Are We Destined for Fleeting Work/Life Balance?

The Struggle for Work/Life Balance

Work/life balance should not be a struggle to hold on to work and life. (photo by Lisa L. Duncan)

Let’s face it, we have stalled on figuring out how to achieve work/life balance.  The simple truth is: achieving this balance can only be fleeting until flexible career paths are valued the same as steady career paths.

I came across an article written in 1986 entitled ”Balancing family and political life. State Sen. Carol Amick”. The article detailed a typical day for the former Massachusetts State Senator, and the balancing act and strategies she and her husband used to be successful career parents. The strategies are typical: altering work schedules, planning and developing strict routines, allowing flexibility for those unforeseen events.

And yet, here we are almost thirty years later, and not much has changed – and yet everything has changed.

Today we have cellphones, internet access, and collaboration tools that make our presence more accessible than ever before; and yet, this article about Ms. Amick’s work/life balance could have been written today. In fact, a google search for “work life balance” returns over 6 million results. I would argue it is still as big of a problem today as it was for former Senator Carol Amick.

And here’s where we get to the heart of the matter.

Work / life balance will only be achieved when employers and employees start  valuing “flexible work” as a viable career path and stop referring to it as a perk.

A few months ago, I wrote a piece for Switch and Shift arguing Our Career Success Formula is Wrong. This post was my response to an infographic on the “Anatomy of the World’s Top Performing CEO”, a married father, with a college degree, who was promoted within the company.

I argued that this traditional formula for success “gender + education + degree + company loyalty = success” masks what is really required for success.

I believe the real formula for success is “steady + flexible = success.” If you haven’t read about this idea, you can read more about it here. The basic idea is that great career success, requires enormous flexibility on behalf of someone else to allow the CEO-level person to maintain a steady career course.

Think for a moment of all the highly successful individuals you know. I would argue that in most cases, there is a “flexible” component that allows the “steady” to achieve success. Whether it’s a partner, a family member, or even a hired hand, there is usually another person that can attend to the bumps in the road so that the steady can keep moving forward.

In the case of former Senator Amick, her husband was flexible when she needed to be steady, and vice versa. This worked because they were high-level executives and politicians who had already proven their value and whose employers allowed them the flexibility they needed to maintain this balance. Flexible work arrangements were not viewed as a “perk”, rather, flexible work was a viable and successful shift for their career path.

But for many, especially those who are working through the ranks and establishing their value in the workforce, is finding a true balance really possible?  Flexible work is generally not as valued as steady work (assuming their position is conducive to flexible work in the first place), as this US Bureau of Labor Statistics study comparing hourly wages for part-time workers versus full-time workers confirms.  For the record, since 1998 the majority of households with children have parents who both work.

In 1986, Amick was a trail-blazer in figuring out work/life balance. Here we are, over 15 years AFTER the majority of parents have been dealing with work/life balance issues, and we are still trying to figure out that balance.  Why?

We still do not have a clear business model on how to create and value a flexible career path for the majority of the workforce.  

In households with one primary income, where one partner can be “flexible” while the other handles the “steady” work, the issue of work/life balance is a household issue, not a workplace issue. Businesses know how to create work policies, support career paths, and they know how to compensate for this “steady” career path model.

But this is an outdated model, and framing the work/life balance issue as a household issue is naïve.

Share your thoughts!

What are your thoughts on work/life balance?  Do you think it can be achieved?  What are you doing to achieve it now? Please share your thoughts in the comments section, I’d love to hear them.

About Lisa Duncan | Alternative Workstyle Enthusiast

Completely and totally passionate about work flexibility, love helping other businesses succeed, aiming to change how we think about workplace. Co-Creator of the digital workplace, www.flipsideworkspace.com., Co-Founder of www.duncancoleverria.com, #huffbost blogger. [Duncan Coleverria]
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