Work-Life Balance is a Misnomer

The term “work-life balance” seems to imply¬†a relative amount of time spent on work versus the amount of time spent with one’s family, friends, and on hobbies. You get the idea that if you spend too much time at work, you don’t have enough time for your “life” and so you are therefore out of balance. This notion is, however, barely the tip of the iceberg.

If you go from working 40 hours a week to working 80 hours a week, the change isn’t just that you now have less time to spend with your family and friends and on rejuvenating activities. You are overstressed and underslept, so you are irritable and snap at your spouse. You sleep through the weekends and wander around the house sluggishly, trying to recover your immune system before going back to the office. You exercise less, both because you don’t have the time and because you’re too tired. You don’t eat healthy because you don’t have time to prepare good meals.

In short, your life sucks.

And not only does your life suck – you start to suck at work too. It is incredible to me that some managers seem to think that if they can get a salaried person to work 60 hours in a week, they have squeezed 150% productivity out of that person. It simply doesn’t work that way, at least not in the long term. The bottom line is that people aren’t machines. I’ll just go ahead and repeat that in bold for dramatic effect.

People Aren’t Machines.

When people are overstressed and underslept, they make more mistakes, are less creative, care less about what they’re doing, have fewer innovative ideas, produce mediocre work, and eventually burn out and leave (and turnover is actually shockingly expensive). The mechanistic concept of productivity and efficiency that some managers apply to human beings is offensive¬†and embarrassingly wrong.

Organizations that cultivate (intentionally or not) a culture of overwork cultivate a culture of mediocrity, poor health, destructive social relations, organizational dysfunction, and waste. What this means is that you ought to be able to tell the sort of work a company produces by observing its culture and attitude towards the health and balance of its people. If a company claims to be green, or socially just, or for the cultivation of a better world, and yet they treat their people like interchangeable gears in a motor, then you know something isn’t quite right.


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