March 25th, 2016

I recently read an article entitled Why We Suck at Work-Life Balance, and How We Can Suck Less by Mark Nichols, published on the website As an executive coach I have worked with plenty of clients who could count themselves charter members of the suck at work/life balance club.


In his article Nichols offers three good reasons why many people are so poor at getting their work/life equation more balanced. A little more “life”, a little less “work”. Of the three reasons he lists, the one he focuses on most is the all too common company culture that gives lip service to “balance” while reinforcing long work hours through covert, and sometimes overt pressure. You know: the executive who talks about never seeing his family as if it’s some kind of badge of honor. The boss who sends out emails at 2am. The not so subtle implication that people who want to get ahead need to be reading and responding to the boss’s 2am email threads. Etc.

It’s difficult to achieve anything like work/life balance working in a company where this is the norm.

So Forget Work/Life Balance

The concept of work/life balance sets up a false dichotomy. The work/life balance paradigm says we are either working or we are living our lives. The idea is we are better off when we can strike an equitable balance between the time we spend living and our time working to earn the money to live. In this paradigm we tend to ask ourselves questions like: How can I make more time for my life, family, social life, etc.? How can I manage my work time better? How do I deal with a boss who expects me to be at his beck and call 24/7? How do I show people I’m a hard worker worthy of that next promotion?

But in reality work is just one of the things you do in your whole life, not some separate activity. Part of the time you are living on Earth you spend exchanging labor for money. These two are only separate if you buy into the false dichotomy of work/life balance.

Instead of searching for work/life balance, integrate work into a well-lived life.

Different Questions

From this perspective some different questions come to mind:

  • To what extent am I wholeheartedly engaged in my life, including what I do at work?
  • Am I bringing all of myself to family, friends, community, and my work, irrespective of how much time I spend in each of these areas?
  • What do I value?
  • To what extent does how I spend my time align with what I value?
  • What do my employees value, and what can I do to support them in wholeheartedly engaging in their lives, including the work we do together?
  • What might I want to change?

In Reality…

For most of us, answers to these questions will vary over time. What you value in your 20s is – or will be – different than in your 30s and 40s. My clients who are in their 50s and beyond almost all report even more change in what they value and how that shows up in what they want to do with their time. We may also experience changes week to week, month to month, season to season.

If you are frustrated because you don’t believe you have enough time outside of work and can’t figure out how to get it, or/or you are feeling pressure from family to spend more time with them, set aside the idea of work/life balance try looking at the whole of your life from a different perspective.

What I’ve found is when people take the time to figure out what they really value, and discover what it takes for them to be wholeheartedly engaged in all of their lives, they experience greater success and wellbeing all around. How and where they need to spend their time becomes clear. They are comfortable saying no when they need to because it is based on a solid foundation of values. They have the conversations they need to have with their bosses, families, colleagues, and others to make living their values work. At the same time, the people around them – family, bosses, colleagues, employees, friends – get more of what they need in the form of authentic connection and wholehearted engagement.