You Don't Actually Want Work-Life Balance - Here's Why
People often talk about wanting work-life balance, but I don’t believe it is what they are really seeking; the concept itself is fundamentally unachievable. The notion of work-life-balance implies that we have this perfect scale always in sync between our personal and professional responsibilities at any given time. It conjures up an image of someone working from home on their laptop with a child on their lap. That’s not what anyone really wants, that’s compromise.
Many people’s concept of what a perfectly balanced professional and personal life looks like often leads to sub-par outcomes, disappointment, and frustrations because it's based on time allocation and trying to do too many things at once. In trying too hard to “balance” their schedule, they are checking off the boxes, but not getting the best outcomes due to an approach that is quantitative versus qualitative.
Rather than balance, what I believe we really want is the ability to be truly present in our work and in our lives outside of work. We are seeking meaningful, uninterrupted, “all in” experiences at each end of the work/life spectrum, which will naturally cycle at different times. There often won’t be balance within a week or a day and hours aren’t the determinant of quality.
In the end, the goal is not “balance” in the traditional sense, its a life that lets you integrate those pieces. Work-life integration is more akin to a puzzle where all the different pieces fit together in aggregate. It’s an understanding that each day or week might bring different combinations of things to attend to at work or in your personal life, but they total a portfolio of quality experiences. It’s not about the time itself, it’s about being fully present and engaged in each of the pieces.
It’s why we designed our culture at Acceleration Partners to offer the freedom and autonomy to achieve results for our clients while attaining personal goals and attending to inevitable life issues. For example, we’ve had several team members who have had to deal with an unexpected family illness or death and we’ve encouraged them to take the time they need in the way that works best for them. One took off specific days each week in order to be fully present when her mom had weekly appointments and wanted to work the other days and be held accountable. When she was at work, she was all in and a top performer. Another chose to take a few consecutive weeks off, so that she could be there at the end. What was balance for one was different for the other, but it allowed each to have no regrets.
Other examples include employees taking time during the traditional work day to train for a competition or shifting one’s hours to take a class or to travel to a new city. We actually see better work performance from this fulfillment outside of work, rather than them just working more hours.
For the next week, try and measure your success at home and at work by the amount of quality, uninterrupted experiences you are able to have rather than trying to find an unachievable balance. I believe you will feel more satisfied and accomplished all around.
Quote of the Week: “There is no such thing as work-life balance. Everything worth fighting for unbalances your life.” - Alain de Botton
The above article is a Friday Forward, my short weekly leadership note read by 200,000+ leaders in over sixty countries each Friday morning.
Robert Glazer is the Founder and Chairman of the Board at Acceleration Partners, an award-winning partner marketing agency with over twenty-five best place to work awards. He is also a #1 Wall Street Journal bestselling author and keynote speaker. Full bio and speaking inquiries at www.robertglazer.com
Founder & CEO, Acceleration Partners