Let me say this right up front – I have never really understood the work-life balance mantra that we employers are supposed to embrace as we try to recruit Millennials. To me it is like achieving Nirvana, that Buddhist transcendent state of mind when an individual has no suffering, no desires, no sense of self, and you are released from the “effects of karma and the cycle of death and rebirth.”
I do think we should seek a life happiness balance, which is what I think we all need. When I saw this pig sleeping at the Ballenberg Open Air Museum near Breinz, Switzerland last week, I thought of that old expression “Happy as a pig in s_ _ _.” He looks like he has a life happiness balance, for now.
Lie # 8 – Work-Life Balance Matters Most. I believe each of us is made happy doing things unique to us – both at work and in life – and it is this happiness balance we should seek rather than a “work-life balance.”
With this in mind I was very intrigued to read about Lie # 8 in Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall’s book Nine Lies About Work – Lie #8 is Work-Life Balance Matters Most. Using specifics from their research, the authors conclude that this phrase, which likely evolved from the concept that work is bad and life is good, misses the point that what people need is happiness. And, they point out, there is often just as much stress and unhappiness in life as there is in work and people bring that to work.
Using an example of Miles, an anesthesiologist from the United Kingdom, the authors point to our need for doing what we love at work at least 20 percent of time (Their research indicates that turnover is likely greater for people who don’t “love” at least 20 percent of what they do.) They say, “love-in-work matters most.” Work, just as in life, has activities that need to be done. Some activities we will “love”, some we will loathe, and most will be just ordinary.
A Love-Loathe Exercise. Buckingham and Goodall suggest this exercise. Twice a year for one-week, pick a regular week, carry around a piece of paper split into two columns. Write “Love” and “Loathe” as headers over each of the columns. Then over the course of the week when you do an activity that you just loved or loathed doing, write a description of that activity in the appropriate column. Try your best to capture what it was about the activity that you loved or hated. Remember to ignore writing down those activities that are just ordinary and that you do not really “love” or “loathe.”
Signs of a “Love” activity – 1) You looked forward to doing it; 2) While doing it you lost track of time and everything seemed to flow naturally; and 3) When you were done you found yourself looking forward to doing it again.
Signs of a “Loathe” activity – Mostly just the opposite of a “Love” activity. 1) You dreaded doing it and likely procrastinated it; 2) Time dragged-on while doing it and you likely watched the clock hoping you can get it over quickly; and 3) When finished you wish you never have to do it again.
When you finish the exercise share your results with a supervisor or peer and talk about how you can increase the amount of time you can spend on the “love” activities and reduce the time spent on “loathe” activities.
If you are part of team, it is possible the tasks you love are loathed by someone else. Take control and see how these activities might be done in ways that increase the “love percentage” for all team members.
When people can “love” a larger percentage of what they do at work, they will be happier and their “happiness” balance will be enriched.
Epilog – If you are curious about the stoic-looking young woman in the picture above, Patti and I saw her when we recently visited the Swiss National Museum in Zurich, Switzerland. She appeared to be a museum employee stationed next to one of the more valuable displays – possibly there to ensure the security of the exhibits. After several minutes we both wondered how she was able to stand so still, not blink or anything. Patti eventually noticed she wasn’t breathing. We then found-out “she” was formed out of silicone by a Swiss artist – like a wax figure. Amazing artwork.
I guess she was one person in that museum who had a perfect work-life balance.