7 Misconceptions about Work-Life-Balance

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

Based on the Duration of Working-Life Indicator from 2018, a in 15-year-old Austrian can expect to spend an average of 37.1 years of life in the workforce. Given the average actual working hours of all employed people, which is around 36.6 hours per week, as collected by Statistics Austria, a calculation of how many of our life hours should not count as "life" according to this misleading claim would probably trigger a major crisis of meaning. 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 challenge, which cannot succeed. Let's put aside the basic assumption that "work" and "life" are opposites, which was already rejected in the first misunderstanding, but which is necessary for this in the first place, as well as the fact that we would naturally not classify this balance unanimously at 50-50, but rather on the basis of our individual subjective state of mind. How many time resources and energy would it 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 occupational psychology point of view, the prevalence and occurrence of this idea never ceases to amaze. To be successful and to achieve the best for oneself and one's company, it is natural and self-evident 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, this is a prerequisite that enables us to demonstrate the necessary resilience and resilience to withstand pressure even in stressful phases. Work-life balance therefore has 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 occupational 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 strongly focused on in the perception, and on the other hand, there are the work-life facilitations, which are mostly overlooked (cf. Shockely & Singla, 2011). While conflict is usually about the negative effects of one system reflecting 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, learned knowledge, cognitive abilities and much more can also be 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 is obvious that more flexibility must 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 real rest and work-free phases. This can be observed particularly well, for example, in the extended availability often expected in return for flexibility, even at undefined working hours. A work 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 differentiations of a work-life balance based on another misunderstanding fail 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, it can be quickly refuted based on manifest 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 live out 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 bring clarity to your prioritisation!

Mag. Thomas Webersdorfer, MSc, Business Psychologist
Business Psychologist

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