I find work-life balance a difficult topic. I tend to agree with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, who said in a PBS interview, "So there's no such thing as work-life balance. There's work, and there's life, and there's no balance.” The idea of balance implies a scale, a scale where work is on one side and life is on the other. It implies somehow these can be balanced – or that balance is desirable.
Some researchers have moved away from studies of work-life balance to studies of work-home conflict. Work-home conflict would appear to be a form of interrole conflict, perhaps your work responsibilities are conflicting with that soccer game or party with the gang. Glen Kreiner and associates suggested that for many of us, these work-home conflicts are cyclical, often peaking during certain times of the year, such as during the December holiday season.
1. Compartmentalizing. Some people can separate work from the rest of their time. I think individual differences are big here. Likewise, some jobs, professions may be easier to compartmentalize than others. I know that I am not a compartmentalizer. My work and my life are of one fabric. But I have friends who can leave the work behind, turn that part of their mind off, and move fully into the now. But I am not sure if even they have balance.
2. Competing values. I am a fan of Quinn and Rohrbaugh’s Competing Values Model of organizational effectiveness. Leaders always have competing values. The best leaders move back and forth emphasizing what is needed at the moment. Perhaps this week the focus must be on task accomplishment. Next week it must be on acquiring more talent for the team. There are always demands on our time and different work priorities that compete for that time. I think the same is true for work-life. It might be useful to think of work-life as a competing values model. Sometimes work must come first. Sometimes life apart from the job must come first. Perhaps it is not so much work-life balance but work-life juggling where the key is not to drop a ball.
Kreiner, G. E., Hollensbe, E. C., & Sheep, M. L. (2009). Balancing borders and bridges: Negotiating the work-home interface vis boundary work tactics. Academy of Management Journal, 52 (4), 704-730.
Image by Joe Mabel. Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fremont_Solstice_Parade_2007_-_jugglers_07A.jpg
Used with permission. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en