Work/Life Balance: A Concept of Breathtaking Arrogance

In Otherwise Engaged, I write (briefly) about the concept of work/life balance:

“Think about what the term says: There’s what you do at work, and then there’s your life.  But that’s not how employees...see things.  Their perspective is more likely along these lines: ‘My job is a part of my life.  It’s a very important part, but I’m a fully formed adult with family responsibilities, and my work in my community, and my hobbies, etc., etc., etc.’”

The construction of the phrase itself—work/life balance—assigns to work a status equivalent to someone’s very life, and it’s hard to get much more arrogant than that.

It’s an idea I wrote about in greater depth in an article published by The Conference Board way back in 1998, and I think it still has currency today.  It’s titled “The Next Big Thing: A ‘Preposterous’ Idea Whose Time May Have Come”, and you can find it on the Articles page.  (If you want to save a click, click here.) Here’s a sample:

I think that at the heart of the current dispiritedness is a bit of conventional wisdom -- a tacit assumption -- that says something like: There are 168 hours in the week, and they, presumptively, belong to the business. Your personal life is to be carved out from what's left over.

Please understand that I'm not talking about the sociopathic boss who believes in this premise and explicitly says so. Though evil, such an attitude has the advantage of clarity and straightforwardness, and is, therefore, relatively easier to deal with. I'm talking instead of the well-intentioned boss (and, by extension, business) who would never consciously admit to such an assumption -- in fact, would abhor the very notion -- but who implicitly subscribes to it: "That's just the way things are today."

And before you dismiss this point as out of hand, ask yourself: Don't businesses, in effect, operate this way today? Isn't the assumption that you do what you have to do, i.e., you do what the business demands? We may say that we admire the "devoted family man" who leaves work to be at his daughter's soccer game, but isn't such an action also prima facie evidence that such a man doesn't have "the right stuff" to get ahead in business? Is there a faster way to be consigned to the B-team than to let family considerations get in the way of business needs?