspects of a life’s ambition.

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