Busting the Myth
Chances are that you are already familiar with the concept of work/life balance. It is a term people have been using for decades to describe how to relieve the common tension that exists between the demands of a person’s job and the needs of their personal life. The work/life balance myth views this tension as a time management issue and that by simply allocating the appropriate time to each we can achieve an ideal balance. This is a myth because work is not something that cannot be untangled from the other pieces of life.
Work is very much an integral piece of one’s life the same way that wellness or relationships are. Why don’t we hear people talk about wellness/life balance? It’s because separating wellness from life is an absurd notion. Yet, we try to do it with work and life. The things we do in our work will undoubtedly cross-over into other facets of our lives. They will affect our energy, motivation, capabilities, knowledge, and most life outcomes. Similarly, life activities that occur outside of our job will surely cause ripples that penetrate into our workplace. Work and life are integrated. It is undeniable. We can try to ignore this reality and keep striving to achieve some optimal work/life balance that cannot exist. Or we can accept what is true and learn to blend work and life in a way that activates our greatest potential.
Defining Work-Life Blend
We define Work-Life Blend as the holistic integration of work in peoples’ lives through intentional blending of work focus with personal focus. This is distinct from work/life balance, which is primarily concerned about time management.
Work-life blend finds ways to stack focus, outcomes, and actions so they satisfy many different needs. For instance, choosing work activity that supports wellness and fosters personal relationships at the same time is an example of work-life blending. Another example is taking one’s personal passions or hobbies and applying related skills and motivations in a career setting. Blending work focus and personal focus creates compounding benefits as each blended action promotes a person’s life across multiple planes.
The work/life balance myth has commanded a prominent position in today’s culture because history has taken advantage of people’s capacity to work and has over exploited it to the point that so many people have been left deprived of the other essentials in life. However, that exploitation is not a defect of work. It is a result of bad actors and unintended systematic factors using material incentives to manipulate people into chasing higher paychecks and social status that a job promises to deliver. Much like junk food can leave people feeling full, but still hungry, this manipulation of incentives pulls people into the trap of career “success” while leaving them feeling unfulfilled in life.
Thus, a solution is sought in the idea of balance. It would make sense that we need some type of counterweight to keep us from overinvesting our time and energy in our work and neglecting the other critical elements of life such as our relationships, wellness, and other self-interests. Despite the noble intention of work/life balance, this mindset is inherently limiting.
Work/life balance forces you to focus on trade-offs. Deciding how to allocate time across different buckets and also leave you feeling unsatisfied and still hungry for more. This is why so many people find themselves stacking their plates with more than they can possibly handle. It is not that people are oblivious to the stress that can arise from setting ambitious goals and taking on many pursuits. The issue is that people crave fulfillment. Most of us want to get the most out of our life and maximize the time we have. Work/life balance won’t give us that. However, framing work with the right mindset can help us take advantage of the time we are already spending in the workplace.
What is Work?
Work is a conduit to a your potential. Work-Life blend recognizes work as an inseparable dimension of a person’s life that should not be treated as a source of conflict and tension. In this context, work is more than merely a job. It is the thing we do that provides a living, a sense of purpose, responsibilities, and routine. For most people, work is a profession or career. For others, it is being a parent raising their children. Sometimes it is being an advocate, activist, philanthropist, sponsor, volunteer, or supporter of worthwhile endeavor. Work is different than a hobby or pastime. Work creates a sense of duty that extends beyond our individual needs. Work connects us to our community by placing us in a role where we contribute to the needs of others by solving problems or providing services that impact a larger group.
Work-Life Blend Activates Potential
Work-life blend offers a much better approach than work-life balance if your desire is to achieve greater potential in life. Blending work and life requires a mindset where you look at how every facet of life is connected and how they interact with each other. With that mindset, you can then start to look for opportunities to align your focus and outcomes across these facets. The more your focus and outcomes align, the easier it will be to tailor your actions and routines in ways that create compounding benefit. Similar to compound interest accruing from an investment, compound benefit accruing from your actions will activate exponentially greater potential in your life compared to actions that create conflict and tension.
For a simple example, consider a person that is focused on getting in better physical shape. If that person works a 9 to 5 job, has family responsibilities, then tries to get in shape by going to a fitness class each day, it will be quite challenging for that person to stick with their goal. The person already has a schedule that is pretty committed, so squeezing in time for a class will require finding an extra hour or two per day. That will most likely add stress, strain relationships, be less enjoyable, and ultimately force compromise in other areas of life.
However, if that person instead identified ways to stack multiple actions together, then the outcome is more achievable while providing additional benefits. For instance, incorporating walks with business calls or meetings during the day can refresh the mind making the person more alert and engaged. It can also offer a more relaxed environment for better bonding between colleagues to occur. Another possibility is to incorporate more physical activity in the evenings with a spouse or kids. This provides the necessary exercise while also enhancing family relationships. Weaving this approach into every part of your day could make a tremendous difference. Every activity and interaction has the potential to serve several goals and yield multiple benefits.
Work-Life Blend in Business
Businesses are the most impactful institutions we have in our communities. They drive our economy, influence culture, shape the environment, provide essential infrastructure and services, and effect overall human well-being. Their impact can be positive or negative depending on the incentive structures, motivations, regulations, and other system variables in place. Lately, capitalism has been getting a bad reputation for its contributions to many existential threats like climate change, deteriorating health conditions, widening wealth gaps, and other complex problems facing society.
However, capitalism has also been a key driver in many of the world’s positive changes such as improving living standards across the globe, reducing poverty, eliminating diseases, suppressing violence, and enabling great works of art. When businesses are directed toward making their impact positive and cultivate employee potential, then we all benefit. Blending work and life is critical to that end. Businesses that are only concerned about turning a profit with no regard to the impact they make on their employee, customers, and communities are going to be attracted to exploitative practices and tactics. Concern for all stakeholders is necessary to resist the gravity of profit maximization and counter-balance it with other success factors like pursuing a Cause and improving human well-being.
Blended companies are more adept at solving complex problems. The challenges we face are increasingly more complex. Simple organization structures, management styles, and work processes are no longer capable of navigating the intricacies of today’s highly dimensional technological, legal, environmental, and social challenges. A company that attempts to solve problems old conventional approaches will ultimately fail. However, companies that activate their employee potential through Work-Life blending will be far more agile, innovative, and durable. Our greatest superpower is human cooperation. Companies that create environments that unify people around a common purpose will be the most successful. Employees, Customers, and Communities thrive when we have a healthy Work-life Blend.