Everyone seems to be talking about work-life balance these days, although it’s a far-from-new topic. For decades, ever since women entered the workforce in droves, work-life balance has been an ongoing discussion. Can there really be anything left to say?
Apparently so. And if you think, intuitively, that everyone agrees with the whole concept of balancing your work and your life, think again. As contributor Michael Simmons writes in The Hidden Work-Life Balance Crisis Among Entrepreneurs on forbes.com, two distinct camps have emerged: Those who believe in the need for work-life balance and those who see it as something that will derail your career.
Surely dismissing work-life balance as career-path poison comes from a bunch of old guys, right? You’d expect guys like Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, and many of his peers of earlier eras to harbor those beliefs and pass them on to their underlings. You’ve got to read The ‘Real Winners of the World’ Don’t Have Work-Life Balance, They Have Work, that appeared recently on businessinsider.com. Here you’ll hear from those in the “work-is-everything” camp…things like if you’re burned out by 70-hour weeks, you’re just not competent…and if you’re looking for work-life balance, it could be just a smokescreen for not wanting to work. Really?!
But it isn’t just older generations who see a work-centered existence as the only way to get ahead. Simmons quotes Jeff Berger, the CEO of Doostang, as saying much the same thing. And Berger is all of 27.
However, there are just as many, if not more, on the opposite end of the spectrum, pointing to the lack of balance as the underlying cause for physical and mental burnout, permanent damage to one’s health and losing the most important relationships you’ll ever have. These folks, including many who’ve been there themselves, say to pay attention to the warning signs and above all, try to work smarter.
As a small business owner who loves building and running your own show, you may not realize that workaholism is a real addiction, spreading and wreaking havoc on individual productivity and well-being as well as on families, says Rutgers management professor Dr. Gayle Porter, who is also one of the leading work-life balance researchers in the U.S. The single biggest enabler of this modern-day affliction, Dr. Porter says, is technology.
How do you know if you’re really a workaholic? In the forbes.com piece, Simmons cites researchers who says it’s not the number of hours you’re working, it’s your relationship with the work—as in working from fear, for example. While you might like that adrenaline rush in the short term, in the longer term, it’s addictive. Read more here about the casualties of workaholism and answer questions to see if you’re a work addict or a hard worker. If you’re working constantly, never without a wireless device, talking/working during your kid’s game and working/checking in constantly while on vacation (or never taking a vacation at all), you might want to do a deeper dive into the whole subject.
One of the takeaways here is that only you can decide how much you want to invest in work and in other parts of your life. But where do you start if you struggle with finding some balance between work that you truly find satisfying and your family, friends and hobbies that fulfill you, as well? Experts say the first step is taking responsibility for it—you created this situation. Even if you work for someone else, you need to assume at least part of the ownership for it. Then, clarify your values—what’s most important to you—and get busy putting some strategies in place that will rebalance your work and your life.
Meanwhile, there are things you can do at work to foster an environment that encourages balance—not only for you but for your employees, as well. An article on workingmoms.comlooks at some research from the Corporate Executive Board that says that employees with good work-life benefits work harder and tend to stay put. Things like flexibility, telecommuting and child care all go a long way in helping to promote balance.
But a lot of businesses—and we’d include ourselves at BFS in this category—encourage balance by periodically bringing work and family together for fun times. We’ve found that the value of combining friends, family and fun several times a year can’t be overstated—and the effects are long lasting. Check out photos of our recent family picnic here, and then organize a picnic or family day at the zoo of your own.