This topic has been all the rage for over a decade now. I think I understand why. Most households are dual income, lots of “latch key” kids, workers and professionals in the US always seem to be among the highest in the world in terms of hours worked per week, etc. Too much work, lots of family issues to contend with, a desire to have what is now an underdeveloped social life. I get it. But is work-life imbalance really driven by the large number of hours we work? Not really. A lack of balance is not simply about too many hours. It is really about the stress associated with those hours. Good news, stress associated with work-life imbalance can be addressed. The effect of the number of hours on you is primarily determined by:
1. Your fit with your current role and or boss and or vocation. I hope most of you who are reading this are in the front third of your careers! You can “fit,” well or poorly, with your current role, boss or vocation. In the ideal situation you are a department head (role) for Suzy (your boss) over a group of staff accountants (accounting is the vocation) and you love everything about it. Unfortunately, some of you do not want to be the department head (or you feel you are stuck there and are unable to move higher), you do not like your boss and you can’t even recall how you convinced yourself accounting was the field for you. My point here is that if you will think about how much of the stress you have is due to poor fit (as opposed to lack of “balance”) you can begin the journey of exploring ways to find better fit.
2. Your willingness and ability to grow. Assuming you have decent fit, you very likely face many other challenging work-related issues. The amount of work, difficult relationships, uncertainty about many outcomes ahead of you, etc. Welcome to the club. How well you practice personal professional improvement 101 says a lot about how much you’ll stress out. This refers to systems of time management, self motivation and goal setting, seeking and using mentors and feedback, finding innumerable forms of training and learning, finding adequate time away from the office, and so on.
Yes, each of these two topics is huge! Having said that – they are your targets. Start thinking, reading and planning to find better fit. Guess what? When you have decent fit, the personal improvement part becomes really easy. You no longer strive for work-life balance when you love your work. Good luck!
Dr. Dewett is a nationally recognized leadership expert, professor, author, professional speaker and consultant specializing in all aspects of organizational life. As quoted in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, MSNBC and elsewhere. He is the author of Leadership Redefined. Podcasts, blog, free newsletter and more at http://www.drdewett.com Copyright 2009 TVA Inc.