Redefining Work-Life Balance: Achieving Harmony Through Resilience
Jun 01, 2015 01:38AM
● By Michael Pergola
As the middle class grew in the 1970s, labor-saving devices became more readily available and women began to enter the work force in larger numbers. At the same time, the demand for more leisure and more meaning from work and life exploded as a cultural ideal. Today, that desire collides with the increasing demands of high-profile jobs for both men and women – where 60-hour work weeks and constant electronic access to work responsibilities are prevalent. The expectation of more leisure, meaning and work-life balance has also become a struggle for those with less lucrative jobs merely seeking to earn a living as the middle class that flourished after World War II continues to shrink in the early years of the 21st century.
There is an issue when an idea that was supposed to herald meaningful and healthier life has become a multiplier of the very stress it was intended to reduce. The term work-life balance rose in popularity in the United States in the 1980s, taking the lead from a common notion that happiness increased as the separation between work and play diminished. The idea of harmony may be a more useful notion than work-life balance when framing the question of what truly matters to individuals and as a society.
Rising Stress in Searching for Balance
Given the additional stress of modern life and the demands placed on women as they succeed in the conventional work force, the stress on these primary providers of “mothering” and nurturing has grown significantly. The significance of mothering should be clearer than ever with what is known today about epigenetics – the study of how the environment causes genes to change and healthy or less healthy traits to emerge in growing children. However, this does not seem to be the case as American society seems generally unsupportive of mothers and “mothering.”
Steven L. Sauter, chief of the applied psychology and ergonomics branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, states that “the workplace has become the single greatest source of stress.”
“Seventy-five to 90 percent of physician visits are related to stress and…problems caused by stress have become a major concern to both employers and employees. Symptoms of stress are manifested both physiologically and psychologically,” according to the Employee Assistance Professionals Association in Arlington, Virginia.
Work-life balance became a societal ideal around the same time the American culture began to encourage people to actually work more hours and have less balance. “The perfect equilibrium of work and personal time is a noble goal to strive for, but the reality is that few can achieve and sustain it. (If you do meet someone who has it all figured out, chances are they will be back at it again in a year’s time.) Life is messy, and one week or month almost never resembles the next,” suggests Kristi Hedges in her 2013 “R.I.P. Work-Life Balance” article in Forbes.It may be that it is time to readjust the thinking about work-life balance.
It seems that people with a passionate commitment often invest tremendous energy in that commitment. An important example is a mother with a newborn baby. A good mother may be so dedicated to her child’s well-being that balance is the last thing on her mind, except of course when lack of sleep becomes too great and it is time for some help.
It is also interesting to note that women took on new duties in the workforce while still being primarily responsible for the home and children. This happened at a time when extended families were breaking down and the help of grandparents and aunts was less available at times of great demand–such as a new baby, house or job. It is worth noting that the notion of work-life balance came into wide usage about the same time that the notion of marriage and relationships sought more equality and joint participation and the level of divorce was increasing dramatically. The deeper question looming under all of this may be what it is you truly want and what will bring happiness?
It is possible the notion of work-life balance was a response to situations where the balance that naturally exists in a genuine community was breaking down as the culture became more isolated yet more driven by accumulating economic success and possessions.
A New Grail: Harmony Via Resilience
It may be that harmony and resilience are more appropriate words than balance as an ideal to seek. In harmony, the cacophony of disparate sounds is blended together as point and counterpoint in order to resolve the tension of the opposites and create beauty. You may seek a life of passion dedicated to what matters to you and, in such a life, there are times of balance but they are few. What is more prevalent is dedication and immersion in those things that really matter – without reaching a level of exhaustion – so the blend of genuine enthusiasm creates a harmony and a vibration of light that carries your life to deeper levels of meaning and satisfaction.
It may be that the aspiration embodied by the notion of work-life balance is a hope for more meaning and a life of harmony, purpose and beauty. But it may also be the case that you have not yet created the structures, nor learned how to orient your life in ways that actually support such an aspiration.
The notion of resilience – the capacity to adjust successfully to changes in your internal and external environments – may well be a key need for a life of harmony and this resource may be the only hope for attaining a semblance of work-life balance during the uncertainty of 21st century life.
Michael Pergola is president of The Graduate Institute and a progressive educational leader, business executive, lawyer, banker, coach, consultant and an ordained interfaith minister. The Graduate Institute is located at 171 Amity Rd, Bethany. He can be reached at 203-874-4252. See ad, page 17.