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Work - Life Balance: Is It Time To Change The Name?

Is it time to change the way we think about work / life balance? I'm not sure, but I've become more open-minded on this issue. Allow me to explain.

Is it time to change the way we think about work - life balance? I’m not sure, but I’ve become more open-minded on this issue. Allow me to explain.

Last week, I was speaking at an ISACA Detroit meeting, and an interesting debate came up at dinner. This conversation ensued after my presentation on: Why Security Professionals Fail – And Pragmatic Solutions to Help Succeed. The fun, yet challenging, discussion revolved around strategies for dealing with career burnout.

One person at the table said something to the effect, “We’ve stopped trying to promote work-life balance at my (private sector) company. We now encourage “career-life fit.”

My response was: “Huh? What’s the difference?” Little did I know, I just opened up “Pandora’s Box.”

It turns out that there is quite a bit of difference, and the potential need for change comes from work situations such as:

-          Emergencies: when you need to work long hours for many days in a row? (For example: malware outbreaks, emergency management incidents, etc.)

-          Education: you go for that graduate degree or special certification to get ahead.

-          Career path choices: dealing with seasons in your career when you need to work long hours for extended periods (for example: doctor’s going through internship.)    

-          Promotional considerations: you “go the extra mile” in your office to gain a positive edge on the competition.

-          Seasonal changes that meet your life needs. (For example, you are very busy working long hours for part of the year like tax season, to gain fewer hours in other seasons.)

-          Job changes: your new job requires you to always carry a pager – but you like the extra ‘on call’ pay and/or overtime pay when you are called in.

There are plenty of other examples and situations that don’t reflect “balance” of time at home and work. What is fairly obvious is that all of us go through various seasons of our lives and have different needs. In addition, different employees have very different views on what gives them satisfaction and enjoyment in life. 

New Name - Or Not?

There is a formal movement to change the way we think about these topics. This article on Work-Life Balance vs. Work-Life Fitness  explains some of the questions to ask in this different work/life fitness approach.

 “To achieve work/life fitness, consider the things that you need to do and the things you want to do. What are your professional goals? Do you want to get married and have kids? Do you want to travel? If you have an important deadline coming up or are striving for a promotion, then you may find work/life fitness despite devoting more time to work. Remember, the ratio of work to life that you can take on while maintaining work-life fitness may shift as you progress into different life phases.”

This dialogue also brings up another question: What about the difference needs of men and women? An article from Forbes entitled: Real Men Don't Need Work Life Balance, addresses this question:

“In organizations, while it is acceptable for women to demand flexible work or plan their maternity leave, men seeking similar arrangements or paternity leave is still rare. When it comes to gender neutral programs, such as job sharing, men experience a higher level stigma in the use of such arrangements. Research shows that 48% of men felt that using the arrangements was not a real option. So creation of policy does not equal its utilization.”

How relevant is this topic to the 2013 workforce? Very important! In fact, this issue is often listed as more important than pay to most employees. The Glass Hammer went further with this discussion, while moving to new terms that address employee “fit” within their organizational needs for everyone.  

“Women were more likely than men to cite work life fit as their reason for staying with their employer – but both ranked it as the highest reason (72 percent of women compared with 62 percent of men). In fact, women and men prioritized similarly when it came to why they stayed in their jobs on the next most popular reasons as well: benefits (61 percent of women and 59 percent of men) and money (57 percent of women and 62 percent of men).

But, what may surprise you is that people without children were more likely than people with children to cite work life fit as a key reason for staying in their jobs (67 percent compared to 65 percent).”

What’s The Answer?

So where is this trend heading? How do we deal with unequal scales for men and women or for parents and singles? The New York Times ran this piece that recommended moving away from questions about “where you are going” and to “how will I get my work done” discussions with your boss.

I also think that most of the government employees that I know, who are in either security or technology professional fields, take this work/life issue very seriously. They value their family time and they sacrifice higher pay in the private sector for a government jobs that may better meet their personal situations and commitments.

Still, the new millennial generation is now demanding this same level of attention to work-life fit in both the public and private sectors. I expect that topic will become even more heated over time.

So What Is Work - Life Balance Called Going Forward?

Back to that dinner conversation, and I was beginning to understand the new way of thinking after about fifteen minutes of discussion. That night, I went home and did some research. I found this article which offers Work-Life Balance - By Any Other Name. Here’s an excerpt:

“When a 2008 Sloan Network poll asked readers to choose their favorite term, 46% preferred "work-life balance." Twenty-five percent picked "work-life integration," and 8% liked "work-life juggle" best.

But alternatives have sprouted up everywhere: Cali Williams Yost, author and work-life consultant, promotes "work-life fit"; Cathy Benko, former chief talent officer at Deloitte, opts for the similar term "career-life fit;" Catalyst, a research organization working for the advancement of women, advocates for "work-life effectiveness;" Jodie Benveniste, director of Parent Wellbeing and author, created the phrase "work family flow;" and Paul Nyhan, Seattle Post-Intelligencer family reporter, favors "work-family rhythm."

We each have an important set of metrics in our heads, and we are keeping score. We have an unseen (virtual) time clock that we’re punching. We want fair treatment. We want a boss and coworkers who understand. And we want the flexibility to change our minds, given different life situations and work roles.

I hope your management agrees – no matter what you call it.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.