Instead, focus on work-life integration.
Workplace happiness and well-being are two metrics through which many of us base our employer’s value on. Instead of higher salaries, many employers are changing their strategy of attracting and retaining top talent by offering more flexible hours and more comfortable accommodations at the office.
In a class survey of the 2015 Harvard MBA class, only 4 percent of the class expressed intent to pursue a high-paying career in investment banking, a notoriously draining career path. Instead, many graduates were opting for careers at technology companies that promised more reasonable hours combined with a high level of pay. This change in attitude is a direct result of happiness being commoditized by companies in order to recruit employees. And it’s wrong. Work-life balance is a false dichotomy.
In a work-life balance dynamic, we divide work and life into two opposing forces competing for our attention; thus we have already created a conflict between the two. If we stress the importance of balance between work and the rest of our lives, we have created a situation where we treat work as an evil force imposing on our life and the happiness we pursue through it. We should instead seek to unite them in order to enjoy both more.
The MBA graduates in the 2015 survey are correct for desiring more balance in their lives in the form of a reduction in hours worked, but it is the assumption that this alone will create a better life is erroneous. Work needs to be fulfilling in order to justify the decision, and many people will be more content working 80 hours a week at a job they love than working 40 hours a week at a job they despise. Countless entrepreneurs have thrown themselves into developing their vision not because they have to, but because they want to.
The present worker is largely unhappy. Over 60% of individuals report being unsatisfied in their current role. An abundance of choice is one reason that so many workers are stuck in jobs they dislike. When we are presented with an abundance of choice, our ability to make decision is actually inhibited. The decision is made to tolerate the undesirable position instead of going through the trouble of selecting a new one. Additionally, humans are risk-averse by nature. Pursuing a new career is a decision fraught with inherent risk. Our natural tendency to avoid risk causes us to avoid pursuing new work.
The other side of the scale also needs to be addressed. It is the assumption that simply having the time to pursue life – in whatever conformation one deems it to be – is enough to provide fulfillment. This is false. For life to be fulfilling in a work-life dynamic, there needs to be integration between the two. Work should inspire life, and life inspire work; otherwise, the two simply co-exist with no interaction and demand attention from the other in a harmful relationship.
We view work-life balance as a separation between the two, so we become angered when the one creeps into the realm of the other. For example, we tell ourselves that we shouldn’t be answering our work email after we get home. We remind ourselves to leave our issues at home at the door and bottle them up while we’re at work. The view that our work may threaten our quality of life and vice-versa is what created the work-life balance dichotomy in the first place.
In order to get the most out of the work-life dynamic, use the benefits provided by each to complement the other. For example, if your job has taught you to manage your time better, apply those concepts to solve problems in your life related to time management. If your job has taught you a new skill, apply that skill in a new capacity; it could be to solve a problem at home or perhaps to provide a service to a friend or neighbour.
It seems that our society has become afraid of work. Everywhere you turn there are stories of people: being miserable at their jobs, ruining their lives because of their jobs, or quitting their jobs and never being happier. The only jobs that are glorified are the ones packaged in a hero complex. Even the question of “what do you do?” is considered borderline taboo in casual conversation, as if one’s occupation is a sensitive personal detail.
“It’s absurd and unfair, this objection to talking shop. For what reason under the sun do men and women come together if not for the exchange of the best that is in them? And the best that is in them is what they are interested in, the thing by which they make their living, the thing they’ve specialized on and sat up days and nights over, and even dreamed about.”
– Martin Eden, from the book of the same name by Jack London
People who use the topic of work only to pry or brag are typically insufferable, but we should certainly encourage each other to discuss our vocational experiences. Most of us spend a third of our day at our jobs, so to avoid sharing this part of our lives with people is denying others a chance to get to know us better. Our job title does not define us; that distinction belongs to the traits of our character. The challenges and successes we face at work impact the type of person we become in all aspects of life. And this is the true value of work in our lives: the union between work and life, and how the two complement each other for the better.