Work/life balance, shmalance
Don’t bother striving for work/ life balance because it’s probably not going to happen, says Instead, integrate the two.
THE TERM WORK/LIFE balance was coined in the UK in the 1970s; in New Zealand it’s been a big part of the Kiwi dream.
But look at the stats, and it’s blindingly obvious it isn’t working. Only 66% of New Zealanders are either satisfied or very satisfied with their work/life balance, according to the 2012 Quality of Life Survey, down from 78% in 2008. The news is even worse for Aucklanders: a tiny 12% are very satisfied with their work/life balance and only 46% are satisfied.
The harder you work at creating a successful life, the more you work, which ironically reduces the amount of time you have to enjoy the rest of your life. Herein lies the paradox of work/life balance. Forbes contributor Kevin Harrington says that while work/life balance enables you to allocate your time so you can ‘have it all’, the problem is that “work usually ends up coming first, neglecting life entirely”.
Add to the equation studies showing that (in the first world at least) the rich now work harder than the poor, and you’ve got a total economic about-turn.
“In the 19th century you could tell how poor somebody was by how long they worked,” says University of Zurich economic historian HansJoachim Voth, quoted in The Economist. These days, “the share of college- educated American men regularly working more than 50 hours a week rose from 24% in 1979 to 28% in 2006, but fell for high-school dropouts. The rich, it seems, are no longer the class of leisure.”
The American Time Use Survey, released last year, shows Americans with a degree work on average two hours more every day than those who left school without any qualifications.
Gone are the days when Kiwis could switch off from work when the clock hit 5pm too. According to the OECD’s 2013 Economic Survey, about 13% of employees work very long hours; the OECD average is 9%. Data from the 2006 census also shows that nearly one third of the 1.4 million New Zealanders who work full-time, work 50 hours or more a week.
R E T HI NK T HE 9 - 5 WEEK
Why? Since the 1980s the salaries of highfliers have risen sharply, while those at the lower end of the salary spectrum have remained unchanged or fallen. If rich people take time off work, they give up more money. Therefore, rising inequality encourages the rich to work more and the poor to work less – they’ve got nothing to lose anyway.
The rise of the remote worker has also significantly blurred the boundaries between career and family. contributor Dan Schawbel says 30 million Americans work from home – many in their bedrooms – at least once a week, with the help of remote technology. And according to Statistics New Zealand, over 12% of Kiwi employees worked from home in 2013.
James Kemp, director of New Zealand SME development agency Growth HQ, blames the increasingly- omnipresent characteristic of modern technology for contributing to work/life balance inequality. “Mobile phones have a lot to answer for changing people’s expectations about our availability.”
So how does the average employee balance work and home effectively? Often, they don’t. Instead, one option is to give up on balance and just integrate the two.
As Schawbel says, work and life cross over so much it’s easy to underperform in both, so professionals should “blend what they do personally and professionally in order to make both work.”