7 Misconceptions about Work-Life-Balance

Everyone talks about it, but hardly anyone manages to find a satisfactory way of dealing with their own work-life balance. Is this because the perfect balance is a myth, because employees and employers have different ideas and perceptions about the concept, or is the unstoppable and constant social acceleration of our living and working environments that is ultimately to blame for the fact that the balancing act is a difficult one? In order to get closer to answers to these questions and to illuminate what really matters for a satisfactory work-life balance, this article will clear up 7 of its the biggest misunderstandings.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 1: "WORK" AND "LIFE" ARE OPPOSITES

Based on the Duration of Working-Life Indicator from 2018, a 15-year-old in Austrian can expect to spend an average of 37.1 years of his or her life working. Given the average actual working hours of all employed people in Austria, which is around 36.6 hours per week (as collected by Statistics Austria), a calculation of how many hours of our lives should not count as "life" according to this misleading claim, would probably trigger a major crisis. Conclusion: Work is, of course, part of "life" - and the very concept of work-life balance is inherently polarising and misleading.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 2: "WORK" AND "LIFE" CAN BE WEIGHED UP QUANTITATIVELY

Those who try to quantitatively balance their time resources and investments between "work" and "life" expose themselves to a very great and sadly also impossible challenge. For the sake of argument, let us put aside the therefore necessary, yet ultimately false assumption that "work" and "life" are opposites (which we have already rejected in the first misunderstanding above), as well as the fact that we of course would not set this balance unanimously at 50-50, but rather on the basis of our individual and subjective needs and preferences. Imagine the amount of time resources and energy it would take to make such quantitative trade-offs? Resources that could certainly be used more sensibly elsewhere. After all, since neither development in work nor in private life can be 100% controlled and predicted, such quantification would probably be accompanied by tedious and frustrating corrective calculations.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 3: THE PURSUIT OF A HEALTHY WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS AN INDICATION OF A REFUSAL TO PERFORM

From an industrial and organizational psychology point of view, the prevalence and occurrence of this idea never ceases to amaze. In order to be successful and to achieve the best for oneself and one's company, it is more or less self-evident that one has to be willing to go beyond one's own personal performance limits. But this does not contradict the desire for a satisfactory work-life balance. Quite the opposite. In fact, the pursuit of a heathy work-life balance is a prerequisite that enables us to demonstrate the necessary resilience to withstand pressure even in stressful phases. Work-life balance therefore has alot to do with intelligent resource management. A good marathon runner will also manage his or her energy sensibly and not start the marathon with his finishing sprint.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 4: WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS TO BE EQUATED WITH A CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

From an industrial and organizational psychology perspective, this misconception is perhaps one of the most significant and widespread. In fact, however, work-life balance consists of two components. On the one hand, there are the work-life conflicts, which are preprominent in our perception, buton the other hand, there are also the work-life facilitations, which are mostly overlooked (cf. Shockely & Singla, 2011). While conflict is usually about the negative effects that one system has on the other (e.g. stress at work has a negative effect on family life, or, conversely, family problems often result in a deterioration of performance at work), facilitation is about the fact that the role requirements in one social system are eased by the experiences gained in the other system. To stay with the same example, successes achieved at work can have a positive effect on family life and vice versa. In addition to emotional resources, also gained knowledge, cognitive abilities, etc. can become significant facilitation factors.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 5: MORE FLEXIBILITY MAKES EVERYTHING EASIER

Many employees experience more flexibility in their working lives, especially in terms of working hours, as a welcome development that enables them to better coordinate and attend appointments and activities outside of work. So, the conclusion must be that more flexibility must obviously lead to a better work-life balance. Although this is not entirely wrong in principle, more flexibility can also be a challenge. More flexibility also means more organisational effort, as well as fewer proper rest and work-free phases. This can be observed particularly well, for example, in the extended availability often expected in return for the flexibility, even at undefined working hours. A businees mobile phone ringing in the evening or at the weekend, for example, noticeably reduces the subjective satisfaction with the balance of one's work-life.

However, more flexibility is of course not only an issue of working hours, but also of the place of work. This can be observed, for example, in our current life situation during the corona lockdown period. In the context of the increased home office realities, a widespread experience of a perceived "blurring" of work and non-work time shows how challenging flexibility, with all its positive aspects, can be for a good work-life balance.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 6: THE "LIFE" IN WORK-LIFE BALANCE STANDS FOR LEISURE TIME

In the first misconception we have already discussed in detail that "work" is a part of "life" and therefore the term work-life balance is fundamentally misleading. However, the search for better descriptive concepts is not necessarily easy. For example, the idea of talking about a Work-Leisure Balance is based on another misunderstanding and ultimately fails because work-free time is by no means pure leisure time. Even in non-working time, there are sufficient obligations (childcare, household management, doctor's appointments, etc.) that we must fulfil, and which are difficult to categorise as recreational time.

MISCONCEPTION NO. 7: WORK-LIFE BALANCE IS PURELY A MATTER OF ATTITUDE

Although this may be a wishful thinking on the part of many employers, this misconception can be quickly refuted in looking at work-life conflicts, such as those that often inevitably arise in the context of childcare. Nevertheless, the idea is not entirely wrong on the other hand. Psychological findings on self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2008) in the area of work motivation provide scientific evidence that an increased experience of self-determination and increased intrinsic motivation with regard to one's own work task lead to a better work-life balance. In the sense of the phrase "If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life", the higher the identification with one's own work and the better one can experience the basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy and connection, the easier it will be to create an individually satisfying work-life balance for oneself.

Questions about your personal work-life balance? Qualified coaching can help you to find clarity in regards to your prioritisations!

Mag. Thomas Webersdorfer, MSc, Business Psychologist
Business Psychologist

The solution does not care how the problem came to be.