Why “work-life balance” is a false dichotomy
One topic I frequently hear about in presentations, read about online, and see either explicitly or implied within several emails each week is the idea of a “work-life balance.” Last month, I read the blog of a high-level executive who effectively said there is no such thing as work-life balance and everyone should stop trying to find this non-existent state of nirvana. She then went on to mention her job was going great and she had cut back on her duties as a parent as part of her time management. I would argue she has found a “work-family balance” in which work is the priority and family is secondary. I’m not judging whether that is right or wrong—only she gets to make that determination. However, let’s examine the phrase “work-life balance” a little more closely. I think there is something to be learned along the way.
First, the term itself, “work-life balance,” creates a false dichotomy where you’re either at work or living your life. Since, for most of us, work is where we spend a significant portion of our time, I fully reject this notion that I’m not living my life while at work. I have great co-workers and an incredible network of professional contacts, many of whom I also consider friends. And I met many of my non-work friends through some form of work-related activity, either via projects in which we collaborated or during a professional development pursuit. I would be hamstrung without professional development activities outside my place of work. Interacting with my academic, business, and government colleagues provides me with amazing insights into the state of the GEOINT world. When combined with my interactions with students, teachers, staff, and faculty at the K-12 and collegiate levels, my “work” offers visibility into the lives of hundreds of people, each of whom have their own “balance” challenges.
My life outside of the work environment is often complex, with responsibilities weighed against recreation and relaxation. Each of us has a unique blend of non-work activities that make us who we are. And there is work involved in non-vocational activities. For example, when prepping to lead a high-adventure Boy Scouting trip, there is much real work involved in scheduling, organization, coordination, communication and actually training for the activity. Many of us also have an avocation, which is simply something we love to do and will always carve out time for. Our vocation pays the bills. Our avocation feeds our souls. For a lucky few, their vocation and avocation are one in the same. For them, work and play are indistinguishable.
Since we have established there is vocational work and there is non-vocational work, and that work is part of all facets of our lives, what would be a better phrase than “work-life balance?”
We must also avoid phrases such as “work-fun,” “work-play,” or similar because work can and should be fun. When we purposefully remove “play” from work we eliminate much creative energy. If you do not make having fun part of your workplace, you’re missing out on the purpose of work, which, for me, means accomplishing goals in an enjoyable environment.
What alternative phrases do you suggest to “work-life balance”? Drop me a note with your suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear your thoughts and share them with the rest of the GEOINT Community.
At the 2023 International Cartographic Conference in South Africa, Lyndsey Hofmann was invited to share her work on Northern Virginia housing trends