You know, the expression ‘work-life balance’ is probably one of the most bandied about phrases of the working world? Of the entire Western world in fact?
It’s also one of the biggest faux pas I can think of.
We’ve been repeating it for decades now – without realising just what we’re doing to ourselves!
Actually it reminds me of the ‘don’t drink and drive’ messaging the police used for decades in New Zealand until they very recently cottoned on to the fact that putting those two words next to each other in a sentence just keeps the two activities connected in people’s minds. Duh.
With work-life balance, the faux pas is in the order of the vernacular. Since when does work come first?
And don’t you think the term must have been coined by a die-hard workaholic? Anyone in their right mind would have put it the other way around; life-work balance.
But it’s probably all about the origin of the term itself so let’s go there first.
It was actually my generation – the Gen Xers – that brought this concept to light: the need to balance more carefully the demands of work with our family and personal lives. On the back of the hard-working baby boomer generation driven by war and post-war realities of having to earn a dollar, the Gen X generation started to realise that something eventually had to give, that life couldn’t just revolve around work (Forbes explains this well).
The term work-life balance became a way to bring awareness to employees about the need to balance work priorities with the rest of their life. It was really an expression for use inside organisations in relation to how we managing work load, hours and personal priorities.
Where I think we’ve gone wrong is that we’ve taken the term out of the workplace and applied it to all of life. I suggest it has been misappropriated!
Where we’ve gone wrong is that we’ve taken the term out of the workplace and applied it to all of life.
Hence, my proposition that we start talking about Life-Work Balance, or perhaps even simply Life Balance.
I often take my clients through a process for taking stock of their life right now and as a basis for creating five-year plans and so on, and it begins with looking at the Wheel of Life – this has eight areas of life to explore. Not two!
Yes, work is in there, but so is health, family, relationships, spirituality, interests and lifestyle, community and so on.
That kind of puts it in perspective don’t ya think?
Business Coach, Geoff Knox, has a great analogy of a bike for this phenomenon. He talks about how for many of us we have work or our business on the front wheel, leading everything else. That’s when work feels like it’s running the show. Or we feel like we’re careening, or at least wobbling all over the place trying to stay in the seat. And it’s pretty exhausting, is it not?
Why not switch the wheels over, so that our life and lifestyle is in front?
That way we make better decisions at work about how to run the sales team, what to delegate, how to make sure we get the holidays we’ve planned with the family, etc.
This is not about just have a joy ride (although I would say that is kind of the point), it’s about living and working sustainably. Geoff and I have both worked with numerous clients who have up-levelled their businesses once they got their ‘life’ in front.
Given we’re in December and going into a New Year, here’s one of my favourite tips for getting life on the front wheel – take some time these holidays to sit with your nearest and dearest and plan your holidays for the year. I met a lovely woman at a Rotary event years ago who told me about how she and her family do this every Christmas holidays. She said they decide what holidays (dates) they’re going to take and where they’re going to spend them (away or at home or with friends etc) and then share between them the planning etc to be done later on.
What a brilliant way to feel great about your year and have things to look forward to before you’re even back from Christmas hols.
To your best life,