Yesterday while driving home, I noticed a bumper sticker as I waited at a light. It read: “I had a life, but my job ate it.”
Fitting that this car should stop next to me. As you can imagine, the message bothered me on a number of levels. (I was a deer in headlights for a moment, requiring a reminder from the driver behind me the light had changed.) On one hand, with all that is written about work-life balance — you would think we were beginning to get a handle on the issue. On the other hand, it dawned on me that we may need more than a brief refresher concerning the potential contributors to the “out of balance” state.
We blame our jobs for eating up out time. However, I doubt it is that simple. We are there as well. It is possible that we contribute (not fully cause, mind you) to the situation.
A few things to think about:
- We’re really having a time/task management issue. Life can be busy – often exceedingly so. As a result, we need to examine our use of time and the value we afford it. (If we don’t value our own time, no one else will.) Often when we complain of a lack of time, we actually are suffering from a task crisis. More specifically, we are not prioritizing or possibly eliminating, tasks that add little to our lives at work (or outside of the office for that matter.)
- We’re not striving for the right kind of “peace”. I’m not convinced that “balance” is the right goal. (Somehow that brings to mind a precariously perched set of spinning plates). When you examine the roles of busy and productive people, we find that there are times that work-life balance isn’t really “balanced” at all. In fact, there are moments when a shift towards one direction or another (work or personal life) is required and healthy. Maybe we should shoot for a different goal, somewhat like the one discussed in this recent HBR posts entitled: Work-Life “Balance” Isn’t the Point.
- Organizations just aren’t listening. We cannot have a healthy sense of balance, if organization aren’t listening to our needs. Sure we’re all prepared to pitch in when we have an important or meaningful deadline. However, when every day brings drama and stress — this is an entirely different situation. If employees are expressing that processes and procedures need to change, for the well being of all involved, organization certainly need to take notice and make changes. Leaders take note.
- We’re not engaged (and we’re not talking about it). I’m not sure how you feel about this, but sometimes I enjoy being “out of balance”. When I am on deadline or working on an interesting topic, I love the power that comes with the feeling of being truly connected to my work. My litmus test? If I am so “job involved”, that the time flies by. If your job doesn’t align with your strengths and provide a core sense of energy — you need to do something about it. Seek engagement in your work life at every turn. If not, I fear that every moment at work will seem like an intrusion on our “real lives”.
What else may be operating here? Share your thoughts.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist. She also writes for Linkedin and US News & World Report.
5 thoughts on “I Had a Life…But My Job Ate It?”
I never heard anybody on their death bed say I wish I would have worked more.
I’ve learned in my career that being highly engaged in my work can create an atmosphere that makes work/life balance more tenuous. Becoming absorbed in a high intensity project can lead to great results and be very rewarding but it also can create the perception that results are relatively easy to produce and expectation that very high intensity is the norm at all times which can be unrealistic. It is my responsibility to inform management when expectations are too aggressive. Unrealistic expectations can lead to quality issues or missed deadlines. I’ve been fortunate in my recent roles that my input about expectations is valued and considered. The best approach I’ve found is to speak up and be specific about my concerns. It’s about work/life balance but it is also about working in an environment where you can do your best work and not let unrealistic deadlines undermine quality output. After all, how rewarding can the job be if you can’t produce your best work?
I agree with your final point that we should be striving for work that engages us so much that we don’t feel the need to escape from it. Work and life can go together beautifully, if you’re enjoying (on the whole) the work you’re doing.
Work Life Balance always seems like a category mistake to me. Work is not something that exists outside of your Life. Just as Time is not something that exists outside of you – it just seems that way.
I had a job promising enough to not just intrude – but to take away my real life, I made sure to keep it far away and watch the real me.