The Unbalanced Work/Life Balance

Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life

Dolly Parton

Jeff Bezos recently shared that he sees work-life balance as a ‘debilitating phrase.’ Bezos suggests seeing the two, work and home, as two integrated parts of life that are more of a circle. While Bezos’ suggestion is an interesting concept, it can be out of touch with how people relate to their jobs. Northwestern recently conducted a study and found that “one-fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.” 

While Bezos’ suggestion may, in his view, be the result of his success, not everyone can maintain that sort of high-level pursuit of maximum success. Many do not have the financial benefits that enable them to think or perform this way. The ever changing demands of the workplace, both socially and technologically, have repeatedly shifted the goalposts for how balance should be achieved.

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Balancing work and family

Before we called it ‘Work-life balance’, it was generally referred to as ‘work-family life’ balance, and was meant to be applicable to mainly female employees entering the workforce, who may have had children at home or planned to have a family in the future; Keep in mind this was conceived and applied during a time when gender studies had not been as advanced as they are today. Since then, we’ve come to see that men also play an important role in child-rearing, that the idea of the ‘nuclear family’ doesn’t universally apply all the time, and the very idea of gender (and their roles, if any) is being questioned and evaluated across our society. Since these changes have taken hold, the situation has changed from the old-school idea of ‘balance for women who have kids’ to a more broad interpretation of a ‘balance for the family’s sake’ approach that is less pointed, and has helped lots of families ensure they’re spending enough time on what’s really important in their lives.

While it’s nice to consider that the family is important enough for your employer to consider, more recent studies are shifting the idea of work-life balance yet again in a positive direction. While Bezos’ asserts that work and life are two parts of the same circle, there are more facets to life than just work and ‘life’ – life has many dimensions to consider: Health, friendship, Leisure, Training, Community…all of these (and more) are a part of life, and contribute to an overall picture regarding the mental and physical health of a person and should be respected, both for the sake of the employee, but also because the relative health of the dimensions themselves in relation to an individual can impact performance. 

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Work life balance examples

For example, if a person works long hours alone for weeks on end, his performance will suffer, likely because: 

  • They lack social interactions (community/friendship) 
  • Are not getting the right amount of sleep due to long hours (Health)
  • Aren’t eating healthy foods or is stress eating due to being overworked (also Health)
  • Are not getting proper exercise due to a lack of time or being too tired to pursue it (Health/Training)
  • The space in which they work and/or live is not clean, due to a lack of time and stress (health)

Challenges in work life

Many studies have shown how unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety disorders, and may result in medical bills and additional stresses on a person’s health. I could go on here, but you can start to get a picture of how overwork, a lack of self care, and an imbalance of time for important facets of life can have a negative impact on performance. It’s important not only for the employee to be able to live a happy, productive life, but also important for the employer to ensure that his employees are living happy lives to ensure that production is moving along at a steady pace, and the performance delivered will be at its best. 

It’s also possible that Bezos’ comments focus on the other side of this coin, the ‘work-life integration’ model, which posits that people should integrate work more into their lives, and challenges the ‘Work-life balance’ model. [1] It argues that people within a work, life, and/or community domain can help each other to achieve their goals by recognizing their own influences on others, and vice versa. It argues that people within your community who have the proper awareness can spot trouble areas and make adjustments due to the integration. The issue with the integration model is that it puts the onus of discovery onto others within a domain. If your home life is terrible and it affects your attitudes in the workplace, it’s up to your employer or colleagues to notice these things and put into practice steps to reduce stress or improve the situation. If your employer isn’t attentive enough to notice the issue, or has too many employees to manage to realistically spot issues with each employee, then you may be out of luck, and performance suffers for longer. While not limited to employers, the idea that individuals in your sphere of influence are responsible for noticing your shortcomings (and also that you must be doing the same for everyone else at the same time), the model quickly begins to waver when scrutinized under modern conditions. 

Personal vs Professional Life

Many people find this model invasive, where the work-life balance is meant to mark a clear delineation between the personal and the professional. The main thing to focus on here should be health, and it should be for a reason: the ideas that guide us towards success should cast as wide a net as possible, include as many people as possible, and account for mental well being, potential disabilities, future self-improvement, or whatever scenario is best for an individual. Where once only women were considered for a ‘work-family life policy’, now we know that everyone has specific individual needs; every person needs time for family rearing, yes, but also for personal reflection, restful sleep, creative pursuits, and more, all for the benefit of their health (both mental and physical) – for an all around balanced and healthy lifestyle that will benefit not only the employees, but the performance they give for their employers too.


  1. Work–Life Balance: Weighing the Importance of Work–Family and Work–Health Balance – PMC

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