Work Life Balance? Is It Time for a Reality Check?

The path is inevitable, but each step we take is not.


In a previous piece for Thrive Global on work-life balance or work-life integration if you’d prefer, I looked at it from a personal perspective. What it might mean for you and I in practice. What questions we would need to ask of ourselves and others, &, what changes we would undoubtedly need to make.

I also looked at 7 small changes we could all start to make immediately, based on one question we should each ask ourselves and the practice of Mindfulness.

In this follow-up piece I want to look at it from the workplace, management and employer perspective and ask what is really achievable and also what needs to change?

I shall also want to examine whether in fact it’s harder for women?

So, let’s start with a couple of Reality Checks!

Reality Check №1 — An employer or a manager is a person — an individual — too. Sometimes though perhaps that can be hard to believe?

However, a corporation is by its very nature sociopathic — bestowed with the legal rights of an individual but without a natural conscience.

Unless things are thought and then given form and structure by management, they do not ipso facto exist or happen; however right, just or good for the organisation they might be.

Reality Check №2Work-life balance is harder to achieve for women, even in our more enlightened times?

After recent press around the dearth of female TV presenters of a certain age, few would argue that television is seen as being a more benevolent employer for their male colleagues as they grow older; & this is just one industry and a single example where in the workplace the reality in practice is different for each sex.

Another reality is that in the majority of UK & US families for instance, the mother still does the bulk of the childcare and this holds true across most, if not all, of the wider industrialized world. In Germany, the derogatory term, “Rabenmutter” (Raven Mother) has been coined to characterize the woman who chooses to pursue a career. Angela Merkel the current German Chancellor has been able to avoid this label and the inherent stigma it implies, by not having children.

Reality Check №3There is a gender equality gap in the workplace and it remains regrettably easier for a man to take an afternoon a week off than a woman, unless there is a clear parenting or domestic need.

Having it All

We will all be familiar with the phrase, “having it all” that has followed professional women around for decades. Was this ever deserved or a fair representation of what was being asked for? And did this ever actually apply to the majority of working women — professional or not?

It does rather imply that women want some kind of “right to absolute satisfaction” in the pursuit of a loving and content family and a successful & satisfying career.

I think the the actual truth might be a little less absolute

Sharon Glancy, co-author of ‘The Little Book of Gender Diversity’, would suggest that what women have actually been looking for is the opportunity to fulfill their potential at work, to rise through the ranks on merit, whilst having a home life that allows them to be decent parents and partners without a career-induced guilt trip!

And this she says is what has more commonly, &, rather tritely, become known as having work-life balance.

Former Google executive, Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book, ‘Lean In: Women, Work & The Will To Lead’ that women had to accept that their “revolution has stalled”. Now I’m not sure whether that is true — It’s a headline grabber and it sold books — but just maybe the focus and perceptions have shifted, &, the argument has moved on a tad?

Recent research by a leading UK employer suggests that balancing work and home life is increasingly as big an issue for men as it has been for women. Whilst a study by the Hay Group reveals that two-fifths of UK workers (of both sexes) feel their professional and domestic life’s are not in equilibrium, &, only just over half of those surveyed (51%) felt that their employer was sensitive to the relationship between work and home life.

This figure had dropped over 6% on a similar survey run a couple of years before and it means you are just as likely to be working for an employer who doesn’t care, or merely pays lip-service to making some kind of work-life balance possible, as working for an employer who’s actually trying to do something about it!

One conclusion to draw from all this is that we are all — both women and men — being robbed! The problem remains perhaps more pronounced for women, but men in the same position are by and large feeling pretty much the same way.

So, if not much has really changed in the workplace since the mid-1980’s when the term work-life balance was first coined, what needs to be done now?

Do we rest our hopes on Generation Y?

Many social commentators agree that these young people look at the world differently and are instinctively drawn to a having a better work-life balance from the get-go.

For younger people entering the workforce the flow of life and work is more integrated in their thinking. Having grown up with technology the way they live their lives is less organised and confined into boxes.

They have a different mindset and as Albert Einstein famously said, “You can’t solve an existing problem with the same mindset that created it”.

Of course, a further Reality Check is that they are entering workplaces today that were formed, shaped and still operate on the principles of the old mindset — but perhaps the next generation of leaders, whether male or female, will be more mindful that their employees — female and male — are involved as equally at home as they are engaged at work.

In the meantime however, what can we all do to help accelerate the pace of change and the acceptance & wider introduction of new and different ways of working? Changes that will re-revolutionise thinking on work-life balance and make it a truly equal experience and an everyday reality.

Well there’s something around updating the language we use to make it more relevant to the current situation; particularly around women and careers.

Rather than talking about the sacrifices that have to be made, we could start talking about it in terms of choice and commitment. We could also re-frame how we think of the word sacrifice itself and start to revision it as a doorway, beyond which is a path and along it each step can be either joyful or frustrating.

The path is inevitable, but each step we take is not.

Sacrifices will naturally occur in any normal healthy life and at both personal and professional levels. Trade-offs and compromises will have to be made and there will never be enough time to do everything. Try though to make decisions that make most sense in the long run.

We are what we think. The brain idles in neutral waiting for you — your consciousness and your conscience, the conditioned part of you, shaped by experience, nature and nurture — to tell it whether your glass is half empty, or half full; whether you feel happy or sad, angry or indignant.

Start telling yourself that actually your glass is half full, that things are currently as good as they can be but soon they will get even better, &, that you have a choice and the choice you make is to feel indignant (powerful), rather than angry (powerless).

The mind is a wonderful thing and the brain is smarter than you think

Give it the stuff to work with that can turn negatives into positives. Then the way you will think about things and how you respond and approach problems and obstacles will start to change quicker than you think.

Just 100 minutes of cumulatively re-setting the way you think in this way can create a measurable change. Whilst in 52 hours of practicing positive thinking you can achieve quite life changing results. You are not necessarily re-writing your future, but you are re-writing how you live tomorrow!

So, what changes do we want to see in the workplace?

In the workplace the goal should become achieving a balance for both the employee and the employer — a balance in workloads, expectations (including flexibility) and opportunities.

Also important is how things are communicated and the use of language that is both sensitive and relevant to people’s current situation.

Equally, the culture should be open and predicated on relationships of mutual trust, value and purpose. These should underpin and flow from the formal structures in place and there should also be clear incentives, as these are the cornerstone of modern life and a key to understanding a problem and how to solve it.

In addition, management and employees should work together to keep everything in plain sight and organise everything around this principle of transparency.

And finally, introduce the practice of Mindfulness into the workplace. An employer that attends to the emotional well being of their workforce and encourages resilience and physical well being too, will also have employees who can fully appreciate the Here and Now and what work-life balance really means for them.

Paul Mudd is the author of ‘Uncovering Mindfulness: In Search Of A Life More Meaningful’ available on Amazon and www.bookboon.com; the ‘Coffee & A Cup of Mindfulness’ and the ‘Mindful Hacks For Mindful Living & Mindful Working’ series. He is also a Contributing Author to The Huffington Post and a Contributing Writer to Thrive Global. Through The Mudd Partnership he works with business leaders, organisations and individuals in support of change, leadership excellence, business growth, organistional and individual wellbeing and well doing, and introducing Mindfulness. He can be contacted at [email protected] and you can follow the continuing journey uncovering Mindfulness on Twitter @TheMindfulBook and at @Paul_Mudd


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