Why I Hate The Phrase “Work Life Balance” 

The phrase “work life balance” has become so ubiquitous that we often hear it tossed around in work places without questioning it, and to be direct, I hate that phrase and find it fundamentally flawed and problematic. In this blog post, I’m going to share with you why I dislike this concept, offer alternative terms you can use, and share with you why I’ve opted to continue using the phrase “work life balance” despite my criticisms of it. 

What is Work Life Balance and Why Does it Matter? 

When I hear the phrase “work life balance” I can’t help but picture a balance scale with two weights on it, one representing “work” that pays your bills and another representing all other work from other areas lumped into your “life” category.

I also picture a balancing beam with you in the middle trying your best to remain stable and grounded while being pulled in different directions. Viewing work and the workplace as something that is in equal value as all other areas of your life feels unrealistic and unattainable. It’s an impossible feat because there is no single time that we can manage to dedicate an equivalent or balanced amount of energy to all areas of our life.  

This dilemma of attaining “work life balance,” is nothing new though. This concept actually goes as far back as the 19th century but it was officially coined in 1986 when more companies started offering work/life programs (Meenakshi, Subrahmanyam, and Ravichandran, 2013). This term, while outdated, continues to promote the idea that work must be separate and perfectly balanced with everything else in our lives. It also doesn’t account for the classed and gendered aspects of the work/life conflict and who has the privilege to even get to worry about tending to their work and life equitably. 

A Shift in Terminology 

Recently, however, I’ve started to notice some changes in the terminology. More and more individuals are using and implementing the term “work life integration” to account for the ways that the white collar workforce is changing (Fallon-O’Leary, 2021). More people are working remotely or in a hybrid setting. More workers are pursuing portfolio careers where they get to choose who they work with and how they work with them. This increase in flexibility doesn’t take away the fundamental issue of, how in the world do we even live our lives in a way that feels harmonious? 

This brings me to the phrases I’ve personally used. In the past, I’ve used the phrase “work life harmony” as a metaphor to refer to all the many aspects of our lives working in sync the way musical notes work well together in a chord. I’ve also recently used the phrase “work life cycling” as another metaphor to refer to our priorities as ever-changing and shifting the way that a wave might cycle up and down in the ocean. Both remind of how our lives are ever-changing and in a constant ebb and flow and therefore, the way we tend to our lives must be in constant change too. 

Why Am I Using “Work Life Balance” Again? 

At the end of the day, all of these terms can be contested. And there is no right or wrong way to make sense of how you will make time for the work that keeps a roof over your head and the work that is required to tend to other parts of your life. 

As a coach and speaker, I’ve now opted to go back to using the phrase “work life balance” especially when it comes to promoting my services. Why? Because that continues to be a popular term and if I want the right people to find me and I want to make an impact, I will need to use the terms that they’re using.

And then once they find me, I can do the work of introducing them to new ways of thinking, doing, and being in the world. From there, I can do the work of fostering sustainable productivity and personal development, which are core pillars of Grad School Femtoring. 

Sources: 

Fallon-O’Leary, D. “Work-Life Integration Is the New Work-Life Balance. Is Your Team Ready?” US Chamber of Commerce (2021).

Meenakshi, S. Pattu, Venkata Subrahmanyam, and K. Ravichandran. “The importance of work-life-balance.” IOSR Journal of Business and Management 14, no. 3 (2013): 31-35.

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