Work Life Balance – A Chimera? | Stepshift

Work Life Balance – A Chimera?

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

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Work life balance is an unusual term in many ways. Firstly it seems to imply that “work” and “life” are mutually exclusive. That is, that when you are at work you are not participating in life. Further it seems to suggest there is a point of “balance” where a perfect equilibrium is attained (when our experience suggests we are rarely balanced, nor is it often appropriate that we are). Thirdly, it seems to suggest that somehow that work and life is a zero sum game. That is improvements in life must be at the expense of work. The more you strive to win in one dimension (e.g. your work), the more other dimensions of your life (e.g. your self, your home, and your community) must lose.

What if it were possible that improvements in one aspect of your life which had measurable benefits for other dimensions? What if the attempt to achieve work life balance is an attempt to solve an insoluble and pointless problem?

In a Harvard Business Review Article “Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life” Stewart D. Friedman suggests that you don’t have to make trade-offs among life’s domains. Nor should you: trading off can leave you feeling exhausted, unfulfilled, or isolated. And it hurts the people you care about most.

He argues that a range of problems stem from making trade-offs among the different dimensions of your life:

  • Feeling unfulfilled because you’re not doing what you love
  • Feeling inauthentic because you’re not acting according to your values
  • Feeling disconnected from people who matter to you
  • Feeling exhausted by trying to keep up with it all

To excel in all dimensions of life, Friedman recommends a Total Leadership process. First, articulate who and what matters most in your life. Then experiment with small changes that enhance your satisfaction and performance in all four domains. For example, exercising three mornings a week gives you more energy for work and improves your self-esteem and health, which makes you a better parent and friend.

Friedman’s research suggests that people who focus on the concept of Total Leadership have a 20%–39% increase in satisfaction in all life domains, and a 9% improvement in job performance—even while working shorter weeks.

If you want to consider an alternative to striving for work life balance, improve your leadership effectiveness and have a richer life get in touch to find out how we can help.



Lynn Humphrey is a Partner at Stepshift, helping New Zealand business leaders to get the best from themselves and the people they lead through executive coaching, leadership development and business consulting.

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