They just don’t get it

Somewhat tangentially related to my last disappointment in the older but wiser generation's lawyers and their attitudes about young-ish attorneys came this priceless nugget...

In consulting with an "expert" about what a symposium on the issue of work-life balance should focus on, the expert's first piece of advice was that our speaker should tell people what work-life balance really is because "it is [his] experience that today's young attorneys don't really know what it is." What? Excuse me? Why don't you just go ahead and tell me what my priorities are or should be while you're at it?

[More after the jump]

Oh sure, I suppose that one way to "fix" all the whining by young associates about work-life balance issues is to define (or re-define?) it in some way so as to make the complaints and concerns go away. You could, for example, always define it as a woman-only issue, a moms-only issue, an overpaid lawyers-only issue, a wealthy-professionals-only issue -- whatever. You could always make the definition focused on the individual trying to balance their life without any mention of the professional culture. I actually don't know how this expert would define it but I do know that I don't need him to define it for me. To me, the definition of work-life balance is something like that famous supreme court justice's definition of pornography -- You know when you see it. In other words, I know that my work and my non-work life are not balanced, when I know that they aren't balanced. (I'd like to add a "Damn it!" to the end of that for emphasis.)

Basically, I define work-life balance (the verb) as the constant effort to make sure that my work and my non-work each get the amount of me that is in line with their relative importance in my life. If work gets more attention than it is worth, I'm not balanced. (For me, personally, the scales never tip the other way. However, I could imagine a scenario when they would and that would be if I wasn't working full-time -- again that's just me personally.) I define work-life balance (the noun) as my personal allocation of myself (my time, my energy, my mind, etc) to work and non-work. I truly believe that the right allocation is different for everyone.

So, here is my question for the readers/comments on this site: How do you define work-life balance?



Work-life balance is a verb.  It is the action of see-sawing or tottering between spending time on work-related projects and the rest-of-your-life-related projects.  Because it is a verb, the action of work-life balance is always in motion.  Therefore, it can never be "balanced" where "balanced" means equal.  A person with work-life balance understands that there are continuous adjustments made (actions) to work and life.  Those adjustments do not necessarily lead to happiness/satisfaction at that moment but create satisfaction when the average of the actions is computed.


I think work-life balance involves not having to choose one over the other, to the point where one suffers. I think of it in terms of the employer first, not the employee, as in it's the employee's job to try and provide that, not the employee's job to desperately try and find it. In all honesty the first thing that comes to mind when I hear that term is parenting - that your job gives you opportunities to have enough time to raise your kids so you don't feel like you're missing out on their childhood.
More than anything, to me work-life balance is about choices, flexibility, and openness to adjust your schedules as either work or "real life" requires.


I ran across this from another article and thought it would be applicable here:


Totally agree with the first commenter—work/life balance means that I'm satisfied with how much time and energy I'm spending on both work and my outside life and family. I might be fine pulling long hours for a great project as long as I know there's an end in sight. There might be other times when I need to devote the bulk of my attention to my family. My balance, like everyone's, will shift over time.
I think that's why flexibility is so crucial. If I feel like my job allows me to achieve balance, whatever I need it to be at that time in my life, I'll be much happier at work. On the other hand, even if I love my job, if I think there's no way I can be happy at work and still fulfill my outside commitments, I'll leave.
The reason balance is so important to our generation, I think, is that with dual-career couples there's no one at home to pick up the slack. You can't have the all-consuming job and ignore your family, knowing and expecting that the wife will take care of the household. (And we don't WANT to either.)


For me there can be no balance when I have no idea what will be dumped on my desk at 6pm. I realize that total control like the 9-5 job is not really possible but within some parameters it is.
 I used to work for a partner you could set your clock by - he'd sit down at his desk at 7:30am and he'd get up and leave at 7:30pm. He would say that unless you had a very good reason (like a transaction closing the next day or an international phone conference) we shouldn't be working any later than he was. He really did see his job as a 12 hour day and after that he didn't have to answer to anyone. Well as a partner of course he didn't, but neither did those lawyers who worked for him which was great.
 That was in the tropics, getting to work by 7:30am was not that unusual.
For me balance means that I am not missing out on dinner at home, or putting my child to bed more than occasionally. That means I want to be home by 7:30pm. If that means I have to go in at 7am I will. I'm not shirking the hours, but I want to know that after a certain point that is it for the day, its just a job not a lover, and I can go home to my family. Before I had children I wanted that end-point to be no later than 8pm. Now it has to be 7pm or I would never see my son at all except in the mad morning rush to get ready for daycare.
Flexibility over time may be part of it but I think flexibility per se is quite a dangerous concept in work-life balance debates. It almost always signifies that you can go home early where there's nothing on (big deal, of course we would!) and you stay until all hours when the partner says so (even if he only says so at 6pm). Flexibility in law firms is usually a one-way street.

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