Is Work-Life Balance Really a Useful Measure?

person standing on a board balancing work and life on each sideHow do you define “work?” How do you define “life?”

I’m certainly a fan of the concept of work-life balance, but I often wonder how we’re actually supposed to define these two things, and if the bleeding between them is necessarily always bad.

For example, I’m really geeky about the kind of work I do. Sometimes I want to do a data course on my own time. Or sometimes I’m just bored over the weekend and even though I’ve worked a reasonable amount during the week, the best way to address that boredom is to dig into a work challenge. Is that necessarily bad?

I would argue that work-life balance is more about the employer setting reasonable expectations than about every individual necessarily needing to strive for more non-work time and firm separation of realms. When employers expect their employees to work 70 hour weeks or be constantly on call, it’s just bad for mental health. Even I, as a workaholic, prefer to work a 55-hour week when the expectation is 40 than to work a 55-hour week when the expectation is 55. I think most people benefit from flexibility and the freedom to set their own work goals when possible.

It’s also important that employers set consistent expectations for everyone, with a baseline that works for everyone. I might work more as a solo person without family responsibilities who also enjoys their job, but I don’t appreciate it when I’m expected to work more than co-workers who have children. In those cases, it doesn’t feel much like a choice. Does this mean that employers should pressure parents to work more, or take away leave options? Of course not! But I do appreciate when employers set a baseline expectation with the assumption that everyone has responsibilities outside of work (such as parenting, but not only parenting), and offer leave options that are flexible and can be used for different reasons (for example, caring for a sick friend).

How do you define “work” and “life” realms? Do they bleed over?

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