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Work/Life: Why It’s Work+Life “Fit,” Not Balance!

Welcome to my first posting as a Fast Company blogger! In the spirit of full disclosure, if you clicked through hoping to learn how to achieve “balance,” I am afraid you will be disappointed. You see, I don’t believe there is such a thing as work/life “balance,” a concept I first discussed in the provocative October, 2004 Fast Company article by Keith Hammonds, “Balance is Bunk."

Welcome to my first posting as a Fast Company blogger! In the spirit of full disclosure, if you clicked through hoping to learn how to achieve “balance,” I am afraid you will be disappointed. You see, I don’t believe there is such a thing as work/life “balance,” a concept I first discussed in the provocative October, 2004 Fast Company article by Keith Hammonds, “Balance is Bunk.”

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If, however, you want to join a thought-provoking dialogue that challenges the conventional wisdom about managing your work+life “fit” in a 24/7, high tech, global work reality, then you are in the right place. That’s right, I said “work+life fit,” not balance.

Why does it matter whether we call it “balance,” or “fit?” Because words have meaning. For too many of us, “balance” is a magical, yet unattainable and unsustainable, 50-50 split between our work and our personal lives. For others it’s some nebulous destination out there toward which we are all traveling simultaneously. Arriving at our collective “balance,” we will all hold hands and celebrate. Neither of these scenarios will ever happen which is why balance has become a deficit model or that “thing we never have.”

Our thinking must change radically. “Balance” needs to be discarded along with all of the other 20th Century, Industrial-Age concepts that no longer apply in today’s world. As long as “balance” is the objective, we won’t see the possibilities for our work and life, which brings me back to work+life “fit” and the focus of this new weekly Fast Company blog.

How is work+life “fit” different? First, work+life “fit” is about the countless potential combinations of work and life. Your unique work and personal choices and circumstances determine your “fit.” In other words, it’s about what you could have, not what you don’t have. This is a subtle but important mindset shift. With “fit,” there is no right or wrong answer, just what works for you and your job at a point in time.

Second, it is a verb, not a noun. Work+life “fit” is a career management strategy that helps you adjust the boundaries around work and the rest of your life whenever you experience a personal or professional transition, both large and small. That transition will require a new set of work+life choices, or a new “fit.” Small adjustments in how, when and/or where you work make a big difference, but you have to see the possibilities and know how get there before you can make a change. That’s our goal.

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Work+life “fit” requires change on many levels: individually, managerially, organizationally and culturally.

For individuals, it means understanding that work+life “fit” is a career management strategy that involves meeting your employer half-way to find mutually-beneficial solutions.

For managers, it means seeing work+life and flexibility not as a “perk” reserved for a particular demographic, but as a critical business strategy for managing time and people resources in a 24/7, high tech, global work reality.

For organizations, it means clarifying the process that creates a culture and work environment that supports work+life “fit” problem-solving and conversation between manager and employee.

Finally, for the culture overall, it means starting to ask the real question, which is “How do we all work and have a life in a 24/7, high-tech, global work reality where the old work and career models no longer apply?” Work has changed and careers have changed over the past 15 years. It’s time for us to catch up.

Please join me at Fast Company every week as we tackle this challenge from all points of change, and hopefully get a little bit closer to creating a new 21st Century model of “work+life fit,” not balance.

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