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.

Idealog - - WORKSPACE -

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.


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.”

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