You’ll get your comeuppance, work-life balance

I sketch the portrait of a man I used to work with, an executive. You get the sense that even when he’s not at work he still is. Chiseled features, far-off look: a born leader. Hard to see him outside the context of work. Once I ran into him at the Costco in his sweatpants buying a side of ribs. You could tell by his hair he hadn’t showered and he was embarrassed being seen like that. Maybe it’s just that he hadn’t showered, or that someone from work had seen the “real him,” exposed like that.

I meet with a client who’s giving a speech on work-life balance and it’s ironic, we have to laugh, but there’s no time for us to work on the speech. I take a few cues from her and go off to write. We decide to upend the idea: there is no “work-life balance” anymore, it’s been distributed across our lives now to where we can’t separate the two. And arguably we shouldn’t. It’s more a work-life “harmony.” And I realize that sounds like BS, because it is.

Back in a former job there was a time when employees were starting to complain that their one on ones with management were starting to feel transactional, like management didn’t really care. That was hard to hear, “transactional” felt so cold. We thought our work had more meaning than that but here it was, boiled down to a commodity, exposed. “At will” employment, you could separate at any time, either side. We got reminded of that when RIFs came through and it was a real wake-up call, it got to my childhood fears of trying out for a team, when they list who’s made the cut in the locker room and if you weren’t on the list, you leave. A tribal, in-or-out thing. And deeply personal, no matter what they said…

I’ve struggled to separate work and life as I’m often working a problem through my head even when I’m not “at work.” Many who work high-stress jobs can relate, it follows you home. And often I do my best work solving a problem when I’m taking a walk, the same as if I’m working a poem in my head, the best ideas can come unexpectedly at any time of day or night. Is it bad I’ve combined the two, the work and life?

We can point the finger at technology, that it’s changed us as a culture, because it has. But if the work has gotten into you so much that you identify with it wholly, you arguably love the work, then why separate yourself from it? If you reduce it down to a transaction but work occupies so much of your life, are you reducing your whole like down to a transaction too? Don’t we want something more lasting for ourselves and our lives than a transaction?

No, the point of work-life balance isn’t to separate yourself from the work or balance the two: it’s to balance the work against other priorities in your life (family, friends, self-care) so that the work doesn’t dominate or diminish your life outside of work. If we’re not fortunate enough to have other life priorities, then the work becomes the sole focus and there isn’t much to balance it against. It’s a sad day for me to imagine that as a new standard.

Employers are starting to experiment with 4-day workweeks and relax hang-ups on working from home. That will drive employee loyalty, engagement, and employer value. It makes sense to reduce the amount of time we’re physically expected to be at work, because the amount of time that work occupies mentally goes well beyond a standard work week. For better or for worse, we get to decide.

Categories: identity, writing

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26 replies

  1. Love this, Bill…and hope all is well

    best, gregg

    gregg s johnson 206 399 3066

    Pardon my brevity; I’m sending from a mobile device.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Work eats/seeps/jumps into my thoughts and non-working life all the time. This is a solid, punchy piece you’ve written.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks and happy/sorry you can relate! It all “depends.” I enjoyed the denseness of your kooky piece earlier this week. Wanted to tell but got blocked from commenting! Blinded me with science!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe the WP workers are having a slowdown strike or revolt. Sev’l people today have mentioned not getting notifications, and I just found they “unfollowed” some of the blogs that I in fact, like to follow

        Liked by 1 person

      • It’s an imperfect engine. I’m grateful for it despite. Once I had a spate of bot followers I reported and had them removed, like warts. Funny to remove +100 “followers” but it got annoying. All this, a kind of odd potion or side-show attraction. Roll up! Roll up!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Good questions posed …
    Having meaningful (to you) work is a blessing worth a few sacrifices on the personal side. I think of “balance” as a seesaw in motion, never stationary balance, but equally dipping from one focus to the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seesaw is brilliant. I thought of it as holding a yoga pose but that doesn’t work as well as the seesaw. Seesaws can be more rewarding than holding a pose until you start to shake…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That man you sketched, I’ve worked for him. More than once. And the business about the work-life harmony is not bs, y’all are onto something there. There are tons of ideas in this one to kick about. You should blow this up into something that explores them all and submit it somewheres. Good stuff here.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah the harmony idea is right. Thanks for the encouragement: this was my first article on LinkedIn, I posted it this morning. Not sure I did it right, it appears I’ve only gotten 3 views so far (and one was probably me). Ha!


  5. I don’t have that sort of job. I can’t really bring it home and there’s no reason to. Once while working at an old job, I went grocery shopping on a Sunday morning dressed in shredded jeans and a Schlitz Beer t-shirt. I ran into my board president with her daughter still in their church clothes. Our differences were so striking it really shook me up. But that president is in jail now, so really, it isn’t ever about appearances.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, it’s s a choice to have that sort of job…I like the Schlitz t-shirt image! I know that beer. God what a bad name. I mean come on! That and Stroh’s, Schmidt’s, I could go on. Straub is not bad, though. Why do they all start with S’s like that in Pennsylvania?


  6. the never-ending quest for balance. yes, some companies ore realizing the benefit to being flexible. and some even offer unlimited time off, with the result being that people are happier and getting more work done

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What is RIF? As an aside, I think when one is working ‘in the flow’ all things in a life seem to balance.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember those days. It’s hard to spend 8-9 formal hours a day in the bowels of computer code and logic problems and expect to turn it off when you get home. Especially when you go to bed and your mind is free to roam again.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reality. Thanks Bill.
    Some Gurus try hard to separate the unseparable.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Do people still have hobbies? I’m sure they do but it’s not a word you hear much anymore, like it’s quaint or embarrassing.
    Thoughtful piece.

    Liked by 1 person

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