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Can I Really Attain Work-Life Balance?

I recently attended and presented at the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference in Washington DC. During the conference, I was amazed at the negativity that surrounds the topic of work-life balance. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, as blog after blog is published on a weekly basis arguing that work-life balance is an impossible dream. I couldn’t disagree more!

In reality, work-life balance is really about setting realistic expectations, as well as understanding the costs and benefits that come with meeting those expectations. This is because how we feel about our work life and our non-work life (and the way they fit together) is really a product of the choices we make. CEOs choose the benefits of pay and prestige, and that comes with the cost of extra hours (and extra stress). Academics choose autonomy and flexibility, but the pay may be lower than corporate positions, and they often bring work home with them.

It is important to keep in mind that choices we make about our work come with costs AND benefits. So, work-life balance is really about managing life demands in a way that provides the best cost-benefit payoff according to our own personal preferences. It’s not about striking a balance between work and life or “having it all.”

Unfortunately, too many blogs and advocacy groups seem to propagate the notion that we are entitled to do everything we want in a given day or week. We should be able to be productive at work, spend quality time with family, have a lively social life, engage in personal pursuits, and have time to exercise. But, here’s a newsflash: there are only 24 hours in a day and only 7 days in a week. Here’s another newsflash: 100 years ago people worked a whole lot more than we work today!

Work-life balance is really a mindset. When you hate your job, you want to spend as little time working as possible. When you love your job, there never seems to be enough time to accomplish all you dream of achieving. Instead of worrying about finding ways to legislate a maximum amount of work hours (it hasn’t worked well in France), or seeking lucrative escapist benefits (like vacation time), perhaps the solution is to work to help people find a job that they enjoy, where they feel like they are having a positive influence on others and the larger community. Perhaps some of these people will then be able to say they are happy with the way they manage their life, not the way they balance work and life. This approach can help us to stop talking about work-life balance and start talking about the way people manage their “life” demands, with work experiences being a piece of overall life. Ultimately, we choose how big this piece is, hopefully with no regrets.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on April 3, 2009 10:41 AM.

Draw a Line: Behaviors or Outcomes was the previous entry in this blog.

A Tale of Two…Vending Machines? is the next entry in this blog.

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