The classic high level perspective on “work” vs “life” has some holes in it — and the popular notion of “balance” is responsible for at least a few of those holes.
I believe that balance immediately suggests mutual exclusivity while paradoxically implying a causal, inverse relationship. Meaning it’s impossible for two things to exist at the same time — and yet, suggesting that an increase in one causes a decrease in the other.
In a real-life example balance usually equates to: a) well you should try to have a balanced successful career AND a fantastic family life (or social life) but b) if you choose more of one, the other automatically decreases.
Sounds strange right?
The reality though, is that for most people, work is an integral piece of life, and life, the philosophical and physical fuel of work.
Why the focus on “balance” then?
Assuming between two and four weeks of vacation, most fully employed North Americans in the software and technology field will spend upwards of 2,000 hours “working” each year, accounting for more than 20% of their annual “life”.
Exaggerating a distinction between work and life is like encouraging the painful organizational split between “Tech” and “Business”, or “Mind” and “Body”; they are different by definition, but co-dependent parts of the same anatomy.
A recent study found, after analyzing data from hundreds of thousands of people in Europe, Australia and the USA, that working 55 or more hours, as opposed to 35–40, increased the chances of coronary heart disease by about 13% and inflated the odds of stroke by over 30%.
If that’s not solid proof that work is inescapably and terminally tied to life, then I don’t know what is.
While we can all agree that the concept of being “overworked” has a built-in acknowledgement of eventual drawbacks, we are still struggling to see eye to on what “overworked” looks like and how it can effectively be avoided when everyone is constantly connected.
Just this year, a study from Ernst & Young revealed that globally, 47% of Millennials say their hours have increased over the last 5 years, and a different study discovered that 64% of employers expect their employees to be reachable outside of the office, during what the standard work calendar would consider “personal time”.
Yet that same study showed that while only 55% of employees felt that they had enough time for “personal activities” each week, 67% of employers we confident that they were providing a favourable work-life balance.
The issue is partially one of semantics, but mostly one of perspective that is greatly founded on the prevailing semantics; work-life is not a balancing act.
It is an integration act.
The best companies integrate.
The best tech companies are the ones constantly working towards a state in which the “life benefits” provided to their employees both inside and outside the confines of the office walls are so well designed that “work” is almost seamlessly embraced as a source of enrichment for life.
It sounds a little “self-helpy”.
But let’s think about it. At some point, if a technology company is hungry for success and adamant about being a leader, people are going to have to put in hours. Sometimes those hours are going to be long and for the vast majority of people on a payroll, they’ll often be difficult. And they will most certainly not be spent with best friends, family or a number one passion. While a few people may complain, they understand this as the nature of most “jobs”.
How then can you start integrating life benefits and “balance” into this situation?
As shown in the Ernst & Young study, the number one way to retain an employee these days is not to decrease their hours, but to provide “holistic pay and benefits including flexibility” — or integration. The word ‘holistic’ in this sense could not be more perfect. We should try to resist the temptation to drive a wedge between work and life — for both must exist together and both should enable personal growth and create “balance”.
This is why Google took the direction it did with day-cares, baristas, chefs, photo studios and pro-dog policies. It’s also why here at Myplanet we integrated flexible schedules, on-site meditation, yoga and interpersonal development into our work. And for both companies that’s just the start.
Yes, people in general are still spending a lot of time working, but the more benefits that reach out and touch layers of life commonly considered outside the sphere of the workplace, the more the two concepts blend and the more both sides benefit.
Ultimately it’s about effectively respecting and enhancing the natural integration between work and life by enabling a better life at work and a better life because of work.
I believe there are 4 key ways to start exploring with this integration. The areas are:
We’ll cover what they mean, why you should look for them in any tech company you consider in the next post. Oh, and if you’re a tech company or startup — it’ll also give you ideas on how to integrating them into your culture.
Here’s to work life integration.
Authored by Cahill Puil, Evangelist & Marketing, Myplanet.