It wasn’t the usual end to our staff meeting.
This time, the head of our university department wrapped up the video conference by inviting her nine-year-old son to come and say hello to about a hundred colleagues.
It was an acknowledgement of the changes we have all adopted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The responses required to contain the spread of the virus have obliterated the boundaries that conventionally separate work from the rest of our lives. It has left us questioning the old concept of work-life balance.
The myth of balance
The idea of work-life balance caught on the 1980s, powered to a large extent by the increasing number of women in the paid workforce who also shouldered the bulk of home and family work.
It’s a misguided metaphor because it assumes we must always make trade-offs among the four main aspects of our lives: work or school, home or family (however you define that), community (friends, neighbours, religious or social groups), and self (mind, body, spirit).
Friedman, a professor at the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, founded the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project in 1991 to “produce knowledge for action on the relationship between work and the rest of life”.
A more realistic and more gratifying goal than balance, he argues, is to better integrate work and the rest of life in ways that engender “four-way wins” between work, home, community and self.
- ^ 6 strategies to juggle work and young kids at home: it's about flexibility and boundaries (theconversation.com)
- ^ absence of conflict (journals.sagepub.com)
- ^ The more work-life balance we have the more we want: global study (theconversation.com)
- ^ balance is bunk (hbr.org)
- ^ Wharton Work/Life Integration Project (worklife.wharton.upenn.edu)
- ^ describe integration (sk.sagepub.com)
Authors: Melissa A. Wheeler, Senior lecturer, Swinburne University of Technology