A Different Perspective on Work-Life Balance

Posted By: Lynn Heckler | August 23, 2016 | 0 Comments

For at least the past decade, work-life balance is regularly cited as a top workplace concern and it does not appear that significant improvement is occurring. Working women and men are often operating in a state of physical and mental exhaustion as they race through their workweek, trying desperately to fit it all in. We are also training our children at an increasingly younger age to be just like us. I see my kids’ elementary school playmates with extremely overbooked  schedules due to participating in multiple sports, social and other extra-curricular activities. If you add being a single, working parent into this mix, the game becomes even tougher to manage effectively.

So, perhaps it is time for a new mental model for work-life balance.

What if we stop talking and thinking about it as work-life balance using the proverbial teeter-totter as a metaphor? Just because we are focusing our attention on a non-work related activity for an hour, a day, a week, or even a year, doesn’t necessarily LifeGrahpicmean that our work-life balance is off. Conversely, having a period of intensive work does not necessarily mean that something is wrong at home.

This idea that work and life are separate is simply outdated. What if we begin thinking of it as work-life integration? There are many pieces to this pie chart of life and work is just one slice of the whole. There is family, community, self-care, recreation, spiritual pursuits, and more. What if we focus more on improving our ability to move seamlessly between the slices of life as needed on a daily and hourly basis?


Is multi-tasking a myth?

Neurologically, our brain cannot perform two tasks at once. Research shows that while we may believe we are multi-tasking, we are not. We actually have just become really adept at fast attention switching between tasks. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The more adept I become at this attention switching, the less stress I feel and can actually be more present (in the moment) for whatever slice of life I’m currently engaged in. In order to accommodate a true shift towards healthy work-life integration, and facilitate smooth attention switching, there are a few paradigms that need to change. Our workplaces can be redesigned to better accommodate life. Physical work spaces can be adapted to have more space for relaxation, physical fitness, napping, personal phone calls, web surfing, changing clothes, recreation, breastfeeding, meal preparation and socializing. Traditional PTO and attendance/leave policies can be adapted to provide significantly increased flexibility. These are just a few examples of how employers can assist in improving work-life integration. Winning organizations will create environments that accommodate work and life seamlessly.

In addition, we can improve work-life integration by creating physical and mental space “at home” for the times we need to attention switch to work. For example, I have a friend who works as a nurse for a large hospital that occasionally requires her to be available after normal work hours. Every single time she is called upon after hours she throws a mini tantrum, cursing under her breath as she answers the work related call. Mentally, she is angry that work has yet again interrupted her non-work time, potentially causing her teeter-totter to crash to the ground. Now reimagine this same scenario through the work-life integration lens. Her focus would be more on how to quickly attention shift to the work issues at hand and when complete, smoothly refocus on the home or recreational pursuits.

Keep in mind that work is part of life.

Stew Friedman writes for Harvard Business Review, “Start by considering three principles: be real, be whole, and be innovative. To be real is to act with authenticity by clarifying what’s important to you. To be whole is to act with integrity by recognizing how the different parts of your life (work, home, community, self) affect one another. All this examination allows you to be innovative. You act with creativity by experimenting with how things get done in ways that are good for you and for the people around you.”

While there is no one silver bullet to “fix” what is reportedly one of the largest work-related issues of our time, a small change to viewing it as work-life integration can be a big step in the right direction.

Lynn Heckler

Lynn Heckler

Lynn is PSCU’s Chief Talent Officer and owns responsibility for the functions that define the company's culture and employees’ work experience. She has over 25 years of experience in human resources management in various industries including vision care, home healthcare, insurance, and financial services. In 2015, Lynn was recognized with the SHRM Florida Professional of the Year Award.
Lynn Heckler




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