Every month, between 10,000 and 100,000 people are searching Google for tips on maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
It is a demand that the Internet is happy to meet: if you Google the phrase “work-life balance,” you’ll find yourself presented with almost 3.5 billion results. (Yes, that’s billion… with a “B.”)
And yet, in the midst of all this discourse, the corporate world still has a hard time establishing those healthy boundaries. Long have we struggled to walk this line, but the pandemic did us no favors. The transition to remote work even further muddied the waters as to where work ended and life began. Understaffing, increased pressure, and uncertainty have been a recipe for increased hours and burned out team members.
The difficulty, I think, lies in the fact that the problem is so personal, and the solution – “work-life balance,” as we call it – is so strict.
In an interview with Thrive Global, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has called the term “debilitating… because [it] tends to imply a strict tradeoff.”
And he is right. Balance begs for equal weight, equal treatment. We tend to judge ourselves if we cannot give in our home lives what we give in our work lives, even though they ask for different things from us at different times.
Then, to achieve balance, we are leaving the one that needs us to give to the other. When our work roles require more of us, we must pull away to go home, only to be thinking about all the work we left unfinished. When our families need us, we must maintain our hours in the office, only to wish we could be with our loved ones.
And neither of them gets our best, because our minds are with the other.
Instead of balance, Bezos proposes an alternative: “I think work-life harmony is a good framework.”
Where balance requires strict equality, harmony allows room for understanding. Harmony takes into account the needs of your work role and your family role and seeks to fairly spend your time as the season dictates. When your job needs you – really needs you – be with your job. When your family needs you, be with your family. Harmony allows you to give yourself completely to whatever needs your attention today, within reason.
Bezos says the work-life harmony approach helps him excel in both areas. “If I’m happy at work, I’m better at home – a better husband and a better father. And if I’m happy at home, I come into work more energized – a better employee and a better colleague.”
Has work-life balance been throwing you off your game? Ease into a more intuitive approach with these three things you can try this coming week:
1.Stop balancing; start harmonizing. Neither balance nor harmony are easily won. But harmony seeks to work in your favor. As a leader, give yourself permission to let go of balance and begin to adopt harmony. Shift your focus from what’s in front of you to what needs your attention today.
2. Identify what season you are in. Work-life harmony only benefits you if it takes your current needs into account. Big deadline approaching at work? Family crisis? Whatever needs you right now, give it your full attention.
3. Communicate your needs to the people in your life. As you learn what needs you today, stay communicative with your family and your work team. Understand which area of your life needs you most, then set the expectation with them and with the other – then do the same when the season shifts.
Balance demands. Harmony understands. Which will you pursue?
That’s all for now,