Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Work Life Balance

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“From June 23rd to June 30th, I have retreated to a corner of the Grand Teton mountain range for a period of quiet reflection, an examination of my life situation and a rejuvenation of my spirit. I am available by email and by cell phone if you need to reach me.”  

What has happened to work/life balance? Did we ever really have it? Almost every one of the technological improvements that have recently come our way, the things that were supposed to improve our quality of life and make our work loads easier have resulted in more connectivity and the feeling that you can never get away. I wonder if the best answer is that we should stop trying to have a work/life balance. Work/life balance implies that there is work and then separately that there is life, as though work needs to be kept in a separate box and not impinge on what is really important, namely life. A second aspect creeps through here, that life is good and work is bad, and that the good must be balanced with the bad. Of course that is not accurate.

When I have been asked about my workload and the hours that I work I find it very difficult to answer. A long time ago I came to the realization that what I do for a living is a large part of who I am. What I do for a living is not kept in a separate box, only to be brought out between 9am and 5pm, or 7am to 7pm as the case may be. What I do for a living is integrated into my being. I can work early on the morning or in the evenings, or on weekends and not feel like I am working. What I am doing is what I do. As the saying goes, it is not an occupation it is a lifestyle.  

A conversation I often have with CEOs revolves around work/life balance. The conversation usually revolves around the unrelenting pace that their organizations face and what can they do to help people cope with the pace of change and work/life balance. This conversation is almost always prefaced with a caveat: “the workload and pace of change are not going away, in fact they are likely to increase, so don’t tell me to not drive the organization as hard as we do”. (See “Out of the Organizational Crucible” for more on this topic.)

A common question on employee surveys is, “I am able to maintain a good balance between my work and my personal life”, again the notion of separation. I wonder if the definition of normalcy around this topic has already changed but that we are still asking about it according to the old mindset. What if the question was reworded to, “I am able to effectively integrate my work and personal life”. It takes what was a negatively connotative item and puts it into a positive framework. The goal of the organization is not to help the employee balance (which most were not really doing or doing very poorly anyway), but to provide the employee with the tools and environment where an effective integration of the two is possible – creating the notion that working here is not a job, it is a lifestyle and a pretty good one at that.

If we can create this notion that work and personal life can be effectively integrated, rather than needing to be kept separate, a number of interesting workplace and homeplace options arise, some of which are already being utilized by organizations. The homeplace is an extension of the workplace and the workplace is an extension of the homeplace. There are certain activities that are better suited to the workplace and there are certain activities that are better suited to the homeplace, but there is also overlap. Some occupations and jobs have more and some have less overlap than others, but that overlap almost always exists in one fashion or another.

I will be doing some rafting and canoeing on this trip. I wonder if I’ll be able to respond to emails from a canoe on the Snake River?   

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm

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