I Don’t Believe in Work-Life Balance.

I’m the poster child for work-life balance at my company. It’s great: I work a reduced schedule and my department and company gets to say things like “we support working mothers”  and “we care about the work-life balance of our employees”

I’m extremely appreciative of my reduced schedule. They didn’t have to say yes to my suggestion that I worked a four-day week nearly ten years ago. They didn’t have to allow me to continue with that schedule indefinitely. I am in a very fortunate position that I know others would find hard to replicate.

However, calling it ‘work-life balance’ is what really rubs me the wrong way. I have a very kind department manager who would regularly inquire how my work-life balance was working out. I had to bite my tongue and smile. Nod my head and say “Great!” I’m pretty certain he didn’t ask anyone else in my department the same question, but then I am the poster child!

But why does that rub me the wrong way? Well, the very phrase work life balance implies a see-saw. A balance between one thing and another where only one aspect of your life gets attention at a time. If work is up, life is down. Choose life and work loses. It also implies that work is not life and life is not work. How does that work? When I’m at work I’m not living? Life is what happens outside of work?

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This work-life balance phrase also seems to be the domain of the working mother. Sure, working Dads get a cursory look in too, but when did you last see a company being rated highly for being good for working Dads? How about working people who care for elderly relatives? How about working people who love to volunteer? How about working people who love to ski and hike? The phrase allows a company to check a box in their employee relations, but the reality is often very different. I wonder how a company would react if an employee wanted to adjust their hours to accommodate different desires. While ideally allowing flexible work arrangements should be ‘reason-neutral’, how many people would be comfortable asking for a more flexible schedule for reasons other than family?

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Mrs PIE’s work-life philosophy

What I really wanted to say to my department manager was this:

“There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There’s just choosing what’s important to you and fitting everything else around that”

What it comes down to is that it’s a whole lot more complicated than just Work and Life. Most people are juggling many different aspects of their life – and trying to keep many balls in the air at the same time without dropping them. It’s just that some of those balls are made of glass and cannot be dropped.

In my mind it’s all about values. Knowing who you are as a person and what you need in order to make you happy. What aspects of life do I value over others? What gets the bulk of my time, energy and passion? If you’re honest about what your highest values are everything else can fit around that. Which are the glass balls that cannot be dropped?

Here’s a list to think about. What level of importance do each of these things have in your life right now? Are you prioritizing  your most important values? What should take up most space and what should take up less?

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Instead of a see-saw type balance I tend to think about values big and small. Large and less large. What fills the page and what fits in the corners? If not a work-life balance see-saw then what? maybe bubbles, circles? blobs? Yes, I like Blobs! Let’s take a look at Mrs. PIE’s priority Blobs:

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Once we stop thinking about trying to balance work and life we can see that there are many more aspects to think about. The size of each of your Blobs may change as your life or career progresses. My Work Blob was probably much larger in the past, but I have begun to value and spend more of my time and energy in other areas.

What about balance in Early Retirement?

Well that’s a great question. In the traditional see-saw model Work just left and went to play on the swings. Life is sitting all alone, stuck with no one to play with. That’s another reason the simple balance view doesn’t work. It implies that work and life are the only two ways to define a person and their values. Take away Work and the game is over.

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Early retirement means readjusting your Blobs. It’s unlikely that my underlying values will change in Early Retirement, but what I choose to spend my time and energy on can can be adjusted. I can still choose what is important to me to expend my time and energy on. Some things like Friends and Volunteering can come to the forefront, while Work in the traditional sense takes a back seat. The core values are still the same though: Family and Happiness. It’s as simple as choosing what’s important to me and fitting everything else around that.

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How well do your work and life play together? Have you got a see-saw or some Blobs?

 

27 comments

  1. Fantastic post!

    I love how you illustrated the blob-way-of-thinking over the tradtional binary see-saw. i’m guilty of the see-saw way of thinking sadly. I’d like to transition to the blob though. 😀

    You summed it up best with “There’s just choosing what’s important to you and fitting everything else around that”

    1. Thanks TJ, glad it resonated with you. It’s easy to get into the trap of thinking about work vs everything else. Maybe the phrase needs rebranding!

  2. I really liked this post too! At first when I was looking at your blobs I thought “Am I weird and selfish for making my wealth blob so much bigger than Mrs. PIE does?” But then I realized that I don’t really want wealth for the point of wealth, I want wealth because I want more time with my family, better health (or health insurance), and more security in my lifestyle. So, thanks for prompting that interesting train of thought! I want my non-work blobs to be as huge as possible (that sounds a little goofy)!

    1. Hi Mrs Chedda, awesome name by the way!
      Glad you liked it, it’s interesting to think about values and the motivation behind them. As you say, wealth is a means to an end, not the wealth itself that’s important. Fun stuff to think about!

  3. Love it! I can definitely see why people would think of the balance in terms of the see-saw rather than the blobs. The blobs make SO much more sense! I think my picture would look a lot like yours – for both pre- and post-retirement. Your health is so important! Without that – many of the other blobs wouldn’t much matter!

    1. Hi Vicki, thanks for the comment!
      You’re right, health is important, and we have a modicum of influence over that. My pre and post retirement blobs aren’t really that different. They would have been more different several years ago!

  4. I love the “Blob Balance”, Mrs P!! Great points in your post (work isn’t life?), and a creative new way to think about how all of the things which are important must be prioritized. Nice work, and good “brain food” heading into Thanksgiving!

    1. Hi Fritz, thanks for the kind words.
      It’s the sort of brain food that doesn’t need an immediate answer, but it’s a good one to mull over for a while. Have a great Thanksgiving!

  5. Nice post! Employers talking about work life balance annoy me too. If it is something you have to talk about, you probably don’t understand it, much less have it on offer for your employees. This is one of the things I love about (most) Western European countries – they seem to have an intrinsic understanding that we are here on this planet to live our lives. We also happen to need to work, so lets figure out the least painful way to get that done.

    P.S. Love your blobs

    1. Yes indeed! If a company has to have initiatives and policies then there is inherently a problem! We miss the U.K. Style of working, but then that’s a long time ago. I bet it’s getting more like here now.

  6. I love your blobs and appreciate you bringing up the fact that work-life balance is mostly used in the same sentence as working mothers. I’ve been told that I should work all of the nights, weekends, and holidays so that other people can have more time with their children. Just because we chose (though they don’t even know it was a choice) to not have children, it doesn’t mean that I don’t have family, hobbies, and other ways I’d like to spend my time with events that primarily take place during the same times that everyone else wants to be off work too.

    It’s all about priorities for each of us, we can each prioritize differently, and that’s okay.

    1. That’s really rough, and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been treated like that. It really is rather unfair that allowances can be made for parents that are hard for others to take advantage of. I can imagine that could lead to a lot of frustration from those left to ‘pick up the slack’. All very backward thinking and unfair.

  7. I’d say that having a kid has really taught me that there was nothing but a (growing) list of priorities that conflict each others. I need to work to get a paycheck, I need to be home to see my family, I need to run all kinds of errands to make this work and I need some personal time to keep liking it.
    But you’re right that it does sound funny to say work / life balance. If life is everything that happens outside of Work and Work can’t be Life, does Work mean Death? I hope not!

    1. Ha! I hope not too!
      While writing this I realized it was inherently linked to the post I wrote about being busy. We have to choose that we want to spend our time on as it’s a precious resource. Ultimately the combination of what we choose has to make us happy

  8. Really great way to think about the world. We all have the things we value and the things we don’t value. It’s all about fitting in the things you care about into your world. Once you take one of those blobs out that you don’t really care about that much, you basically just have to figure out which other blobs will come in and fill in the extra time. Just as personal finance is personal, life is pretty personal too.

    1. Thanks for the comment!
      Yes there are limited time and energy resources too, so choosing your prioritized combination is pretty important. I doubt many folks would look back on life and wish they had spend more time at the office!

  9. I love the concept of the “blobs” – it’s so true that there’s more than just work and life to think about when choosing how to spend our time. The best thing is to remember not to make your life all about work, and to make sure you’re making time for the other things in life that matter. I’ve seen people who work 10 hour days, go home, spend the evening into the late hours of the morning working, and work on weekends-that’s not for me. First of all, I need my sleep. And second, I have three kids and various hobbies-if I worked all the time I would be very unhappy. It makes for a very one-dimensional life.

    1. Hi Liz, thanks for the comment. And thanks for bringing up sleep! Rest and sleep sometimes do need to be prioritized. I know that I place them pretty highly. I can’t function any other way.
      I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with spending a lot of time and energy working. As long as it’s a conscious decision and folks are happy with the trade off, then that’s up to them! Not for me though!

  10. Ha! Well, like everyone else I’m enamored of the PIE blobs. Do those graphics qualify as modern art?

    It’s a great discussion of priorities/values, Mrs. PIE. And it’s a good reminder to us econo-types that the tradeoff isn’t simply a binary one between “working” and “leisuring.” There’s lots more to it, and the priorities and values one holds can be (often best) addressed through a variety of mixes of working and leisuring. After all, even in leisure there’s usually a little bit of work! (Even grabbing the TV remote is a little bit of labor.) 🙂

    A fine PIE read as usual – many thanks for the great work! Cheers, PIEs!

    1. Hmmm, modern art…..maybe! Who knows!
      It’s true that leisuring is not the only non-work option. There are indeed many parts to free time that can fit into a persons values. I have a feeling if the more binary way of thinking about leisuring belongs to those who have not considered what waits for them if they choose to forego some work
      Thanks for your comment!

  11. Oh, no! I actually liked the term work-life balance. Until reading your post. You’re right, it’s the typical corporate mumbo-jumbo newspeak. Thanks for destroying another corporate euphemism!
    So, I’m looking forward to deflating the work bubble and shifting more to the family/travel/health/volunteering blobs in the near future, too!
    Great read, as always.

    1. Oh dear, sorry for shattering your love of the phrase! At least I offered an alternative! Once some blobs get delayed there will certainly be space for others to expand. That sounds all very scientific doesn’t it?!

  12. Well said. I’m finding in my 30s, with two kids and a lot going on, there’s no such thing as balance. At least, I never feel balanced. I feel pressured, stretched, grateful, tired, excited, conflicted…not balanced. And right now I’m home with the kids till they’re in school, so I am not “balancing” work, though I so think about what my encore career will look like. Having me home with them is something we’ve always wanted, though, so we’re choosing that value and working the rest around it, as you said.

    1. Hi Kalie,

      That’s the perfect example of choosing what’s important and making everything else fit around it. Who need balance when you’ve got all that!
      Thanks for the comment!

  13. NIce post! I love the “Blobs” over the seesaw of WLB. Thinking about how all of this will change post-work, made me realize what you did. It’s not a see saw, or if it is, then what’s going to replace work? House work, chores, cooking, music, homework helping? I’d much rather “Blob it up” and let the priorities move to the front.

    My current Blob’dom is pretty nice. Not like 4 day schedule every week nice, but I love my every other Friday off schedule. With Mrs. SSC’s pseudo-reduced schedule helping out with our family overall, things are pretty good.

    Great read and food for thought during the holiday break. Thanks!

    1. That’s a pretty nice schedule, I really with more people would tear themselves away from work and explore other blobs. We’d all be so less one dimensional!
      Enjoy your blob-dem!

  14. Well, work-life balance is all about sorting out priorities, whichever way you put it. Even if you do not want to call it that, let me just say that our success results from many reasons. And one of those reasons is personal life. So we might find that sometimes when we give work too much preference, our personal life is disturbed. Do we want that?No. Because there is no success without happiness and happiness can only be achieved is we find the perfect way to sort out our priorities.

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