It’s hardly contentious to say that a healthy work life balance is a good thing. Why then do I feel myself bristling whenever I hear the phrase ‘work life balance’? Quite simply, it’s a matter of perception – where is the balance point?What bugs me is the commonly accepted notion that when it comes to a conflict between work and ‘life’, the latter automatically takes precedence. I beg to differ. Work should be more important than that to all of us. Work is how we feed, clothe and house ourselves and our families. Strip away the trappings of civilisation, and as human animals we either hunt (or farm) or we and our families starve to death. The provision of a welfare state, that rightly meets the needs of those who genuinely cannot look out for themselves, has created the illusion that a life of freedom is our birthright, and work is something that others seek to impose on us and that we can do or not do as we please.
Here’s a quote from E F Schumacher’s classic work, Small is Beautiful:
The Buddhist point of view takes the function of work to be at least threefold: to give a man a chance to utilise and develop his faculties; to enable him to overcome his egocentredness by joining with other people in a common task; and to bring forth the goods and services needed for a becoming existence. Again, the consequences that flow from this view are endless. To organise work in such a manner that it becomes meaningless, boring, stultifying, or nerve-racking for the worker would be little short of criminal; it would indicate a greater concern with goods than with people, an evil lack of compassion and a soul-destroying degree of attachment to the most primitive side of this worldly existence. Equally, to strive for leisure as an alternative to work would be considered a complete misunderstanding of one of the basic truths of human existence, namely that work and leisure are complementary parts of the same living process and cannot be separated without destroying the joy of work and the bliss of leisure.
Schumacher, E F (2011-05-31). Small Is Beautiful (Kindle Locations 703-710). Random House UK. Kindle Edition.
What Schumacher was arguing against was the march of mechanisation, and the dehumanisation of work. I believe that what he is saying works equally in other contexts. Work should not be automatically under-valued in comparison to one’s non-working life.
For more than twenty years I’ve been involved in starting and growing small businesses. These businesses have provided for me and my family, and they’ve also provided – through employment – for numerous others and their families. I take a good deal of satisfaction from that, but many people would say that for most of that time my work-life balance has been out of kilter, to the point where it’s been downright unhealthy. I don’t think so. However, I’ve been blessed with a wife who shares my views. She recognises, as reluctantly sometimes as I do, that when a conflict arises between leisure time and the demands of business, it’s business that tends to trump any other considerations.
I believe that if one is to be successful in starting and building a business, or simply working for a small business, one must accept that the work-life balance must necessarily be biased towards work. If you can’t accept that, fine. Just do yourself and everyone around you a favour and get yourself employed in the public sector or a large PLC (there’s not a lot of difference).