Work or personal life don’t even need to be equal to be balanced
The underlying assumption in most work-life balance articles is that work is bad, life is everything else. For years psychologists, coaches and gurus have used the pie chart diagram to explain how our lives can be divided into work, family, interests, spirituality etc.
It was helpful to a point but somewhere along the line we seemed to forget that it is only a simple diagram and life is a whole lot more complex. Life cannot be categorised into a few simple “slices” of the pie. Throw the pie in the bin – it’s past its sell by date! For as soon as we see work as part of life then we begin to value it and stop feeling as if life is on hold while we’re at the office.
Work is good for us and we’ve always done it. Early caveman went out in search of food which he then brought home and slapped upon a stone to be carved and eaten.
Although the stone is perhaps now polished marble not that much has changed; at its most basic we work to provide food and shelter for ourselves and our loved ones.
But whether it’s looking after children or working in an office, restaurant, farm or hospital, most of us will be also be benefiting from work in other, much more subtle ways.
The traditional pie-chart image of work – life balance is out-dated
If a diagram helps then maybe we should draw our lives like a family tree with ourselves and all of who we are and who we want to be at the top. Each of us needs to feel needed, to have achieved something and to get enjoyment from life. What we do in or daily lives features in the next line down in the diagram and should feed in to all of who we are.
This line might include work, friends, exercise, spirituality, family, hobbies etc. If we look at our working lives in this way we can see how work provides us not only with food and shelter but hopefully also a sense of achievement, mastery, social connection, purpose, direction and belonging.
How much more important does this make work in our lives? If it gives us all of these things then maybe it is just as important as all the other aspects of our lives; we do not just get money from work, achievement from exercise and companionship from family. We get these life – enhancing ingredients from so many parts of our day.
In fact, the New York subway map would probably be a better diagram to explain the multiple interconnections of all the aspects of our lives but lets stick with the family tree for simplicity!
In today’s world we need to take a much more fluid and flexible approach to “balancing” our lives.
Balance doesn’t have to mean equal and the sooner we unburden ourselves from that expectation of dividing our work and home lives equally the sooner we begin to be happy. Of course terms and conditions apply.
There are a few warning signs that work is sapping rather than contributing to your life.
If your sleep or eating patterns are disturbed, family are complaining or arguing with you about the time you spend at work or you actually just don’t want to go home then you need to take a close look at the mix. Be aware of the addictive nature of stress which skews our judgement and often causes us to look upon everything as priority.
Ask yourself is it an organisational problem or a personal, perhaps time management problem. Is it temporary or on-going? Talk to everyone involved, family, employers, employees etc. and try to plan rather than fire-fight the problem. Is everyone working late to cover people that have been let go and not replaced? It would be lovely to say just go home but probably more realistic to say that you will look forward each week to at least one evening when you will go home on time.
Maybe each employee could plan a different night to go home guilt free. If exercise has gone out the window, could you walk during lunch hour or get off the bus a few stops early on the way home.
The gym may be plush but not a realistic option for the time being. Leave the Greco-roman muraled swimming pool until another time. We’re living in difficult times, but they will pass.
So for the moment, laugh out loud with your friends, even if it is via Skype. There’s more life to work than you think.
Susannah Healy is a Psychologist, Trainer and hypnotherapist. She is an Int. Editor of the European Journal of Clinical Hypnosis and Director of Access Psychology Ireland, a psychological services clinic in Dundrum Town Centre, Dublin 16, Ireland TEL: 00-353-1-235 1000