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3 reasons why work/life balance is becoming an outdated idea

Jessica Yun
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla co-founder, CEO and product architect Elon Musk. (Photos: Getty)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Tesla co-founder, CEO and product architect Elon Musk. (Photos: Getty)

A fat paypacket doesn’t cut it anymore: the new workforce wants benefits like flexibility, work/life balance and career progression.

But while everyone wants a successful career to go hand in hand with a thriving personal and social life, sociologist and author Tracy Brower has made the argument for why we shouldn’t be framing this as ‘work/life balance’.

Even tech moguls Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos don’t seem to believe in this concept (albeit for very different reasons: Musk’s entire life seems to be work, while Bezos favours the term ‘work-life harmony’).

Here are three reasons why we need to shift our thinking on this concept, courtesy of Fast Company:

1. It creates a duality

In the very wording of the phrase, work/life balance suggests that work should be separated from life. And even though your work may not have major personal significance to you, it’s harder to feel that work is an integral part of a full life when the phrase so clearly distinguishes between the two.

“I think work-life harmony is a good framework,” Amazon’s chief executive, Bezos, told Thrive Global.

Balance implies a “strict trade-off”, he added, whereas work and life should bounce off the other.

“In fact, if I’m happy at work, I’m better at home – a better husband and better father. And if I’m happy at home, I come into work more energised – a better employee and a better colleague.”

2. It suggests instability

Balance.

The word is itself brings to mind precariousness, shakiness and unsteadiness – and suggests things are just ‘hanging in the balance’, and that you could easily find yourself ‘off balance’.

But your work and your life evolves over time, and some days will be better than others: sometimes you might have to stay late at work, but other times you may miss out on the company conference because your parents are in town.

‘Work/life balance’ doesn’t capture the natural fluctuation and variation that happens in life, which changes day-to-day.

3. It is too limiting

As mentioned, the phrase is suggestive of an either/or mentality – but this is too restrictive and sets the bar too low, and seems to much like ‘just trying to make things work’.

Instead, demand more from yourself, your leaders and your companies, and think bigger, Brower said.

“There are seasons of life where you’ll have less time for yourself and will devote more to school or family or work. This is part of the normal ebb and flow of life,” Brower wrote.

“When you think big and expect that you can have a positive experience with all that work and life have to offer, you’ll be more likely to make that happen.”

Bezos seems to know this well.

“You never want to be that guy – and we all have a coworker who’s that person – who as soon as they come into a meeting they drain all the energy out of the room,” he told European digital publishing house Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner.

“You can just feel the energy go ‘whoosh!’ You don’t want to be that guy. You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.”

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