I find most of the material I come across on work-life balance irrelevant.
We need work, and we need rest: yes, even God gave it a rest on the 7th day. As much as I have my issues with Shabbat, as half of Jerusalem turns into a sleepy religious hub with no public transport, I do see the magnificent benefits of observing a day of rest and reflection. Rest and reflection, not work-life balance, which is an invention of the very work environments that produce burnout.
The underlying implication of the idea of ‘work-life balance’ is that we can be slaves at work, then finally shut down and rest. An expression that comes to mind is panem et circenses: we earn our daily bread stressing out, we attend a stress management course, we go to the gym, practice yoga, meditate….and the cycle starts again.
Resting on the week-end, getting to the gym on a Tuesday night, or having a drink with friends on a Thursday evening may provisionally improve our mood, then what? If our work environment is toxic and uncaring, a bit of recreation will only temporarily do us good, but at the end of the day it becomes just a patch to delay the crisis.
To break the cycle it’s time to focus on work-life meaning. A few may disagree, but most professionals with an international career are where they are because once upon a time:
1. They cared
2. They craved for some meaning in their job
3. They imagined a work environment of shared values and vision
Many still do.
Work-life balance has become this mantra that we repeat as if it were the solution to lousy work environments, neurotic bosses, and a job that is not what we imagined.
Bring back meaning and care in the workplace, and authentic balance will follow. We don’t need to go on a workshop on work-life balance to acquire that. We need an organisational culture that values human beings beyond humanitarian slogans, and leads by example.
My take? ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’, don’t settle for balance!