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Work Life Balance: What Does It Really Mean?

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by Mark Smith

about 2 years ago

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Recently, I was on holiday in Bali and, while watching yet another sunset with a cold Bintang in hand, our conversation turned to work and the consequent burdens it places on all of us. During the conversation, 'work life balance' was mentioned, which is a phrase that is bandied around quite a lot these days. For someone with twenty years in the recruitment industry, it is a term that arose about fifteen years ago, but what does it really mean? Personally, I have always struggled to define exactly what work life balance means. 

To most people, it has a meaning around the time you devote to work and the time you devote to your own personal issues. Should you stay back to meet a work deadline or leave to see your child's first play? I have struggled, because in my mind I am always 'working', and in my example of choosing a deadline over my child's first play, I would say there is no choice. See the play! If you don't, then you won't have the motivation to meet that deadline later in the evening or the next one that comes around. 

Luckily, it appears that I am not alone in finding the term 'work life balance' unhelpful. On the beach in Bali, one of my fellow travellers used the term 'work life harmony'. I was a little dismissive at first, but when she described the concept, I think it fits our modern work landscape much more effectively that 'work life balance'. Work life harmony is not about choosing between work or life as two separate domains but as work and life being interconnected and dependent on each other. I know that in my life work is integral. As a recruiter, I can be working at any time and in any situation, building networks and relationships. 

Understanding what provides me with the energy to do my job enables me recharge when I need to. It's not about choosing between work and life but about ensuring that in my life I do the things that enable me to get the most out of my work. 

Visiting my child's first play is exactly that. In the 21st century, technology also means that we are nearly always connected, and, consequently, choosing life over work seems incongruous. On that beach in Bali, I made a note on my phone to write a post about work life balance and harmony when I was back in the office. Is that working? What I do know is that you can get the most out of life (which includes work) if you invest in knowing what works for you. That is not something that is going to come from your employer.

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