The Work Life Balance Myth

During a Q&A session on the Future of Work, I was asked a question that related to work life balance. The question asked, “How do we get it”. My response is quite simple;

“work life balance is a myth. It doesn’t exist, the idea of work life balance is created by organizations, to have you think, they have your best interests at heart”.


We know they don’t.

Organization buy time in exchange for skills, we get paid to show up and start working. The way to get value out of that model for the organization is to get as much time out of you as possible, the way for the worker to get ahead in that environment is to do more hours. It seems (ironically), and feels a lot more productive to simply show up. The assumption (and I think the assumption is wrong) is the more hours I work, the more valuable I become to my employer. If we define productivity, by the hours worked or dollars spent by your employer, then of course you are, in essence more productive.

The problem with selling or billing time is that at the end of each day (my all time favourite corporate line – “at the end o the day”), it runs out. We do not have an infinite amount of time. So we can argue, that we are putting a cap on our potential.

When we ask people, where they do their best work, they tell us almost always outside of work. We all know work is changing, I don’t need to remind you of this, but do we understand how it is changing and are we embracing it. No one has ever told me, they do their best work at work, ever.

In a recent board meeting, I sat next to a young entrepreneur aged 23; he is a super smart lad who is slowly changing the way organisations think. He believes that the most redundant resource in organisations today is management. Technology can do that job. The job of managing, managing time, pays, targets and people. He is right; we have the technology to replace you, the manager. We have established that time doesn’t scale. So what does scale? Bravery does.

Work/life balance is shouted from the roof tops of organisations all over the world, where you get paid for showing up, paid for hours spent, paid for working, paid for  things as they are. This is old thinking and this is dangerous. When you hear it, get worried, as it is not the responsibility of your employer to manage your life or your balance, it is yours.

I don’t work more hours than you. The question of work/life balance is the wrong question. Capping our value on time is simply capping our potential. What if I asked you, how is your work food/balance going, how about your work/parenting balance… silly questions right?

Of course work and life are linked, but life and work is our responsibility, not theirs.

I know that you have the “turn up on time to do the work” part nailed, but we have moved on from this now. That was the status quo. Showing up isn’t your job, your job is to step out of the fringes to reframe expectations, change the agenda and create new ways to work.

Showing up is over-rated. Cut your hours in half, take some smart risks, invest as much emotionally as you do physically to make your limited time matter.

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