In my last blog I revealed the new (to me) term of ‘work-life integrity.’ I described how it was an eureka term for me and my chagrin at having failed to coin the term myself and why I felt it was a godsend. There is no question that it fits perfectly with the message I have been broadcasting for the past few years. But, even so, its immediate value was as a replacement for the more widespread term ‘work-life balance.’
For me the term ‘work-life balance’ is a dangerous distortion that leads to quixotic quest that you could compare to looking for the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end. I explained why before and don’t need to repeat my justification here. However, I would like to expand on it.
You see, it is not that I don’t understand what drives the concept of work-life balance or why it has become so popular and widely pursued. It is just that – as I also said in “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” – I see it as “generating a kind of schizophrenia that is hardly conducive to greater productivity and the development of self-esteem and ownership.” To put it another way, I see the effort to create work-life balance as causing and perpetuating a never-ending conflict between your work life and your non-work life. Of course you want to keep to a balance, but by making it an issue you risk making it a source of stress and so more of an issue than it needs to be.
This source of potential stress naturally has its roots in the fact that the common element is time. And there is no getting away from it, because time is the common measure of human life. However, it is one that is fraught with difficulties and one which I suggest we should be looking to minimise.
First, however, I would draw your attention to this article “Why we have to go back to a 40 hour work week to keep our sanity.” There is a great deal of common sense here and little to which any reasonable person could take exception. I am sure that, like me, you will agree with most of it. And possibly not least because it provides a solid base for the whole ‘work-life balance’ proposition.
Yet this is where we come back to the whole time argument. Just stop for a moment to think. Where does this whole idea of a 40 hour week originate? As the author points out, it has its roots in the trade union endeavours to improve working conditions in the industrial era of the late 19th and early and mid 20th centuries. And that was a time when labour was largely mechanical and regimented. However, how appropriate is it in today’s world?
Surely a key aspect of knowledge work is that it makes the difference between people starker? No two people will take the same time to perform the same task. So why on earth should you prescribe a standard 40 hour week? The most important thing has to be that the job gets done. So if your employee can do the job in 35 hours why expect him/her to “be a bum in the seat” for 40 hours? Of course the HR manual might decree it in accordance with the letter of appointment, but that doesn’t make the policy right. And the converse is equally true. They may do the job in 45 hours. So what does that matter, if they are happy and you don’t pay for those extra 5 hours?
If you think about it, the whole idea of measuring performance on the basis of hours spent is a habit – a legacy from a bygone age that may not always be appropriate. (Obviously it depends on the nature of the work.) Yes, you may say, but you need something to have some sort of leverage over your employees. Only if you are steeped in the command and control style of traditional management, where trust is always an implicit issue.
The fact is if you replace the ‘work-life balance’ with a ‘work-life integrity’ mindset you can start to lift yourself out of the shackles of such historical thinking. Especially, when you take the next step and create that ‘work-life integrity’ through employee ownership that I described previously. This will:-
- Align employer and employee and make value of work the key focus of the employment contract;
- Reduce or eliminate the potential for stress implicit in trying to balance work and life;
- Make it the individual employee’s responsibility to sort out their own life and remove the unnecessary management burden that you suffer at present and so help reduce your stress levels and improve the quality of your life.
This certainly seems better than “going back” to a 40 hour week as the article suggests. After all, when in history has mankind ever gone back? Besides, making people responsible for their own performance might just be the antidote to Parkinson's Law that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." Which makes it the panacea for productivity you seem to have been pursuing forever! Doesn't it? So you will consider it, won't you?