Weaving business and people together

Work-life balance: for the over 40s only.

May 14th, 2015


Rhythwyn Evans :'Thank God for work'

I’ve been frustrated for ages by the way the debate on this issue has been framed and constrained by its naming: ‘work-life balance’. There are several assumptions underlying the term that I want to challenge because I think it influences what is possible in the debate.

Firstly. That ‘life’ does not happen at ‘work’. That life is somehow the polar opposite of work. That somehow, work has to be moved out of the way in order for life to happen. Like many people, I derive huge amounts of satisfaction from my work. Work has played a large part in how I have defined myself and it has given me huge opportunities for growth and development. I have made many great friends through my workplace and I would not be the person I am today without having had rich and satisfying work to do. Work is a significant delight in my life, and I don’t feel embarrassed about that. I also happen to believe that there is dignity and value in all labour and that anyone engaged in honest labour deserves respect (and yes of course we should be paid a living wage at the minimum).

Secondly: that they need to balance. That somehow they need to be equal. They don’t. We have busy periods at work and we have busy times in our social and personal lives. Sometimes one needs to be given priority over the other and we just need to learn to be adult enough to make the right choice and not punish ourselves for prioritising one over the other at different times.

Thirdly, it implies that work only happens in some place of employment. That it doesn’t happen in the home. We all know that isn’t true. Both life and work happen in many different locations including, but not exclusively, places of employment and the home.

Fourth: that the need to balance it is always one-way. It implies that somehow work is always the element out of control, and often caused by some exploitative other, human or organisational; or by something in ourselves that is out of control. Sometimes we need to prioritise work a little more, in order to honour the commitments we make to the significant people that we value in our workplace, because we don’t want to let them down, because they matter to us too; or just because we simply enjoy it and want to finish it. Equally, sometimes we need to prioritise home; or we need to get right back to basics and have a look at whether we have let the bigger picture slip and responded to things that seemed important in the moment just because they were there in front of us.

I have a feeling that the term only really has currency for the pre-millennials. Millennials make more active choices to follow work paths which provide meaning, positive experiences and satisfaction and anyone who uses the term work-life balance exposes themselves as clinging to an outdated paradigm. I wonder if those jolly beardy people frolicking on big cushions and helping themselves to endless cookies and soda in Silicon Valley talk about work-life balance. Somehow I don’t think they do.

One of the key influences in the issue is of course the boundary-less world created by our portable devices. It’s a structural issue which we have a lot more control over than we choose to exercise.

If we have to call the important business of making the right choices about where we spend our time anything at all, I’d like to make a plea that we call it work-home balance. No, not balance. Work-home boundaries. That implies more of a personal responsibility for creating those useful borders. And maybe the more important theme is that ‘work’ is an outdated concept and what really matters is our occupation and whether it’s one that genuinely occupies our minds, hearts and bodies, and never exhausts us. Because good, honest work isn’t draining and exhausting. It’s pleasantly tiring and leaves us feeling satisfied and complete and not full of resentments.

Rhythwyn Evans, a fine old (Welsh, of course) farmer that I know, made me smile one chilly Boxing Day when he turned up for a full day’s work, at the grand old age of 78, proclaiming loudly: ‘Thank God for work’ . Whatever God is yours: thank her for work. It’s part of life, and it does us good.

  1. My sentiment exactly and beautifully put!

    by: Mary Moore on May 20, 2015 at 6:20 am
  2. You make great points here Anne. I have long wondered what “work-life balance” is really all about as I love my work and my life and often the two blend nicely together! For me, feeling satisfied and connected to who we are and the contribution we want to make in the world is the key and whether that comes from the stuff we get paid for (“work”) or the other stuff (“life”) doesn’t really matter and ideally each make have a positive part to play! Thanks for sharing your thoughts Anne.

    by: Susan Grandfield on May 20, 2015 at 9:06 am
    • yes, starting with what our talents and/or interests are and using those in lots of different arenas does seem to be the key to balance, as opposed to using the clock in some way to measure it artificially. And you express those things so well in different ways in your own SG survival guide http://www.sgdevelopmentsolutions.com.. well worth a read 🙂

      by: Anne Owen on May 20, 2015 at 11:45 am
  3. Finally – some sense written on this perennial and intractable issue, where even the name itself prompts yawns and drains all energy from the room instantly. This is a great reframing and starting point for some real conversations and change, rather than the usual fatuous and tedious theory. Not sure I agree entirely with last two sentences of the penultimate paragraph………I have seen much loved and valued work being very exhausting…in all kinds of fields.
    Keep up the great posts please Anne.

    by: alison on June 9, 2015 at 12:31 am


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