Need Help Navigating Work-Life Tensions? You’re Not Alone

Every month, Thriveal Community Group members discuss a topic relevant to the journey of entrepreneurial accounting firm owners. February’s focus was on work-life tensions, a timely discussion as many members headed into the most hectic time of the year.

The term “work-life balance” first appeared in American news media in the 1980s. At the time, most of the attention was on working mothers trying to take care of their kids and homes while holding a full-time job. As real as those challenges were (and still are!), there was little recognition of others’ work-life tensions. Eventually, that changed.

Over time, the work-life issue has become universal. Whether a person has kids or not, is married or single, recently entered the workforce or is a seasoned professional, doesn’t matter. Nearly everyone wrestles with work-life challenges. Thriveal members are no exception. Most acknowledged struggling during the busy season, if not all year long. Few claimed to have conquered the challenge.

Several Community Groups questioned the use of the word “balance.” It’s virtually impossible to maintain a perfect equilibrium for any length of time. Like two kids on a see-saw (or teeter-totter, depending on where you’re from), the plank is always in motion, rarely static. Several members offered the term “work-life integration” as an alternative to the concept of balance.

Author Jon Gordon agrees that the term work-life balance is a misnomer. He refers to it as work-life blend. Rather than being frustrated at elusive attempts to stay in balance, Gordon suggests we view the dance between work and life outside of work in terms of rhythms.

Gordon also emphasizes that these rhythms change in different seasons, a concept that resonates with accounting firm owners. In certain seasons, a heavier workload leaves less time for family, community activities, and hobbies. During other seasons, the reverse is true. Examining the work-life dance over time, across seasons, provides a more realistic view of this tension than looking at it on a day-to-day basis.

Technology is a significant factor in navigating work-life challenges. Researchers coined the term “Work Extending Technology” to describe laptop computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. These devices make it possible to get work done at home or in other places like coffee shops. That’s a real advantage for firms with a virtual workforce as well as individuals who want to limit the time they spend at the office. Several Community Group members shared that technology frees them up to attend to family activities when they might otherwise be trapped in the office.

At the same time, Work Extending Technology makes work accessible 24/7. Our work and personal lives are no longer limited to specific times and locations. As one Thriveal member commented, “my work is always in my pocket.” Management professors Donna Haeger and Tony Lingham call this dynamic “work-life fusion,” where technological advancements and other factors have fused the dimensions of work and life outside of work.

I often encourage coaching clients to view this paradigm in the form of two overlapping circles. One circle represents work, and the other circle represents non-work activities. The overlap is where fusion occurs. We get to decide how much overlap we want to allow. Some people are comfortable with a lot of overlap, to the point where it looks like only one circle is left. Others wish we could go back to the day when you could keep the two circles from overlapping at all.

When you design your work-life fusion, identify what falls into the space where the circles overlap, or where you’re willing to allow work and personal life to intersect. Determine what type of activities fall into that zone, when they occur, and who you’re with at the time.

When you’re not in the overlapping space, stay focused on that specific circle and limit distractions and interruptions. In other words, if you’re in the work circle, focus on work and stay as productive as possible. If you’re in the non-work circle, devote full attention your family, friends, recreation or hobbies, and block out work. Often, the worst stress comes from an overlap of work and personal life that you never intended.

Intentionally designing your work-life fusion puts you in the driver’s seat. You get to navigate work-life challenges on your terms, not someone or something else’s.

This article was first published on the Thriveal Blog.


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