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Article: It's not about balance, it's about choices Related Resources

It's not about balance, it's about choices
by Wally Bock

You see articles all the time about "work/life balance." Human Resource Executive Online ran one called "The Balancing Act" with this provocative teaser copy.

"Real-world studies of working managers challenge the view that more time and energy working equals on-the-job effectiveness. In fact, studies show that leaders who achieve more balance between work and their personal lives are rated as significantly more effective by their bosses and by others in the workplace."

This is yet another article that tries to find proof that something called "work/life balance" is good for business or your career. Most extrapolate from limited data or draw conclusions that the data simply don't support. Here's an example from the HREO article.

"In fact, contrary to conventional wisdom, encouraging employees to find time for their families and life outside of the office is good for business." That's the statement. Here's the purported proof.

"According to Fortune magazine's ranking of the "100 Best Companies to Work For" in 2007, four of the best 25 companies also received high marks for promoting a healthy work/life balance." Sounds good, right?

Let's look closely. There's very selective quoting of data. "Four of the best 25 companies" is only 16 percent of that twenty-five. They could be the last four. And they only represent four percent of the total sample of 100 best companies.

And let's note that being named to a "Best Places to Work" list is not a business result. Business results are things like improving profit or improving market share. Being named to a list like this is just doing well in a popularity contest.

Nobody's against balance. You won't find consultants, authors, and pundits advocating an unbalanced life. You won't find managers urging the people who work for them to "choose unbalanced."

That's because the choice isn't between balanced and unbalanced. Instead you have to choose among a number of things to do at any one time.

The choice isn't between work and life either. It's between different ways to use your time that make up all the parts of your life. Business is part of your life. So are your family and friends. So is your personal development and your hobbies.

So you choose among the options available. You can stay late and work on that project. Or you can meet some friends for dinner. Or you can catch up on your reading or your sleep. You choose.

No matter what you choose, there's a trade-off. If you decide to stay at the office, you can't also attend your daughter's dance recital or play cards with your friends.

The activities that you choose to do the most represent the de facto priorities in your life. What you forego the most are, de facto, the parts of you life you value least.

We often get in trouble because we're a species with a short-term orientation. We're a species for whom the urgent often drives out the important. Just remember that choices you make, activity by activity, hour by hour and day by day determine how your life is balanced or not.

Wally Bock may be contacted at

Wally Bock helps organizations improve productivity and morale by selecting and developing great leaders at all levels. He coaches individual managers, and is a popular speaker at meetings and conferences in the US and elsewhere. This article first appeared in the Three Star Leadership Blog ( ). Check out Wally's Working Supervisor's Support Kit. ( ).


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