Worklife Negotiation

Today’s post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member Chris Mullen.

“Work/life balance” has received increasing attention in mainstream media and publications over the past 10-20 years. Some of this focus is due to demographic and social changes including more women in the workforce and increasing advances in technology. While occupational cultures socialize U.S.-employees into equating long hours with organizational commitment and productivity, this makes it difficult to turn work off and to effectively manage the juggling of work and life. Professions and organizations need to take notice of the impact of a lack of work/life balance, which can include higher employee turnover and lower job satisfaction.

So, does the term “work/life balance” give you hope, or do you roll your eyes when you hear it? I think part of the problem here is the very term itself: balance. This makes it sound like each domain is equivalent to the other as though on a weighted scale. Is this an accurate description of your work and life domains? Personally, I do not picture work and life on a scale moving up and down trying to balance each other. I do not think a person’s life is so dualistic, but in fact, that there are multiple domains, roles, and facets to a person’s life. I think of it more as a negotiation. I also prefer to express work/life as one word “worklife”, encompassing both domains together.

I think the term “worklife negotiation” allows for individuality in a person’s life. For instance, is the individual beginning a career, single or in a relationship, starting a family, becoming an empty nester, and/or involved in local social issues in the community? There are many factors to consider including the number of roles a person has.

What I have found in my research is that most people do not know what worklife negotiation looks like to them. They haven’t spent the time thinking about their current work and life situation and what an ideal worklife situation would be. Even if you do not have the power to change your work and life demands immediately, understanding where you would like to be provides you with a roadmap to make incremental changes to ultimately get to your ideal worklife situation – whether it’s getting more hours at work to pay off debt or cutting back on email at home so you can put your children to bed.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. A person’s definition of worklife negotiation is distinctive to the individual and due, in part, to their experiences and how they see the world. Therefore, everyone has his or her own unique and often evolving definition of worklife negotiation.

So, don’t get caught up in the idea of trying to perfectly balance your work and life. But do spend the time deciding what is important to you. Otherwise, work can easily creep in and take over your life and this is not healthy for you, those close to you, or others who are missing out on your talents and benefiting from your contributions outside of work.

Want to think more about your own worklife negotiation? Check out my Wheel of Life exercise which will help you zero in on which aspects of life you are putting emphasis on and which areas could use more attention.

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