The new work–life balance
August 29, 2022
The phrase seems increasingly outdated, given how much our work and our lives are now intertwined. It’s time for a new framework.
If you look up the history of work–life balance, you’ll find different takes on the concept’s origins. Many people give credit to Robert Owen, a Welsh manufacturer and the “father of British Socialism,” who decided that labor practices in the early 1800s were too demanding, and so started advocating for a balanced workday of “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest.”
In the 20th century, work–life balance became more of an aspirational lifestyle goal. For anyone who has ever juggled a busy job and raising kids (not to mention taking care of a house), the notion of work–life balance always seemed like a distant dream: a stress-free mix of rewarding work and plenty of quality time for the family, exercise, and sleep. But that’s not how life works, and, in some ways, this idealized sense of balance created a mirage that only served to frustrate people who tried to attain it.
The pandemic seemed to render work–life balance a laughable concept. As white-collar workers set up workstations at home, there was no longer a separation of job and personal time or space. So we need something new, something more useful, to help us think about balance in our lives.
The ExCo Group’s Adam Bryant wrote this article for his column in Strategy + Business.