The Myth of Work-Life Balance
One of the great pitfalls of society today is our unintentional creation of false dichotomies. These are a failure in our reasoning that makes us believe we only have two options.
One of the longest standing examples of this in leadership is the idea of “work-life balance.” This concept, like all false dichotomies, creates a mental image of a scale. If work rises, then life falls and vice-versa. As leaders, we also assume the responsibility for maintaining that proper work-life balance falls squarely on the shoulders of employees. But really, a better leader will guide employees to greater engagement and satisfaction through work-life fit.
Workplace Flexibility and Leadership
Work-life balance, once upheld as an ideal for workers a generation ago, has been questioned for several years. Back in 2016, The New York Times commented that, “At best, balance is perhaps an unrealistic goal: a state of grace in which all is aligned. ‘Balance is something you want but can never have,’ says Cali Yost, whose specialty is helping businesses implement flexibility strategies.”
When it comes to improving worker engagement and satisfaction, flexible leaders have far more than just two alternatives. The mental image of a scale needs to be eradicated by today’s leaders. The myth of work-life balance has been reflected in study after study showing that satisfaction levels with work and life rise and fall together rather than in response to one another.
A Different Way of Thinking: Work-Life Fit
Exploding the myth of work-life balance begins simply, with a better term that opens up multiple alternatives and potential outcomes: work-life fit. An example of work-life fit in action comes from an employee who works a “flex schedule.” The flexible schedule began out of necessity as the employee’s position began to require regular evening and weekend meetings, but an unexpected benefit was an increase in productivity. As a result of flexible scheduling, he works on what is an “off-day” for most of the other employees. Other than a few others who have chosen this day, the office is empty and quiet. While the rest of his work week is spent surrounded by staff and attending meetings, he completes 50% or more of his actual tasks on this one office day.
I had to wonder if the myth of work-life balance applied here? Is it a simple balancing game, where he could increase his productivity similarly on any other day? He says no – it’s not about balance, but about fit. He shared that on his day in the office, he knows he is free from interruptions, and even from passing eyes walking past his office window. On this quiet day in the office, he often puts on some music, takes off his shoes and pauses throughout his day for some in-office exercises. When he leaves the office, he feels accomplished and satisfied. Not just because he had a more relaxed, uninterrupted day, but because he was highly productive and able to meet goals and deadlines in a way that fits his life.
An Employer of Choice
Helping your leaders pay attention to work-life fit can have benefits for your employees AND your company. Greater flexibility can make your company more desirable in the eyes of potential candidates and improve your status as an employer of choice. Having leaders who understand and support work-life fit can improve retention rates and job satisfaction. Perhaps most significantly, leaders who strive for flexibility and work-life fit can improve productivity and help your company achieve higher goals.
For more information about work-life fit and 11 steps that your leaders can take today, check out “Workplace Flexibility: Work-Life “Fit” from A Better Leader.