Balancing the scales

Below is a response I wrote about achieving work/life balance during an Organizational Behaviour discussion I have been participating recently – felt it might be a good fit here too!

The first thing that comes to mind when considering work/life balance is the image of a teeter-totter, the idea of balancing work & life seems to be like trying to perfectly balance the two sides of a scale.

First of all let’s look at working days vs. non-working days for the average Canadian. In one year, most Canadians work 236 days (including all public holidays, weekends and allowance for 14 days’ vacation) – this leaves a balance of 129 non-working days. Already there is an imbalance in most Canadians own lives and their working lives. In order to achieve a “balance” there is already a need for the perception and value of our personal lives to somehow outweigh/offset the perception of our working life.  

It is possible to work harder and longer if you are able to balance out the other side of the teeter-totter with a higher quality and standard of living! Unfortunately for more and more Canadians this simply is not possible. Families are being forced to live in smaller and smaller houses, condos and apartments due to affordability – costs of living and individual purchasing powers are increasingly unable to effectively contribute to improved standards or livings.

One of the biggest issues I see in trying to balance work/life is people’s perception and definition of “work” itself.Where one person might quantify work in the amount of hours they work another might quantify the definition of work based on what they actually do/produce.

Individuals that define their work as “hours” invested outside of their non-working lives often seem to forget to consider the “extra” hours involved directly with travelling to and from work. These unpaid hours are increasingly becoming more and more of a burden on people’s ability to balance work/life as commute times increase and affordability issues force people to live further and further away from work.

When workers end up commuting to standard legacy era 9-5 Monday to Friday jobs they are essentially investing up to 45 mins to 60 mins each way away from their personal lives – commuting is rarely a low stress activity and Canadians living in major urban centers seem to be forced to expose themselves to stressful/time consuming activities even before they have started their normal work day. Add on getting home, managing family and personal lives at the end of these days and it’s no wonder that more and more Canadians are showing higher levels of work-stress and inabilities to effectively manage the life side of the balance equation.

Workers that view their work based on what they do are also often feeling more and more challenged to find a work/life balance. Many Canadian workplaces are fast paced and in reality impersonal environments (as the concept of “emotional labour” would suggest). Compounding the feeling of being unable to balance work and life would be a workers possible feelings of not being truly valued or recognized within their organizations – though it is true that beers on a Friday in the office or work get-always might raise morale within the organization, these novelties often wear-off quickly for those that can easily see beyond the tactics of trying to “appease” employees. At the end of the day, everyone wants greater success, continued career growth and higher rewards (financial and personal) over a career of free beers in the office on Friday and similar notions.

I am completely convinced that many are able to find great work/life balances through being able to enhance their own lives or attain higher standards of living and not so much through being able to manipulate their work environment/perception!

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