Tackling the Work/Life Balance Challenge

By Ken Garner
In March 21, 2014

I read an article on “work/life” balance in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review and it sparked the continuation of a debate I’ve been having with myself for years. Let’s begin with how the notion is defined, “work vs. life” seems to suggest some kind of battle between good and evil.  It’s not that I doubt the value of the notion of some level of balance between the hours spent working and the time we spend with family and social pursuits. It’s just that after over four decades of working for a living, I have begun to seriously doubt that any real sense of balance can exist. I’ve come to the conclusion that the notion of a work/life balance is a myth.

There are just too many realities that conspire against us. Let’s start with the ratio between the hours we spend at work compared to the hours we spend at home. It’s a disproportionate relationship that grows as your work related responsibilities grow. For many of us, getting through a long, challenging work day leaves little energy for quality time at home. And, when we do get home the normal complement of child duties and home maintenance leave us exhausted. Of course, we have all encountered those who wear the hours spent working at home and in the office as some kind of badge of honor; however, those folks typically don’t want to talk about the quality of their family life. To me, it’s logical that the energy we have to expend is proportionate to the relationship between work and “play”.

Over my career, the most sinister threat to any sense of balance has been related to technology. Often positioned as “the key to productivity and efficiency” advances in technology have become more like an unbreakable shackle to work. It’s just not possible to “drop off the grid” anymore. Even when away from the office, the ever-present laptop, tablet, or smart phone keep you “connected”. Yes, I know all devices have an “on” and “off” switch. I apparently lack the discipline, fortitude, common sense, or whatever, to actually disconnect the device that umbilical connects me to the mother ship. Apparently, a lot of you out here are just like me as evidenced by the number of business communications I get after hours. When was the last time you took a real vacation – you know, when your entire focus is on relaxing and recharging rather than thinking about what fires are being fought back in the office?

Technology has even impacted the way we socialize. Yes, social media sites enable us to connect with a wider group of friends for extended periods of time; however, communications now take the form of Facebook posts, e-mails, texts, and tweets. Nobody writes letters anymore.

Don’t look to me for an answer. There are hundreds of books on the subject. I know because I’ve read many of them. I have not been successful in my pursuit of a lifestyle that accommodates all the demands on my time with a lasting sense of balance. Some days are simply better than others. I’ve made peace with this reality.

I’m told that my blogs need to include “calls for action” in order to be effective. I’m not sure what action is called for following this rant. I would enjoy hearing your point of view. Let me know if you think that any sense of real balance between “work and life” exists. Tell me if you reject my cynical notion that any sense of real balance has long since become impossible. Tell me how you achieve the balance we all crave. Or, tell me you agree with me and support your point of view with the challenging examples you face on a daily basis.

Ken Garner

President & CEO Ken Garner joined Epicomm – then the Association of Marketing Service Providers – in November 2008 as its President and CEO after a 33 year career in the printing industry – all with the same company. He joined United Litho, a heatset web magazine printing company, after receiving his undergraduate degree. Working his way up the corporate ladder from janitor/delivery driver he held a variety of jobs including V.P of Operations and V.P. of Sales and Marketing. He spent the last 12 years of his printing career as United Litho’s president. In 1994, he engineered the sale of the company to the Sheridan Group and became a member of its Leadership Team.

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