What does work/life balance actually mean? Seriously? Does anyone really know? If you figure it out please get in touch.
Companies love to abuse this idea like it’s something they’ve hard coded into their corporate DNA. They plaster it all over their websites, their job postings, and quarterly reports. The problem is, it’s meaningless because nobody has done a decent job of actually defining it. You know why? It’s because it means something different depending on who you’re talking to.
To start with, you have to try and define what types of activities fall into each bucket. One called “Work” and the other “Life”. Is work defined as something you’re paid for? Does it mean commuting to an office? Does working from home count? What about a side hustle outside of your 9 to 5? It’s never ending.
In my own life I would argue that work is defined as the work I do that provides my main source of income and benefits for myself and my family. That source of income should not have unreasonable expectations of how much of my day will be spend in their service. As an example; putting in 12 hour days when I’m being paid for 8 would not be a reasonable expectation. However if I’m running my own business on top of my 9 to 5 out of my home, I’m responsible for the hours I decide to work.
My last employer looked at unpaid overtime as some kind of badge of honour. If you had too much on your plate and had to put in extra hours that was a sign you were committed, not that your employer had unrealistic expectations. I had a superior actually comment on the overtime I’d put in as a positive during a review session. Sadly this is not the exception, rather the norm for most people.
Jeff Bezos likes to call it work/life harmony. As if changing the name somehow changes the idea. “Look, you just need to be happy at work!”. Easy to say when your a billionaire. Not everyone has a job they find emotionally and mentally fulfilling. Also just because you love what you do doesn’t mean it’s ok to work insane hours and to be on call 24/7.
It wasn’t just Bezos. I saw a lot of this sentiment when researching this topic.
In my experience, work creeping into the rest of your life is something that gets worse the higher up the leadership ladder you climb. As you get promoted there’s an expectation that you’ll always be available. You’re just a text or phone call away.
I’m just getting tired of companies using work/life balance as some kind of recruiting tool when they have no idea what it really means. In most cases if you ask them they’ll refuse to try and define it. It’s almost as bad as the “wellness” trend. That deserves a whole post on its own.
I found this fantastic resource called People First Jobs. Companies that provide flexible work hours, remote work, professional development. There are companies out there like this. I just wish they were more common.