As a career coach, one of the questions I’m often asked is how to bring up work-life balance in an interview, and I’m not quite sure which concerns me more: the fact that my clients are thinking about work-life balance or the fact that they are afraid to bring it up. Huh? What? Confused yet? Read on.
Work-Life Balance Isn’t A Positive
The term “work-life” balance is roughly 40-50 years old, just a few years older than yours truly. According to most sources, it burst onto the scene in the US and UK between 1970 and 1980, right after the American Dream pivoted from industrial careers to something more focused on the nebulous idea of 9-5 “business.” (If anyone else immediately thought of this scene, we should be friends.)
Whether you were working in the 70s and 80s or not, you will likely agree that work now is quite different from work then. Now, the office is far from the ideal work environment. Instead, many professionals see flexible and remote work as the ideal. Back in the 70s and 80s, seeing “work-life” balance as a goal made a bit more sense because there was usually geography involved. You were either “at work” or somewhere else. If you had a good balance between being physically “at work” and being physically engaged in other areas of your life, you had a more positive life – or so people thought.
Now, we work differently – much differently. According to Forbes, 12.7% of US FTE work remotely while 28.2% work in a hybrid model and 98% want to work remotely at least some of the time. Employers seem to be at least partly on board with this trend. About 16% of companies are fully remote, and by 2025, 93% of employers plan to continue to conduct remote job interviews, and 32.6 million Americans will work remotely.
While the FTE of the 70s and 80s had to move from one geographical location to another to conduct work, now most Americans would prefer to simply pick up their computers or phones. Working remotely has also placed emphasis on something I’m pretty certain workers wanted all along – flexibility. Unlimited PTO is the new buzzword in HR. Most employees agree – Why should employers care how much time an employee is taking off as long as they are getting their jobs done?
Which brings me back to my point. (I know, you’re probably thinking, “I wondered when she was going to make it.”)
Work-life balance isn’t positive. It doesn’t make sense to think of our lives as a scale with work on one side and everything else in our lives crammed into the other. Besides work, think of all the other aspects of your life that are important to you – friends, family, hobbies, spiritual beliefs, physical health, mental health, even that TV show you like, or the podcast you enjoy. If you imagine a scale with work on one side and all that other “life” on the other, it’s clear that one side clearly outweighs the other, which is probably how pop culture got this idea that work is evil and why Hallmark started making all these movies about terrible boyfriends who work all the time and eventually get replaced by fun-loving surfers and mountain climbers who just happen to also be independently wealthy.
Unfortunately, the term “work-life balance” gave way to another dangerous idea – that it’s OK for you to hate your job as long as you’re not there too often and have a few weeks of vacation because you have “good work-life balance.”
Balance is a Positive
Instead of work-life balance, I find that it’s helpful to think of yourself as a juggler. No, go ahead and make yourself a court jester. No, really, imagine the hat, the bells. Take every opportunity you can to remind yourself that life isn’t so serious!
Juggling is an art of balance. It takes time and patience. You often start with two balls, and as you get more experienced, you begin to add more – a third, a fourth. Where will you choose to stop? How many will you choose to add? It’s up to you. Of course, learning to juggle can be frustrating, and you’ll drop a ball from time to time, but soon, you’ll start to see that you’re making progress, and most people who take the time to become jugglers aren’t angry about it – they’re smiling, they’re enjoying the challenge. They’re having fun.
It wouldn’t be very fun to watch a juggler try to balance a 16lb bowling ball in one hand and a cue ball in the other. It wouldn’t work. Even if that juggler could stand upright, it wouldn’t be much fun being dragged down by one ball while just trying to keep the other from falling.
Still, there are those today whose only goal for work is to keep that ball from falling as they manage everything else in their lives.
But as a juggler (oh, that’s right – I made you a jester), you have more fun when working on keeping all the balls in balance, seeing how you can use fluid motion to allow one to positively impact the other. Your current work, your career, your career goals, the personal development you are doing for work – all these things come together to make you the person you are – the one that certainly has a lot of balls in the air, but who is smiling through it and enjoying the thrill of life’s performance.
When you think about being a jester, or having a life in balance rather than work-life balance, you think of work as something that will contribute to your life, something you will enjoy or that will enrich you or enrich others. You don’t work a job you hate just to get through it. You view work and its many aspects as opportunities.
If you’re out of balance right now because you’re working a job that’s causing you to drop the other balls you’re juggling, or you’re still trying to cram everything in your life other than work into one side of an out-of-balance scale, I’d love to talk with you. We can look at how you might want to work, when you might want to work, and what kind of work would feel meaningful to you. (Book a free call here: https://morleycareersolutions.com/contact/)
As most of you know, I’m a single mom of 3 special needs kids running a business and managing a lot of side projects. Life can get busy. Juggling isn’t always easy. But I love what I do, so every day I work on being a better jester, including laughing at my own jokes.