Work/Life Balance is a Myth: Focus on Boundaries Instead - MetroFamily Magazine
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Work/Life Balance is a Myth: Focus on Boundaries Instead

by Michael Dickerson

Reading Time: 5 minutes 

Dwayne’s story might sound familiar to you: He is 35 years old with a beautiful wife, a 3-year-old son, a new baby on the way, a stable job at a large construction company where he earns a good salary with full benefits and a home in a nice neighborhood. By all appearances, Dwayne is a successful person. Nevertheless, he has been feeling stressed lately about his job and thinking about the new baby on the way. His company has new owners. The corporate culture has changed, and he is required to work more hours than usual. His long work schedule and inability to be at home as much as he used to are straining his marriage. Dwayne feels overwhelmed, which is starting to take a toll on his mental and physical health. He is trying to figure out the best way to be productive at work and still be present for his wife and kids.

How Role Conflict Affects Well-Being

Through my work, I have found that Dwayne’s story resonates with many professionals. You may have a situation like Dwayne’s: striving to be a good partner, parent or friend and at the same time succeed in your career.

The stress of the roles we have in our lives, and how those conflict, impacts our well-being and how well we perform our work.

I would even dare to say that your job and the organization you work for have the most significant impact on your well-being.

However, organizations don’t realize the prominent part they play in their employees’ lives due to the significant amount of time they spend at work. With that in mind, let’s examine the psychological and emotional impacts work can have on the roles you play in life.

In work/life research, there is a strong emphasis on understanding the organizational influences on your everyday life. The biggest issue is role conflict.

Besides being a worker, we may also be a parent, spouse, board member, church minister, community organizer, sports coach, PTA leader, volunteer, etc.

The requirement for a full-time job is 40 hours a week, but workers today average between 50 to 60 hours a week, depending on their job. Entrepreneurs and small business owners often work 80 to 90 hours a week. Overall, you spend at least one-third of your life at work. That can take a tremendous toll on your well-being, which begs the question: How does a person balance different life roles?

Achieving balance is about learning to optimize each role and creating strategies to enhance your well-being.

Organizations must understand that people have lives outside of work. When millennials entered the workforce, they approached dealing with work/life role conflict with the mantra: “I work to live, not live work.” Millennials may understand better than previous generations the significance of having different roles outside of work and pursuing those roles with a good balance between work, play and family life. 

Many millennials did not want to be like their parents because they grew up observing an imbalance between work and family. They also experienced first-hand in the workplace how this role conflict contributes to future mental health issues. Increasingly, organizations can no longer neglect people’s desire to have a more holistic approach to work and non-work life.

What about Dwayne?

Let’s go back to our friend Dwayne who is struggling with role conflict. On the one hand, he wants to be productive at work, but on the other, he wants to be there for his wife and kids.

How can Dwayne reconcile work and life? What can his organization do to help Dwayne optimize work and family life? How can Dewayne make sure he is taking care of his well-being? Most employees that work for organizations are also struggling with the same questions. For instance, Dwayne has proposed to his manager that he transition to a four days work week, working 12-hour days and be off on Fridays, allowing him to spend more time with his family and remain productive at work. When organizations allow employees like Dwayne to have more autonomy in choosing work schedules and how they get work done, this creates a supportive work environment and promotes employee wellbeing.

Work/life balance is a myth. Why? Because work life and personal life are about boundaries, not balance.

I often ask friends, family and colleagues, “How is your work/life balance? Their usual response is, “I don’t have any work/life balance!” You have been fed this idea about work/life balance and how it will help you balance your work and home life. But it’s a lie.

The reality is that having balance in your life is a flawed concept perpetuated in the workplace and society. Moreover, we have assumed that work/life balance looks the same for everyone. But the reality is that work/life balance is unachievable.

Work/life balance, as we have often understood it, usually requires that people make tradeoffs, compromising satisfaction in one or more areas of their lives to fulfill responsibilities in another (Comtois, p.5). This idea of balance was a response to the role conflict of women moving into the workforce. 

For example, when women first entered the workforce, many did not want the traditional stay-at-home-wife-and-mom role anymore. However, they still wanted to be mothers and invest in their relationships and home life. Today, the high number of single parents in the workforce is prompting organizations to respond to this new normal. 

The corporate and organizational response to workers’ desire to have more holistic lives was to promote the concept of work/life balance. Over the years, workers have realized it’s a flawed idea. The millennial generation in particular dislikes what could be considered a tradeoff between work and life.

The traditional idea of work/life balance is no longer viable and relevant in today’s workplace. Advocating for balance is misleading and creates a sense of anxiety in employees.

The healthiest way to approach work/life issues is to promote having healthy boundaries, an approach to well-being that is viable and more practical to implement. It also optimizes work productivity and investing in one’s family.

Boundaries allow for the integration of work and life and celebrate the different roles in a person’s life as equally valuable. A reasonable boundary for me is, when I wake up, I go to the gym from 6:30 to 8 a.m., and during that time I do not take any work calls, texts or emails. 

Choose what boundaries you want to implement in your life. Work and life are inextricably linked, and organizations will have to design new ways for people to be their best selves in each role.

Work/life integration is about embracing the whole person in the workplace. We all want to be our authentic selves at work. There is no such thing as a “work self “and “personal self.” That would render people as two separate beings.

Slowly, organizations are coming to the understanding that they are responsible for facilitating an organizational culture that allows workers to be themselves in the workplace. As a result, people can have more positive experiences at work. Other areas of their lives are enhanced as well.

When you are looking for an organization to work for, you want to know that you will have a positive experience at work. When employers accept you as your authentic self, you can be your true self.

Organizations can no longer expect people to leave their personal life out of the workplace. That means fostering an organizational culture that celebrates employee’s hobbies, family life, volunteering, spirituality, relationships, passions and interests.

The push for incorporating the whole person effectively contributes to your well-being. Employees now expect organizations to recognize that they are whole persons, not just workers, and invest in their well-being accordingly.

Michael Dickerson is the founder of Dickerson Consulting Group, a human resources consulting firm. Michael is a sought-after speaker, trainer and consultant on positive organizational culture. He specializes in strategies on work/life integration, mental health and well-being and positive psychology in organizations. Michael holds a Certificate in Applied Positive Psychology and is the creator and host of The Spillover Effect Podcast. Visit Michael’s website at www.dickersoncg.com.

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