Boss Lady

The work/life balance myth


There’s so much talk about the so-called work/life balance which perpetuates the myth that there is a balance between work and life. In reality, we have one life. Work, family, friends, playtime, and rest-time are all part of that life.

Balancing these competing priorities isn’t really possible; the scales will inevitably tip towards one or another as circumstances dictate. Therefore, I prefer to aim for the more achievable work/life harmony.

By talking about work/life balance, as if the two were opposite sides of the same coin instead of woven inextricably into the fabric of each other, we create a perception that living only begins when you leave the office at the end of the day. Or, that the time dedicated to both work and leisure should be equal to each other, which is unrealistic.

Men are rarely, if ever, asked how they balance work and family life. Women, on the other hand, are incredibly aware of the juggling act we do each day, and many are torn between the desire to pursue a career and the equally strong desire to focus on their families.

In the modern world, the trade-off doesn’t necessarily need to be as stark as it was for our mothers and grandmothers. It’s not a matter of family or work. It’s about finding a way to integrate the various aspects of our lives. And, as perceptions and workplace rules evolve, managing these competing priorities is becoming less fraught.

Flexible workplaces, greater load-sharing with life partners or co-parents, and an increased understanding of the value women can offer at work are combining to make it easier for women to integrate the various aspects of their lives.

So, given that going to work and living life are acutely intertwined, here are three simple ideas to get you thinking about how to enrich your life:

  1. Be yourself. Don’t feel that you have to hide your personal life, interests, hobbies, and challenges from your colleagues or manager. Of course, we must still act professionally and appropriately in a work environment. This doesn’t mean we have to become robots. Divulging that you have a life outside of work doesn’t make you weak, it makes you human. The more genuine you are, the more comfortable you’ll feel at work and the more you’ll enjoy being there.
  1. Involve your family. If you have kids, or a partner, let them visit you sometimes so they can see where it is you go every day. This will break down the great divide between ‘work’ and ‘life’, and provide opportunities for you to speak more with them about what you actually do. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of teaching our children about hard work, where money comes from and sharing our work lives with them. 
  1. Be flexible. Consider tweaking your work schedule to adapt to your circumstances. For example, could you work from home one day a week? Could you start earlier one day to pick up your child from school? Approaching your employer about flexible work conditions can be daunting, but if you’re happy to negotiate, you may be able to come to a creative approach that works for both of you.

Some things to remember:

  1. It’s not possible to be perfectly balanced, all the time. There will be moments when you simply have to stay behind at work, and other times where you’ll need to leave early to look after a sick child or attend an important event. Accepting that our responsibilities inevitably ebb and flow between our professional and personal lives removes the pressure that we often unnecessarily place on ourselves.
  1. It’s okay to let some things slide. When there’s too much on your plate, it’s acceptable to sacrifice less-important activities. Busyness doesn’t equal success. Taking the time to prioritise your responsibilities will mean that you’re spending your time where it really matters, both in your job and with family and friends.

Let’s all accept that balance is a myth, stop feeling guilty for sometimes flailing, and get on with enjoying our lives; the good, the bad, and all the beautiful messiness in between.

About Elizabeth Marchant

Elizabeth (Liz) Marchant is group CEO of two PR companies and a B2B marketing services firm, all headquartered in Sydney. She started her career working on the reception desk at Recognition PR, progressing to group manager then leaving to join Telstra as PR manager. The PR and marketing group she now owns with husband Adam Benson has grown to a multi-million dollar enterprise employing more than 25 permanent staff and up to 20 casuals, working with clients across Australia and New Zealand. Liz splits her time travelling between her small cattle farm and satellite office in Alstonville on the New South Wales Northern Rivers and her Sydney and Brisbane offices. She is the mother and step-mother to three boys aged 12, 18 and 27 and a grandmother to a two-year old. She is an avid student of business, a member of the Entrepreneurs Organisation, a Fellow of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, a keen reader of fiction and business literature and a mentor and sounding board to several other business owners.

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