Work / Life Balance Is Unrealistic for Small Business Owners – Try Work Life Integration Instead


Work / Life Balance Is Unrealistic for Small Business Owners – Try Work Life Integration Instead

It was in the later 1970’s in the UK that the expression “work–life balance” was first used as a way of describing the need for a balance between one’s work and personal life. According to Wikipedia it was first used in the USA in 1986. In both cases it came from Management Consultants.

The concept is the same in both countries – people need to achieve a balance between their work and their non-work (un-work) activities. This has to commonly mean that it has to be a 50 / 50 balance.

This entire concept of balance implies that there is firstly a conflict between the two and that some sort of balance is required with the further implication that it should be 50/50.

This is wrong – there is no work life balance – just life and where you choose to focus your energies and efforts. Work and Life are ‘umbrella’ terms that act as labels that arbitrarily divide all of the things that make up our existence. Family, Children, deadlines, projects, hobbies, TV, reading, exercising etc. Depending upon where you are in life, education, business or career – the amount of energy spent on non-work and on work activities will vary.

But rarely will they ever be in ‘balance’.

The rise of laptops, then of mobile phones, tablets and smart devices has meant work had “intruded” further and further into people’s personal and home lives, and the mainstream media is filled with hand wringing about what this all means, and one-size fits all prescriptions about how to redress it.

There’s a fundamental problem with the oft-touted antidotes to overworking and burnout are presented in tidy, bullet-point form.

-Set and stick to a rigid schedule.
-Delegate more.
-Set boundaries.
-Be present. (mindful)

There is nothing wrong with practical advice that enables you to ‘hack’ your productivity but these platitudes generally don’t really do anything more than allow you to better keep up with what the world is throwing at you every working day.

Although they are touted as the means to bringing work / life into balance – they really don’t. These ‘hacks’ also rarely acknowledge the trio of largest relationships we have in our lives – with ourselves, with our family / significant other and with our work.

A far better way to think of our lives is to consider Work / Life Integration or even the more woo-woo sounding Work / Life Harmony.

Both of these terms reinforce the sensible view that our lives are more than a stark choice between Work and what we do at ‘Non-work’.

Work and Life should not be seen as an ‘either / or’ choice that has to be made between two opposites; but rather as work and life being interconnected and interdependent upon each other.

In fact, if you are an Entrepreneur and even traditional Small Business owner; you probably already view things this way – even if subconsciously. It’s fundamental to the entrepreneurial lifestyle – Life is simply life, and work is a part of that life – especially if you are passionate about what you do.

This means that as you plan out your time, you apply priorities to everything in that life that is important to you or that you want to achieve. As an Entrepreneur you can mix up your time to largely suit your priorities. – some personal, some business, some family, but all Life – throughout your day and week.

This of course means an increase in personal responsibility and liability – you simply can’t strive for Work / Life integration unless you accept responsibility for making it happen. This means developing the understanding of how to best apply priorities to family and friends; exercise and nutrition; ‘me time’ and a likely demanding work schedule.

And we are not through yet – there is one more layer to add – cultivating a daily sense of enjoyment and accomplishment in at least one of the areas that go to make up our complete life.

Accomplishment is a concept we all understand – we finish a task, overcome a challenge, complete a thing. Enjoyment needs a closer look – enjoyment does not just mean feeling happy, joyous or having a belly laugh – it should also mean satisfaction and pride; celebration and reflection, love and pleasure. In short enjoyment is the current, the juice that makes us feel alive.

To truly (ahem!) work towards Work Life integration, you need to recognise which areas under both ‘umbrellas’ that are important to you and then try to achieve a sense of enjoyment and accomplishment in each of them on a daily basis. Not all at once, and not in every area you have decided is important to you but rather in at least one. The important thing is to be able to feel a real sense of accomplishment and partake of some enjoyment daily.

I realised a long time ago that it is meaningless to separate work and life. It is far better to realise it is all part of the same whole and to integrate it in a way that works. For you.

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  • Michael Hanrahan

    Great article Geoff! This is an issue I’ve been struggling with as our business has grown. I really like your fresh perspective. It’s given me some new ways to think about how my business sits in my life.

  • Reply

    It’s challenging to find knowledgeable people on this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about!

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