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Work-Life Balance is an Outdated Goal

Posted by: Penelope Trunk on June 30

It might be that the whole issue of work-life balance is generational. Young people don’t believe work-life balance is possible, and they are searching for an alternative.

Recent work history points to colossal work-life-balance failure. For example, the baby boomers tried it, and ended up inventing the term latchkey kids. And when the latchkey kids grew up (generation X) and became parents themselves, they became the most hands-on parents the world has seen – inventing terms like the opt-out revolution and shared care parenting.

But generation Y sees both these options, largely, as failures. In the eyes of the millennial generation, it’s a failure to never be home with your kids, and it’s a failure to give up your career in order to parent. You could say that these young workers will see things differently when they have kids. But that’s probably not true.

Generation y sees work and life as blended rather than competitive with each other. Who, after all, really wants work that competes with their life? It makes sense that they would complement each other.

And this is where technology comes in. The Blackberry is a source of information overload to people who experience information overload – mostly those over age thirty. To those under age thirty, they are so good at managing the fast and endless flow of huge amounts of information, that they do not experience a feeling of information overload. They are in permanent sift-and-synthesize mode.

This state of information processing at all times means that work and life blend as a mélange of ideas and connections that are coming through, largely, the same sources. Are you wondering if you are going to be able to manage your work and life in a way that you don’t have to feign that balance is possible? Are you wondering if you can manage connections for both people and information in a way that makes a blend of work and life possible? It comes down, not really, to when you were born, but how you use media.

So figure out how to use social media and productivity tools in a way that blend your work and your life so they help each other. And if you want to know what generation you are really part of, here’s a test.

Reader Comments

The GenXFactor

July 1, 2008 09:22 AM


I am a solid genXer and former journalist who became accustomed to work encroaching on my home life. It was the industry I chose and I didn't mind it. I have since switched careers and posses a Blackberry, cell phone, laptop, etc. and I am forever linked to my office. In return for availing myself to my job 24/7, I would like to have some flexibility on the front end. The ability to go to my daughter's school assembly, for example, in exchange for work done that took up an entire evening.

I most definitely see technology as a way to blend work and life. The office is mobile and I don't think anyone needs to be glued to a desk to prove his or her worth to an organization.


July 1, 2008 10:55 AM

Penelope didn't take a job with a Lifestyle Magazine?

In Colorado

July 1, 2008 11:36 AM

Work and life blend in with each other? Maybe if your business is your hobby. The truth is that most of the tasks that make the world go around aren't fun. There is a reason its called work and you have to pay people to do it. I'll keep the office and home seperate, thank you vey much.


July 2, 2008 07:41 AM

I agree – information overlaod is a pain. That's why I have recently started a blog which is devoted to the subject of information overload and how to deal with it - check it out!

Also, we will be launching a new Web 2.0 platform for alert services and reminders that will make it easier to deal with IO. Comments are always welcome!

The GenXFactor

July 2, 2008 12:19 PM

Here’s a truth: In most of the discussions about flexible workplaces, work/life balance and the like, service industry jobs are not necessarily included. For example, the people at drive thru windows who take food orders, the construction worker who builds or the gas station cashier who rings up purchases can’t do a single aspect of their jobs from home. At the same time, these jobs can allow for flexible scheduling. Employees can often choose their shifts.

In other types of jobs, knowledge-based, professional jobs that can be very life- consuming, creative and flexible options need to be available in order to help the employee manage their lives and their work. For many, including genXers and genYers, the answer can mean blending work and life.

Chicago Media Gal

July 3, 2008 11:57 AM

I personally think it is very important for me to like my job - a lot - I'm a GenY. I spend at least 8 hours a day at work and many times I check email via BlackBerry from home at night or even lug my laptop home to finish up projects. My husband - a GenXer - doesn't need to love his job. I feel if I'm sacrificing time away from my daugther and husband I need to really enjoy what I'm doing.

I think this enjoyment keeps me from feeling resentment if I do need to "get online" in the evenings occassionally.

Here is what I can't stand tho: Feeling pressure to log 50-60 hours per week in the office. Many times just to feel like I'm putting in equal time vs. my peers and boss(es). The scale that values quantity vs. quality is so off the mark. How do you get management to shift away from that old paradigm?


July 7, 2008 02:30 PM

OK so there are people who believe that work-life balance is outdated. I was starting to believe that I was the only one thinking that there shouldn't be a term like that. Work is just part of life and does not compete with it. If people love what they do, is there any question about work vs life?

I do not agree that fundamentally work not = fun. If that was the case then I would think there should not be any gardeners because its completely boring. But that's just my point of view, there are many others who love gardening and take it up as a profession. So a job that one person hates might be the most fun for another. And if we all do what we love we would not be talking about achieving balance.

I recently attended a conference about work-life balance with Dr. Stewart Friedman, a very respectable name in that area. I went there to hear different points-of-view on the topic from people who believed there is no balance in their lives. I was amazed to hear that so many people are fighting to get it right in their lives. What I did not understand then and now also is why should there be any contradiction in them when they can be well-weaved into each other. It can be done now more than ever before when we have all the tech-tools to help us to do.

I am a GenY and use technology to ease my life, use an iPhone to do all that I love even when I am on-the-go. It makes me efficient and gives me a feeling of contentment and helps me never miss any precious moment in my life. I love my job and believe that work-life balance is a question for those who do not!!!

Kim Shepherd, CEO, Decision Toolbox

July 7, 2008 04:45 PM

Finding Balance in a Virtual World

Finding “work-life balance” is a hot button for so many people simply because “work” and “life” are constantly at war with each other and there’s only so much time to go around. But what if you could integrate the two more closely, become more efficient, and leverage technology to make it happen – from home.

In “Microtrends,” Mark Penn reports that 4.2 million Americans now work exclusively from home (a nearly 100% increase from 1990), while some 20 million do it part time.

“I think we’re moving into a place where the separation of personal and professional is going to go away,” says Kim Shepherd, CEO of Decision Toolbox. “Gen X’ers and Gen Y’ers are doing this a lot. They think of themselves as a whole body. They’re not saying, ‘I don’t want to go to work.’ They’re saying, ‘I want work to be incorporated into my life.’”

She should know – Decision Toolbox is a virtual company with no “sticks & brick” offices and where all of its team members work from home offices. The company abandoned its traditional office space out of necessity, but now considers being virtual a competitive advantage. Kim notes that her team is “exponentially happier and more productive now that we are a virtual company. And when you’re more productive, that leaves extra time for life, whether it’s the dentist or kindergarten graduation.”

The trick is “number one, to trust your people and second, to build the glue so that they aren’t working in silos,” says Shepherd, whose company employs almost 50 people from New Hampshire to New Zealand. Besides all the technology “glue” – a collaborative software platform, VOIP phones, email, and IM and video chat tools – Decision Toolbox holds three All-Staff meetings a year to bring the team together to bond face-to-face. Plus, rather than a traditional management hierarchy, Decision Toolbox’s structure is more of a "circularchy," with the team in the middle, supported by management on all side with whatever tools and support they need to make them happier, jump higher, and run faster.

Decision Toolbox’s employees still juggle work and life demands, but being able to call into work from anywhere and having a management team that supports balance goes a long way to making this daily battle that much easier.


July 10, 2008 09:56 AM

"Work is a means of living, it is not life itself" - Mahatma Gandhi.

I quit a stressful job in a prestigious institution (which I was good at) to work fewer hours in a less glamorous environment, spending more time with family and friends.

I have no regrets.

Laura Davidson

July 17, 2008 01:06 PM

Work-life balance is the number one issue for a successful small business and for retaining employees. At my PR firm, LDPR, it is not only an important management tool for me personally (2 kids at home, 19 "kids" at the office!) but it is the way I attract and maintain good employees.
We actually use an outside coaching firm called "Training by Design" to help us motivate and develop our employees, through both professional development sessions and important discussions about benefits and "what works" for us personally. I probably have one of the lowest employee turnover rates in the PR world. And, as Gen X matures and Gen Y fills the entry level positions, this topic is more important than ever. Happy employees mean happy clients, which means a successful business and less headaches for the small business owner. There just is no substitute for "positive energy" in the office.
--Laura Davidson, president, LDPR

Charles S. Merroth

August 21, 2008 09:37 AM

The work relationship discussions have not hit on the most important problem of our life: turning our society around from one of selfishness and mistrust to one of love and peace. This will be attained through the NEXT the improved nurturing of children from birth. The character of people has been determined to originate in the first years of life.
Nurturing takes place in the home preferably by the parents.Regardless of goals and anticipation of careers,some way must be devised to keep a parent in the home with child for at least a year after birth with a knowledge of how to instill love, honesty and humility. Future generations of work versus family without this will result in a continued more tumultuous society not worthy of anyone's labor.
My proposal is to initiate a three level educational initiative within all schools to be universal, uniform, and mandated nationally. The curriculum will be MyChild: for a Better World.
And will start with 7th grade, then 12th grade, and the final year of any advanced educatiuon if approipriate.
The most important job in the world is parenting and some way must be devised to execute it and with skill and feeling.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Cali Ressler, Jody Thompson and Brazen CareeristBest Buy HR renegades Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson and Yahoo’s “Brazen Careerist” columnist, Penelope Trunk, tell us how to juggle responsibilities without going crazy.

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