I recently read an article in Fast Company about burying the term “work-life balance” and embracing “work-life fulfillment” instead. I don’t disagree. I’ve never heard someone say, “I have great work-life balance,” so usually when the term comes up in conversation, it is from someone who is suffering from a lack of balance. I’ve even heard people say about their organizations, “We don’t believe in work-life balance. It might be said that we aspire to it, but in reality, work-life balance isn’t part of our culture.” So the term is almost always used in a negative sense.
While I would love to get rid of this term, no matter what we call it, people today are craving more time for their personal lives. Millennials especially grew up as sons and daughters of baby boomers who, in corporate America, tended to be very focused on work, work, work. These millennials watched their parents struggle with not taking time for themselves, likely missing baseball games, performances at school, and other activities. The term “work-life balance” is part of the vocabulary of this generation. Generally, they don’t want the lives of their parents.
So, while changing our language to a term like “work-life fulfillment” is something I feel is good, it won’t change what younger people today generally want. Most want to have some sort of boundaries, when they can turn their work cell phone off and not have to look at email in the evening or on weekends. The boomers haven’t left the workplace yet, and so many leaders in corporate America still have the tendency to be “on” or “semi on” most of the time. And I’ve seen little success by boomers and Generation X to change their ways. It’s almost as if their experience as young people – maybe in a home that was struggling – helped them come to the conclusion that success came from hard work, not necessarily smart work.
Now, I realize that I’ve made a lot of generalizations – and in actuality, the truth is that every person is different. But if companies want to attract the best and brightest, millennials and Generation Z members are looking for places where they can be themselves and live well while not being “on” at work outside of the normal work week. Some organizations likely feel that these younger generations will figure out that this isn’t always possible. But the companies that accept the new reality and figure it out will generally be the winners for talent.
So, let’s forget the term, any term, and get to work on addressing the issue.