Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines and is the author of two published titles on Amazon.
The Selling Point
Work-life balance as a selling point for an open position is in every job ad.
In job boards like the ones you see on LinkedIn, Indeed, and JobStreet, to name a few, recruiters can’t help but include “work-life balance” or “flexible working hours” in the hopes of enticing talent.
It’s no longer enough to tell hopefuls how much they’ll get paid, the number of vacation days, medical insurance, and all other perks. In this day and age, they have to add to their list “work-life balance.”
The pandemic only served to remind recruiters and hiring managers that this clause was slowly becoming mandatory. Applicants and existing workers now knew that they could do their jobs well without having to neglect their own life. And the latter may include child care, elderly care, home school, side hustles, running a business, etc.
But is “work-life balance” really the aim for everyone?
Perhaps a more updated term, work-life alignment, should replace the archaic one.
Aiming for Work-Life Alignment
In a 2022 Harvard Business Review article, Laura Gassner Otting suggests aiming for work-life alignment, not work-life balance. Otting, the author of the books Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve Your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life, received her master’s from the Graduate School of Political Management of George Washington University. And to come up with her conclusion, she surveyed 5,600 workers from various industries in the span of almost three years.
“It’s difficult to achieve ephemeral work-life balance,” Otting says, “when you are getting married, having children, taking care of aging parents, attending networking events and professional development conferences, and serving on community, nonprofit, or school communities.”
“Rather than looking for work-life balance,” she adds, “these workers are looking for work-life alignment. It’s not just about the time they spend at work, but about how this work augments or detracts from the time that they spend away from it, too.”
7 Reasons Why Work-Life Alignment Should Replace Work-Life Balance
- Workers don’t want to be defined by their full-time job.
- Balancing work and life is an endless tug-of-war.
- Many things are easier when your work is aligned with your life.
- It becomes easier to quit a toxic job and leave an unhealthy work environment.
- Your boss will notice when you’re trying too hard to balance.
- Compartmentalizing is a lot of work.
- Employers will be able to retain talent better.
1. Workers Don’t Want to Be Defined by Their Full-Time Job
What workers have learned is that tying your self-worth to your job is not only unhealthy but also impractical. During the pandemic, people were let go through mass layoffs left and right, and if you were one of those who suddenly found yourself without ‘purpose’—you would lose yourself.
Many employers encourage ‘owning’ your job or identifying with it, because such a philosophy would serve to increase productivity and reduce attrition. They deliver the constant messaging of the need for you to be a ‘passionate’ team player and encourage you to ‘find a job you love.’
But this way of thinking, similar to aiming for work-life balance, is an old way of thinking. People no longer want to be defined by their day job. With exceptions to those who run meaningful non-profits and those who do their work because it serves some public good, a day job should just be appreciated for what it is.
2. Balancing Work and Life Is an Endless Tug-of-War
If your situation at home begs for time away from work, and if your work demands are set up in a way where you constantly dilute the quality of your time with family, then there’s clearly a tug-of-war going on.
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Modifying your perspective and allowing work to bleed into your home life without stressing over boundaries means that you’re done balancing two seemingly opposite priorities. Once you’ve bought into work-life alignment, the battle ceases. Instead, harmony begins.
The very concept of work-life balance implies that two things are kept at a distance, and each pulls its own weight. In contrast, work-life alignment considers both aspects of yourself to further the interest of each other. I remember taking advantage of the corporate meetings that I led as a way for me to practice speaking in front of a critical crowd, and this helped me in law school, where speaking was part of the training and vice versa.
3. Many Things Are Easier When Your Work Is Aligned With Your Life
I was able to develop a good harmony early on when I took a part-time job while starting law school. My work shift was from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m., and school started at 5 p.m. This meant that the six hours sandwiched between my two priorities had to be used in a productive way.
If I did well at work, that usually meant that I wouldn’t be bothered after my shift, and this helped create quality focus time once I started preparing for school later in the day.
Many things become easier if your work is aligned with your life. In my case, I was able to find a job that stopped at 10 or 11 in the morning, which gave me ample time to prepare for class. Law school is a demanding pursuit. Any free, uninterrupted time you can find is valuable.
4. It Becomes Easier to Quit a Toxic Job and Leave an Unhealthy Work Environment
How and when are you able to recognize that you are working a toxic, soul-sucking job—or are stuck in an unhealthy work environment? It’s not easy to see clearly when you are busy juggling two priorities. But when you have work-life alignment, you are no longer juggling but are instead welcoming the interruptions of either that come at inappropriate times.
You’ll be able to spot a toxic job quicker and more clearly, because having a toxic job usually causes a severe impact on your personal life. And you also won’t hesitate to leave an unhealthy work environment, because such a workplace could not possibly align with what you want for your life.
Those who seek work-life alignment seek a healthy work environment for the same reason—they want to stay in a place that doesn’t make them feel like they’re in a prison; a place that truly welcomes people who find ways to prioritize their personal lives.
5. Your Boss Will Notice When You’re Trying Too Hard to Balance
Some bosses genuinely care for you as a person, while others are only interested in the side of you that contributes to the business. Many of today’s managers have gained awareness that there’s simply no way to separate the human side from the ‘strictly business’ side of a worker.
Instead of stressing a team member out further because of poor performance that may have been caused by his personal life, more bosses realize now that it’s more productive to get to the root of the problem and help the team member get through his adversity so he can perform well once again.
And so, when a boss sees that you’re trying too hard to balance your responsibilities at home with your duties at work, he will take notice. If you’re fortunate enough to have an empathetic boss, he or she will find ways to accommodate your situation.
But if you’re not lucky enough—you’ll likely end up resenting your boss and even your job, even if they technically have a right to demand better from you. The point here is to shift from a ‘balancing act’ mindset to an alignment mindset, which your boss will probably commend you for.
6. Compartmentalizing Is a Lot of Work
Separating two aspects of your life and simply not allowing each to overlap or interfere with one another is a lot of work. It’s like living a double life. If your day-to-day reminds you of being like this superhero who has to put on a costume (think Spiderman) while at work, but you revert back to your ordinary self once you get home (think Peter Parker), you’re obviously doing a balancing act.
Compartmentalizing takes effort, and for those who have learned that the effort is just not worth it, they look for a job that doesn’t need them to create two distinct personalities. Compartmentalizing makes you ask yourself the question, ‘where am I being my authentic self?’
Writing for Shine at Work, Patricia Thompson tells us that after she got married and had a son, she “was unable to compartmentalize work as [she] had done before.”
“When work was really busy,” she adds, “[she] felt overwhelmed, and sometimes even guilty when [she] was working in the evenings. And, at those points, the crappy culture was a lot harder to tolerate—[she] even resented it.”
When you’re subscribed to work-life alignment, thinking about boundaries and compartments becomes a thing of the past. You are being authentic both at work and at home—most importantly, you are being yourself.
7. Employers Will Be Able to Retain Talent Better
Lastly, and this is for employers and managers—they’ll be able to retain talent better, or at least longer. And this also goes for attracting the right people. Employers have to be transparent with applicants as early as the hiring process when it comes to work demands.
Employers who perpetuate the idea of work-life alignment know what they’re talking about, because while they want to look attractive to someone who wants more family time, they’re also delivering the message that they don’t take underperforming lightly.
The job adverts of many companies contain false promises of work-life balance, with the fine print of either the posting itself or the employment contract saying something else. An employer can say “work-life balance” too often within a job posting—but as the applicant reads carefully, he’ll tend to realize that the workload is just too heavy or the work schedule is downright unreasonable.
Along with workers, employers also need to shift their mindset and set better expectations. When the person they need for the job is someone who has to put in long hours or maybe show up on weekends, they shouldn’t mention anywhere on their job ad “work-life balance.” That’s misleading.
An employer can better retain talent if expectations are communicated clearly and unrealistic promises are not made in the first place.
The Unrealistic Beliefs of Work-Life Balance
Corporate psychologist and executive coach Patricia Thompson shared in her article Work-Life Balance Is a Myth—Aim for Alignment Instead these two unrealistic beliefs of those who continue to subscribe to work-life balance:
- That your professional life and personal life should be kept completely separate, and that if they overlap too much, you haven’t set good enough boundaries.
- That work and life should be perfectly balanced, and if you can’t maintain a satisfying sense of equity, you’re doing something wrong.
She concluded by saying that if you are in a situation where your personal values are too much at odds with your organization, you might want to take some steps so that you can move on. “Working in toxic culture not only feels bad on a psychological level, it can also be hazardous to your health. Life is short, and sometimes, you just need to take a stand for yourself.”
Time to Make the Switch!
Maybe you didn’t have to quit your job out of being overwhelmed by two opposing sides? Perhaps all you needed was a step back to reflect on the way you’ve approached work. Like it or not, work is a place where your personality and characteristics are molded, reinforced, or changed. Work is a place of influence, and it’s also a place where real relationships can be built.
It’s never too late to make a switch and shift your mindset. You can start by accepting that work-life balance is just a myth that the mainstream sold, or was maybe this idea that, just because your job sucked, you had to make up for it by living an awesome life.
Work-life alignment is easier, you don’t need to draw boundaries, and you can be your authentic self wherever.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Greg de la Cruz