Workaholic--this is worn like a badge of honor by many entrepreneurs and executives, but the truth is that in the long run it's not helping anyone. Working long hours and sacrificing one's personal life is not good for business.
The belief in work-life balance is a zero-sum game with no winners. When you play this game you are forced to choose one part of your life over another, and ultimately one part of your life loses out. While this may have been the norm in the 20th century, we know too much today to play the game that way.
The downside of work-life balance.
The impacts of a dated work-life balance perspective are multifaceted.
- In a Gallup study, employees who reported checking emails after work were 48 percent more distressed than those who didn't.
- The effects of bad stress cost American businesses $300 billion, according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
- When imbalance is constant and accepted as normal, burnout, absenteeism, low engagement, and even ill-health emerge as business problems.
- One study found that seven out of 10 American workers struggle to find balance in their lives.
Leaders and their employees suffer when they seek the elusive balance in their work and life.
German researcher Dana Unger found that the quality of our work is heavily influenced by the quality of our relationships. The belief that people escape from troubling relationships and bury themselves in their work proved to be ineffective. Participants in the study consistently under-performed at work when relationship problems surfaced.
What Unger's research reveals is that management philosophies have unnaturally advocated for employees to separate their personal lives from their professional ones. The truth is work and life collide and cannot be easily separated.
The question is what should replace the pursuit of work-life balance?
What is better than work-life balance?
A unified perspective of work and life is needed. Instead of balance, leaders need to integrate work and the rest of life into a whole life, according to Wharton professor Stewart Friedman.
Friedman explains in his 2014 book, Leading the Life You Want, that an integrated life "is actually the intersection and interaction of four domains of life." Friedman explains each of the four domains: work or school; home or family; community or society; and mind, body, and spirit.
A traditional view holds that you need to sacrifice several of these domains to work. An integrated or whole life holds that you can be satisfied in each of the areas. Friedman advocates that harmony is possible.
Through Friedman's research, he identified skills necessary for creating harmony in the four domains: skills for being real; skills for being whole; and skills for being innovative.
For today's busy entrepreneurs and their team, they would be wise to help each other intentionally develop skills in each of the three areas.
It is not solely a matter of what's good for the company. It's also important for the potential and performance of each person on the team.
Work-life integration and well-being.
Instead of looking at an integrated work and life as a leadership issue, it's important to also see it as a matter of well-being.
A company's culture of promoting work-life balance rather than an integrated whole places a limit on potential--the company's and its people.
Employee well-being--physical, psychological, or even financial--is heavily influenced by a person's ability to disconnect from work and be fully present in their personal life. The opposite is also true. This is what makes work-recovery important.
Work-recovery is an employees' ability to disconnect from work when at home. This means limiting or eliminating work texts and emails after work to allow room to explore the other domains that Friedman advocates as important.
Employees' well-being is more likely to improve when they can satisfy all parts of their lives. A burned out employee is not a productive employee. Business leaders have significant influence on their employees' work habits. More of them need to assume the mantle of responsibility and help employees better integrate their personal and professional lives into one whole life.
Running a new or growing business does demand more time. It cannot, however, be at the sacrifice of other interests and needs. To continually deny those interests or ignore other needs limits growth and people's potential; neither of these is useful to any business.