Stop Saying Work/Life Balance. Work is life!
Work versus life?
When people use the phrase work/life balance, they generally mean that to be physically and mentally healthy, we need a balance between the both.
The phrase infers that one is bad for us (work) whilst the other (life) is good.
It also implies that the two have to be entirely separate. It suggests that work is something to be kept separate from the rest of our lives.
The truth is that we have ONE life, which is made up of lots of aspects, activities and interactions including work, play, home, social etc.
I am not suggesting that there should not be some healthy proportional allocation of time spent at work and time spent doing other things. What I am saying is that we should remove the negative connotation of work in as being in opposition to the rest of our ‘happy’ life activities.
Work is an intrinsic part of our life as are all of the other aspects.
We should not be classifying work as a negative aspect and the rest of life as a positive one.
We spend around one–third of our time at work. We have to stop drawing definitive lines between work and the rest of our life.
We need to integrate all of the aspects our lives and create a healthy balance across them all. We need to find equilibrium.
When we use the language work/life balance we create the perception of a weighing scale with the grind of work on one side and the joy of life on the other. The aim is then to have more on the joy side rather than the work side.
It looks something like this.
But there is no perfect balance. Stop looking for it.
For me it is about working to find happiness at home and happiness at work. It is about alignment and integration.
Jeff Bezos has been quoted as saying
“I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off.
It actually is a circle. It’s not a balance
If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy
And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy.
You never want to be that guy — and we all have a co-worker who’s that person — who, as soon as they come into a meeting, they drain all the energy out of the room … You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.”
We should envisage life as this.
Life is multifaceted and we need to strive to find happiness and fulfilment in all that we do.
I accept that we all have to go to work and sometimes we are not in the job that we absolutely love. We should always keep looking for that job but in the meantime we need the job that we are currently in.
We can however, rethink the job we are currently in and find a sense of purpose. A sense of purpose is our driver and feeds our intrinsic motivation. It gives our work, a large part of our life, meaning. Having a sense of purpose increases our engagement at work.
A job is a collection of tasks and interpersonal relationships assigned to a person in an organization.
Why not rethink those tasks, rethink the relationships and rethink the perception of the job?
This is called job crafting.
Research by psychologists Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane E. Dutton defined job crafting. I have included links to their work in this article.
Job crafting describes the way in which we can seek opportunities to customize our jobs by actively changing tasks and interactions with others.
The paper ‘Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work’ provides many examples of job crafters.
Job crafters can employ three ways to craft their jobs.
Rethink the task
This is about rethinking the things you do at work, which is also known as task crafting. This is the process of adding tasks, emphasizing tasks or redesigning tasks. You can add tasks you enjoy into your job. For example, you may have an interest in communication and collaboration and so you add active participation on the organizations collaboration platform as a regular task.
If you already have tasks that you enjoy, you can emphasize them by devoting more time and energy to them.
Redesigning tasks means you look for ways to reengineer existing tasks to make them more meaningful. For example, you may suggest that a new employee shadows you when you undertake a particular task. This adds more meaning to the task.
Although it may not be feasible for everyone to undertake task crafting, unless you do the assessment you wont know if there is room to maneuver. You may not be able to pick up new tasks and drop old ones altogether but you may be able to change them in some way.
Rethink the people
You can craft your interactions with others at work in ways that foster meaningfulness through altering with whom and how you form connections and relationships. Connections are short-term interactions, which can then develop into relationships. These relationships provide meaningfulness.
You can cultivate meaningfulness by building relationships with others who enable you to feel a sense of pride, dignity, or worth. For example, researchers found that when hospital cleaners increased the amount of interaction they had with patients and their families, they did so because within these interactions they experienced more appreciation and enacted a role of caregiver, which elevated the sense of meaningfulness that they derived from their work.
You can reframe relationship to create meaningfulness. For example, with your colleagues and peers, you could reframe the relationship you have with them and get to know more about their individual work preferences and interests, whilst also getting them to understand yours. This can change the nature of interactions, increase the quality of interactions and provide more meaning to your role.
You can adapt relationships instead of changing the purpose or adding new ones. You can adapt existing relationships by providing more support and assistance to others, which in turn can encourage others to do the same.
Rethink the perception
The third part of job crafting is about creating meaningfulness in regards to how you think about your job.
You can expand your perceptions. You can increase meaningfulness by broadening your perception of the impact or purpose of your job. Think about your job as a whole, rather than a set of separate tasks and relationships. By seeing the bigger picture you are able to see more meaning in the job.
You can focus your perception. You can find meaningfulness by narrowing your mental scope of the purpose of your job on specific tasks and relationships that are significant or valuable to you. This is useful if you dislike a substantial portion of your tasks or relationships, but do find particular parts of your job to be meaningful.
You can also link perceptions. You can take advantage of existing components of your job by drawing mental connections between specific tasks or relationships and interests, outcomes, or aspects of their identities that are meaningful to you. For example, if you have a passion for stand-up comedy you might make a mental connection between performing comedy with the moments in the workday that you joke with customer to build rapport.
The paper ‘Crafting a Job: Revisioning Employees as Active Crafters of Their Work’ provides many detailed examples of job crafters.
The paper ‘What is Job Crafting and Why Does It Matter?’ summarises some examples of job crafting.
· The machine operator working on an assembly line crafts her job by forging enjoyable relationships with co-workers or by taking on additional tasks in order to use her talents such as building a shelving system to organize important equipment.
· The struggling actor, working as a telephone solicitor in order to pay his bills and has to follow a highly structured script. Even with little autonomy, he reframes the work to practice acting and recites the script as different characters.
· Design engineers who take the initiative to create beneficial connections between people involved in a project.
· Restaurant cooks who view their work as art rather than just preparing food.
· Nurses taking on the task of communicating a seemingly excessive amount of information to each other in order to improve patient care.
Designing a job is not just the role of a manager and a top down process. Everyone has the ability to craft their job.
Jobs that afford high levels of autonomy and discretion provide greater opportunity for job crafting but research suggests that even the most rigid or constrained jobs allow for some crafting.
Job crafting is a process, which we should engage in continually. It is not a one-off activity.
You can improve your happiness at work if you are motivated to actively change your job design by altering the tasks assigned to it; your relationships with others; or your perception of the work.
You have the ability to redesign and reimagine your job to increasing meaningfulness, satisfaction, motivation and wellbeing.
We should think of life as a mix of work, play, home, social and strive to strike a ‘happiness’ balance across all of them.
We need to stop thinking of work in a negative sense and take the initiative to craft it as best we can to find increased purpose and fulfilment.
We need to stop saying work/life balance and start saying life balance.
Days at work are days of our lives. Not something seperate.