Work/life balance doesn’t mean either/or

teeter totterYou often hear people talk about the need for work/life balance, but too often those people also want it to be an either/or proposition. In the past, it’s true, you were generally either working or “off.” But with the technology available to us today, the line between the two is easily blurred.

That’s what’s so frustrating about executives at various companies who  think your nose should be getting worn down by the grindstone every second while you’re on  “their” time.

Eventually, when the Baby Boomers lose their stranglehold on the executive suites across the United States, we’ll see a major shift in the workplace environment. That’s why the current economic doldrums are maddening. Too many people who should be looking forward to retirement are, instead, looking in disbelief at their 401K statements and staying put at the office as a roadblock to progress.

I’m 41 years old, which makes me the right age to understand what the Boomers ahead of me are offering and what the Gen Y folks coming up fast behind me are seeking. My generation, Gen X, is that bridge between the old “company time” and “personal time” style of management and the new workplace environment the Gen Y types are demanding. Imagine an environment where you’re productive at your peak times for personal productivity. Imagine an  environment where you can transition smoothly between a work project, a personal email, an online networking activity and back to a different work project without fearing the wrath of Human Resources falling upon you.

That’s the kind of environment that’s going to become the norm in the future, and I hope the future comes sooner rather than later. If someone has an issue with an employee’s productivity or quality of work, that should be dealt with. But that should be what happens if it’s because someone is spending too much time on Twitter, or on their coffee break, or standing around chatting with coworkers.

My point is that there are many jobs where it shouldn’t matter how or when you get your work done as long as it gets done correctly and by the deadline. Instead, too many companies are insisting that they keep employees chained to the time clock, focused only on work for 8 hours a day and longing to escape as soon as the clock ticks to 5 p.m. Employers who think people should only be “working” on “company time” are missing out on a new breed of workers who are interested in keeping a work/life balance that is more of a work/life blend. They are losing out on having employees who understand the difference between work and personal time, but can find satisfaction from both regardless of what time of day it is.

I mentioned earlier that at my age, I can serve as a bridge between the two management styles. But, of course, that’s from my perspective. Maybe I’m just seen as a troublemaker by one generation and someone unwilling to push hard enough for rapid change by another. What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of SushiFugu)

11 comments on “Work/life balance doesn’t mean either/or

  1. Well put, Ari. I guess I’m one of the lucky ones. I do always feel like I’m working, especially with my iPhone never too far away, but I also don’t flinch if I take 10 minutes to make a hair appointment or catch up with a former classmate via Facebook wall posts.

    It means I get great ideas in the shower and scratch them out on a Saturday morning, but also that I’m also open about the time I spend at my desk doing not strictly work-related things sometimes.

    It will be interesting to see what comes after Y…


  2. Excellent post, Ari. At 36, I’m struggling with the same maddening old-school mentalities from some executives. With quite a few more years ahead of me in the workforce, I’m looking forward to the days when the work I do at 9 p.m. is just as accepted as the work I’m doing at 9 a.m.

    In terms of work/life balance, I think there’s also a tendency among younger people to have more of their identity come from their work, further blurring that work/life line. They choose careers that are more inline with their personalities and have more friends who are also coworkers and colleagues. So even when they’re not “working,” they’re discussing work or thinking about ways to improve their skillsets.

    It’s a whole different business model, and those companies that can’t adapt are going to be the ones who lose out on the best talent.


  3. Ari, great post! I think you point out a huge shift happening in what people want in the workplace. My generation has grown up in a world of technology and multi-tasking. We can seamlessly manage social networking, real-life networking, work, school, internships, etc. We would much rather spend our day trying to integrate everything into our waking hours, rather than have to try to separate “work” time from “personal” time.

    Of course, it is important that we respect the companies we’re working for and we make sure we’re following through on our commitments in our jobs, but I think many companies would be surprised at how much more productive Gen Y employees would be if they were not only allowed, but encouraged to mix a little business time with personal time.

    As your intern, I definitely think you are a good bridge between the management styles you’ve discussed here. Part of the reason I enjoy my job so much, is that I know the person I report to understands the way my mind works and can show me how to balance that with what upper management expects.


  4. Very well put…I’m a few years your senior (46 in 3 days) but I’ve never felt part of the “boomers” – and have always fit better with the following gen…I couldn’t cope with the “work time” as you are describing and ended up going to work for myself – definitely I blend the time…and still get the work done for the deadlines – some of my most productive time is not during “9-5” – either before or after…so the changes will be interesting to see as the main marketplace changes!!!


  5. Interesting that I am currently at work, sitting in my office, yet clicked to this post via Natalie’s Facebook page. I’m a Gen Y’er, and I do wander over to Facebook throughout the “working” day, as well as conduct personal business like making doctor or hair appointments. However, I spent much of last Sunday cranking out some tedious work that required a quiet, interruption-free environment that I can’t always get at my office with the phone ringing. I left the office early on Friday to accompany my fiance on an errand, where I promptly found a coffeeshop and finished up some end-of-the-week emails on my laptop.

    My bosses are pretty far removed from my actual work (I see them once per week for an hour or so), so my work is very self-driven. I get it done on time, and on my own time, whenever that may be.

    My only rule: If I have taken vacation time, I don’t work. I might read an email, but I won’t respond. Vacation time is ME time! Otherwise, I’m always “on.”

    Great post, makes for an interesting discussion!


  6. Sent here by my sister Natalie, who commented above there. This is an exceptionally good post — as a fellow Gen X’er I can’t agree more with your take on the changes that are coming.

    My chosen field of higher ed is constantly focused on the struggles of work/life balance and how that ties in with retention in the field and we still don’t do it right or teach it well to the new professionals. I think that’s probably in part because we haven’t given in to the idea that it should be a healthy blend instead of an either/or situation.

    Thanks for this — I’ll be sharing it with some colleagues!


  7. I completely agree, Ari. For the “old guard” perception appears to be the reality. Instead of saying “Everyone come in early, we’ve got a client in the house!” you could say, “all of our folks are out doing business and taking advantage of our flexible work schedule which keeps productivity high. In fact, we’ve done better work for potential clients like you because of it!”

    Bodies in offices mean nothing except that the light is on. . . only physically, not metaphorically.


  8. I enjoyed reading your post, it is a subject I spend a lot of attention dealing with. I’ve seen all too often that an employee’s worth is more measured on how often they were present than what they are accomplishing.

    The future workplace is going to be task based and work isn’t going to feel like work.. well for the most part.


  9. Pingback: Smartphones: Resistance Is Futile | Digital Pivot

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