Work-Life Balance? What is That?

Poor work-life balance results in the dog digging holes in the backyard.

“Poor work-life balance results in the dog digging holes in the backyard.” ~ Amy Beall

There are employees today who voluntarily live the life of an indentured servant. Instead of calling it indentured service, they say the are too busy to take time off. The phenomena of ‘too busy’ has been elevated to the status of martyrdom. If you aren’t ‘too busy to take vacation’, you must be a slacker who isn’t earning an honest dollar.

The world hasn’t always had this distorted concept of work. The en mass switch occurred when the industrial revolution drew small business owners into the city and away from their traditional roles and leisurely pace. The grueling 15-hour day was born. Most industrial workers were considered replaceable so an employee would never leave their post until management released them. If they left early, they knew they wouldn’t have a job to return to.

In contrast to industrial revolution workers, knowledge workers are much more difficult to replace and therefore have some power in creating a work environment conducive to work-life balance. The truth is you are neither efficient nor effective in your work if you are always too busy to take a break.

Farmers, ranchers, small business owners, and other self-employed work 7 days a week and might pull 15-hour days. However, the smart ones, take time to balance their overwhelming day with the need to connect with family and friends. They show up at the elementary school to eat lunch with their kids. They leverage technology like videoconferencing tools to substitute for going ‘into the office’. They include family in their work and take short breaks throughout the day to spending quality time with loved ones.

When was the last time you played fetch with your dog in between meetings? How often do you take an hour in the middle of the day to snuggle with your significant other? What keeps you from vacationing with your family two or three times a year (other than money)?

In his paper, Work–Life ‘Balance’, Recession and the Gendered Limits to Learning and Innovation (Or, Why It Pays Employers To Care), Al James points out some common work-life arrangements employers provide. Flex-time (teleworking), on-site child care services, and work sharing (part-time) are some of the ones I’ve been able to take advantage of and it really makes a huge difference. Deborah Jian Lee has additional ways to maximize work-life balance:

  • Let go of perfectionism
  • Unplug
  • Exercise and meditate
  • Limit time-wasting activities and people
  • Change the structure of your life
  • Start small and build from there

FastCompany has a quick video on being more productive in order to achieve work-life balance. WebMD and the Mayo Clinic weigh in on the debate because there is significant research and evidence showing how poor work-life balance exacerbates medical problems. The Muse offers 37 tips for work-life balance. I love the idea of carving out a chunk of time each weekend to get away from the temptation of work. Go for a long walk or a round of golf and don’t check your phone while you’re away. I started devoting the first few hours of my weekend to a long bike ride. I’ve even slowed down enough to enjoy the scenery along the way.

So, what’s the take-away? Take some time this week to figure out what brings you joy and then spend time each week indulging. Spending just a couple of hours each week will help you reset your frame of mind and return to work refreshed and revived.

How do you recharge?


James, A. (2014). Work-Life ‘Balance’, Recession and the Gendered Limits to Learning and Innovation (Or, Why It Pays Employers To Care). Gender, Work & Organization21(3), 273-294. doi:10.1111/gwao.12037

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