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Is it Your Responsibility to Make Work/Life Balance Work for Your Employees?

Man balancing on a tightropeIf you’re asking author, advertising CEO and performance coach Nigel Marsh, the answer would be an enthusiastic (and Aussie-accented) “No.” In Marsh’s TED talk (you can watch the video at bottom of this post), in which he shares his thoughts on work/life balance and asks the oft-raised question, “What does a life well-lived look like?”, he argues that it’s not up to corporations or outside interests to determine employees’ work/life balance — it’s up to the employees themselves.

Work/life balance (or whatever phrase you want to use to refer to the idea) is often on the minds of employers and employees alike, and it’s an idea that continues to evolve as technology seeps into more and more aspects of our existence and workplace/personal lines are getting even blurrier. Marsh tells the story of his own transformation from a “classic corporate warrior” who was eating, drinking, and working too much and neglecting his family, to someone who turned 40 and decided to turn his life around and spend a year at home with his family — to a man who has, for the seven years since, spent his time struggling with studying and writing about striking a balance between “work” and “life.”

Marsh’s observations during the last seven years have led him to make four observations about work/life balance:

1) If society is to make any progress on this issue, we need an honest debate. The problem, Marsh says, is that all of the discussions about work/life balance involve people complaining about the phrase itself. He also argues that discussions around perks like flex time and dress down Fridays only serve to mask the core issue: That certain career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family. According to him, we need to start acknowledging the core issues and thinking about the issue on another level if we really want to see change.

2) We must be responsible for setting and enforcing the boundaries that we want in our lives. We have to take responsibility for the type of lives we want to lead, Marsh argues — not rely on others to do so. In his words, “If you don’t design your own life, someone might design it for you — and you might not like their idea of balance.” Translation for employers: it’s the job of your employees (and, in your own career, yours) to decide the boundaries needed to make work and personal lives work in harmony — and that formula is going to be different for everyone.

3) We have to be careful (read: realistic) with the time frame upon which we choose to judge the balance in our life. We need to elongate balance, Marsh says, without falling into the trap of, “I’ll have a life when I retire” – or of “I’ll do everything in a day.” It’s not realistic — we must find the middle road, Marsh says. We can’t necessarily achieve everything we want to in a day, but at the same time, we can’t wait until our personal lives have fallen apart because of work to find that perfect balance. And speaking of finding that perfect balance…

4) We need to approach balance in a balanced way. We must attend to various aspects of our lives, including the intellectual, emotional and physical. And the great thing is, Marsh points out, it doesn’t always take a major overhaul to strike more of a balance in our lives — small changes can radically transform the quality of our relationships and of our lives.

Which, Marsh hopes, will bring us to a more thoughtful, balanced definition of what a life well-lived looks like.

I want to know — what are your thoughts as an employer? Do you feel responsible for your employees’ work/life balance, and do you think you have the power to make changes in the workplace that will translate to powerful and lasting changes in their sense of balance? Or do you agree with Marsh — that it’s not the job of an employer to be concerned with an employee’s work/life balance, or that, even if it is, there are no changes you can make to workplace rules and perks that will carry enough weight?

Is work/life balance about changing the structure and fluidity of the workplace to more effectively fit into our personal lives, or more about finding ways to increase our dedication to our personal lives so that they work within our given workplace structures?

Is it really up to an employee to find his or her own way (home)?

Watch Nigel Marsh’s TED talk on work/life balance here:

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.
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