I have very full days. I work full time, I’m a mom to a kindergartner, I’m a wife, I try to be active in my community—in other words, I’m not unlike lots of folks who juggle a lot on any given day.
Take my to-do list from last Thursday, for example. Some of my tasks between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. included the following: dropping my son off at school, writing a client’s strategic plan, a walk around the block, a networking event where the mayor spoke, emailing with the social worker at my son’s school, a one-on-one with my manager, seeing my therapist, and so so so much email.
I consider this a productive day, but you’ll notice that not everything on this list (which isn’t exhaustive, mind you) is considered “work.” I took a break from email and scheduling the next week’s meetings to see my therapist. In between finishing up a strategic plan for a client and meeting with my boss, I called my son to hear about what he called his “grumpy day.” After resolving a client’s billing issue, I walked around the block to stretch my legs, think, and grab lunch.
Needless to say, this kind of flexibility is a huge privilege and a much-appreciated benefit of my current job. But it also reflects that despite our ideas about “professionalism” and “balance,” our work typically doesn’t fit neatly into a 9-to-5 box, nor does the rest of life confine itself to before- or after-work hours. Work is life. Life is life. Work-life “balance” is…kind of a myth.
This isn’t just millennial entitlement talking – though, full disclosure, I am technically a millennial and I’ve been known to pitch a fit when I can’t fit in a visit with my therapist. Our inability to accommodate the demands of caregiving and parenting, in particular, have economic and human consequences. For example, dads who take time off when they have a newborn often establish closer bonds with their children, which can have positive effects for a lifetime. And when women don’t have paid leave, or otherwise feel they won’t be supported after having a child, they may leave the workforce altogether—it sidetracks their careers and it’s expensive for companies who then have to recruit, train, and retain new employees to replace their longstanding ones.
Companies are beginning to understand more and more that even the standard six-week paid parental leave or twelve-week (unpaid) FMLA doesn’t cut it for most families who take on the work of welcoming another human being into their homes. Big deal corporations like Netflix are offering employees a year of parental leave to acknowledge that maybe folks don’t figure out the whole baby thing in a matter of two months. They also provide unlimited vacation. Because a rested and less-stressed workforce is a happy workforce. Netflix and chill ad infinitum.
This sort of flexibility that Netflix and I espouse is what some have coined work/life integration. I can check email before I have my coffee at 6:30 a.m. I can work remotely after my son is in bed. I can live-tweet on behalf of my firm at an event with the mayor after work hours. When you consider that, a 20-minute restorative walk or a five-minute email exchange unrelated to work-work start to feel like a fair trade. Gone are the days of balance, which conjure images of trying not to tip over in either direction or worse, falling on your face. Integrating work and life—which some might simply call living—is more like a dance. You’re trying to find a rhythm. Some days it’s a foxtrot; other days it’s an intricate, exotic tango. And if you miss a step, you keep moving and try to catch the next beat.
Do you feel the trend toward work-life integration in your life? Do you like it? Do you struggle with it? And how do you make sure the truly important things remain priorities?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on work from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.