Is work life balance real?
What comes to mind when you hear me say the phrase “work/life balance”? A myth? A legend? A fantasy? Of all of the elusive concepts we’ve tackled thus far, this might be the most evasive—an awful lot of us find ourselves constantly running towards this idea of the Utopian work/life balance, never quite sure how to juggle all of the spinning plates. The result often ends up in burnout, numbing out to cope, and worse. If you’re feeling a little guarded at the thought of being taught how to achieve the perfect balance of job and personal life, rest easy—even the research is unsure if it’s a realistic expectation.
Before we get into it, let’s discuss: where did this idea come from in the first place? This beautiful, balanced life where you spend the exact right amount of time at work, neatly wrap up your job for the day, and then head home for a relaxing evening of chores and rest and fun. You get a full 8 hours of sleep, have a social life, exercise and eat your veggies and have sex and then do it all again the next day… where exactly did this fantasy come from?
We first see discussion of work/life balance, or WLB as people in *the biz* say, pop up in the research in the 1970’s. This concept emerged as women entered the workforce in larger numbers; before then, there wasn’t much need for “balance.” Men covered the “work,” women covered the “life,” and all the boxes of a middle class, single family unit were checked off tidily. The brains coined a concept called “work/life balance,” or the achievement of juggling all of our many responsibilities in life well, without any of them conflicting with each other. The following decades included many a Better Gardens and Homes article about nailing this theory. (And looking good while you do it, to boot.)
The ideal of WLB can be boiled down to a few points:
The domain of work and the domain of life (social, emotional, physical, logistical life outside of work) require attention and investment, but they do not overlap
Equal time and energy for all roles
Satisfaction with performance in all areas of life, optimal functioning
As little conflict between roles as possible
WLB considers some of our most finite resources: time, energy, and motivation. While our energy can be a renewable resource when well cared for, and one might argue that motivation can be as well, time is a constant. We can’t buy more, we can’t get any back. And all of these resources are the ones at risk when we seek WLB—there usually just isn’t enough time, energy, and motivation to get it all done.