Round-up: Is Work-Life Balance a Career-Killing Phrase?

Over at BNET this week, I blogged about the phrase “work-life balance” and asked if it is a career-killing phrase. I can’t say I’m particularly fond of this set of words. Partly, that’s because of the meaning we often assign to it in a context of corporate programs: parents (usually women) wanting to work less. It conjures up part-time mommy tracks, which of course no go-getter wants to be part of.

As I note in the post, the best work-life program isn’t a program at all. It’s a corporate culture that tries to be as flexible as possible about letting people work wherever, whenever, as long as the work gets done. I keep citing the BYU study of IBM workers which found that when people could set their own hours and work from home when they wanted, people could work 57 hours a week before a significant number experienced work-life stress. If people had to be in an office during set hours, they could only work 38.

This is a huge difference — with implications both for managers and parents (or others) seeking balance. For those who think having a balanced life requires part-time work, I’d say it’s more about having control of your hours rather than their number. And for those on the management side who think they’ve done their duty by creating a mommy track, I’d say that’s really only a pseudo-solution. Try something more radical and see what happens.

As it is now, because people perceive “work life balance” as being about moms wanting to work less, go-getters tend to express the exact same thought by talking about “time management” and “productivity.” Of course, the only reason you worry about your time management and productivity given competing work priorities is that you don’t want your work to take all 168 hours a week. You want a personal life — maybe even a balanced one! But you avoid that phrase at all costs.

Elsewhere at BNET, I posted a list of 7 Things You Don’t Have To Do Before Having Kids — my answer to the various lists I’ve read recently of things you should do before reproducing.

Thanks also to The Wandering Scientist for mentioning 168 Hours this week in the context of buying time, and if you happen to be a reader of Country Guide magazine in Canada, there is a feature on 168 Hours in there that deals with managing your farm business. Time management is universal!

2 thoughts on “Round-up: Is Work-Life Balance a Career-Killing Phrase?

  1. This is a compelling argument. Before I was laid off from a Fortune 100 company, I chose a position that could often be done remotely. (I was an exempt engineer.) Unfortunately, although my employer was willing to let me work remotely, the remote hours didn’t “count” toward my expected hours. Although part-time work was technically permitted, mid-level managers were evaluated on headcount, not salaries paid, so part-time workers counted against them when headcount reductions were necessary.

    As long as professional employment is competitive, as it is now, I expect employers will continue to expect “seat time plus”. When there are fewer people (male or female) who are unwilling to work these hours, perhaps employers will change. We saw glimmers of this change during the better employment market around 2000.

    1. @Twin Mom- there is definitely a supply and demand issue going on. If you’re someone with highly in demand skills, you can nearly get away with murder. Us mere mortals, not so much.

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