What Work-Life Really Means...

Work-life -- ask anyone what it means to them and you'll likely hear just about anything and everything that impacts them whether they're in their 20s or 50s.  From the daily struggles of trying to balance their job with their parenting or elder care responsibilities to figuring out how to handle their finances, health, retirement planning, volunteer interests ... the list is endless.  It's about the day-to-day balancing act that leaves many overwhelmed and most underprepared. A few years ago, someone commented to me that if you're working, the job comes first.  When I questioned what happens "if or when" any number of non-work related situations emerge, this person replied -- without missing a beat -- that everything else comes second.  "In principle, perhaps, but not in life" was my response to which the conversation quickly ended.  Their premise sounded far more like theory than practice to me.

Every HR person knows that employees today are stretched thin, many to the breaking point.  Organizations are adding programs and services in an effort to "stop the bleeding" before the patient cannot be saved.  The C-suite is being bombarded with messages about employee engagement and productivity.  Yet somehow, with all the efforts (and many needs are indeed being met), the basic premise upon which these efforts are being based has become somewhat amorphic.  The reality is that work-life really means one thing ... living.

I know not one person for whom work-life balance is not an issue from awakening to sleep (if sleep can be had).  Whether a full-time employee, stay-at-home parent (and yes...this *is* a full-time job and then some), part-time employee, or someone looking for a job, trying to achieve any sort of balance -- and this alone is a topic unto itself -- is a herculean task at best.  Yet it appears as though many believe that once work-life balance is achieved -- if only for a certain period of time, it is supposed to miraculously be sustained.

The saying "the best-laid plans..." seems to fit the days and lives of many.  Plans set forth have changed, life processes have run amuck, deadlines are moved, appointments rescheduled ... what might have been balance yesterday is chaos today.   And then add to it children, aging parents, stress, health issues, business travel, the economy ... well, you get the picture.  This is living -- it's a dynamic, fast-changing process unto itself that requires flexibility, just like work-life balance.

A job-sharing situation that lasts for three months may ease some pressing work-life balance issues yet when it ends, it's a new day.  Working from home two days per week might cut down on commuting costs yet there are other "costs" that require new ways of working.  It's all about realizing that work-life balance means being able to adjust and adapt to change, just as with living itself.

Organizations expect and need employees to be flexible, to multi-task, and to be ready to change.  Children need (or school requires) their parents to be able to handle their needs...immediately.  Elderly parents hope their children will be able to tend to their needs which often emerge without notice.  This is living.  It's unpredictable, messy and often relentless.  It might be easier for everyone from the C-suite down to start referring to work-life as living because this is something every one of us can understand and support.