Work-Life Balance – You’re undoubtedly familiar with the term. In Western societies, work is often perceived as a necessary evil, a means to earn the income needed for “real” life. This contrasts sharply with perspectives in underdeveloped parts of the world, where work and life are generally seen as interwoven elements of a holistic existence. That does not mean life is easy for people in underprivileged countries. However, while burnout rates soar in the West and people increasingly desire to shorten their workweek, one must question if this is a healthy view of work. Feeling fulfilled isn’t just about balancing time; it also requires deriving meaning from what we do. So, while there’s undoubtedly a need for balance, perhaps it’s high time we reevaluate what that means.
Burnout is a relatively modern syndrome even in the Western world and is still practically unknown in large parts of the world. Why is it so? I searched the Internet. I found several possible reasons, but none or very few of these explained the enormous difference between rich and poor countries. Last spring, I attended Dip Thapa’s Ph.D. dissertation, and his thesis touched on this subject. In the thesis, he mentioned that burnout hardly existed among healthcare workers in Nepal but was common in Sweden. This was especially remarkable since, many times, the Nepalese health workers were more understaffed and stressed than Swedish healthcare workers. It almost sounds contradictory. In this article, I share some thoughts on the subject. These thoughts are also based on discussions at Gislen Software about creating work-life balance for our employees.
What you do, or Why you do it?
There is a famous anecdote where three bricklayers are asked what they’re doing.
The first one replies, “I’m laying bricks.”
The second one says, “I’m building a wall.”
But the third one exclaims, “I’m building a cathedral!”
All three are engaged in the same task, but their understanding of the impact and significance of their work varies dramatically. The first bricklayer sees the job as mundane; the second sees it as something more significant, a structure, but the third sees it as a monumental achievement that will stand the test of time.
This story underscores the value of framing our tasks within a broader, more meaningful context. Laying a single brick may seem inconsequential, but if that brick is one of many that eventually form a cathedral, the task takes on a new level of importance and dignity. Essentially, it’s not just about what we’re doing but what we’re working towards.
It’s a powerful reminder that even the most seemingly menial tasks can contribute to a grander purpose if we see them that way. The perspective we adopt can transform our work experience, enhancing our engagement with it and its ultimate impact. So whether you’re drafting a single line of code, making a sales call, or laying a brick, remember that you could be building your own ‘cathedral’.
Simon Sintek describes the same thing in a famous TED talk. It is not WHAT we do, not even HOW we do it. It is WHY we do it that matters.
Finding meaning in the circumstances
The bricklayer who saw himself as building a cathedral rather than merely laying bricks harnessed the power of meaning in his work. Similarly, Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor delved deeply into the essence of human resilience amidst harrowing adversity. His philosophy, rooted in the unimaginable conditions of concentration camps, asserted that the quest for meaning is humanity’s chief motivator. Even in the most demoralising circumstances, those who found a sense of purpose—whether through love, envisioned future endeavours, or the fundamental will to survive—exhibited remarkable resilience and had higher survival rates. Frankl’s insights transcend time and situation, suggesting that the discovery of meaning, even in suffering, equips us to face and overcome life’s ordeals.
Could the Western emphasis on leisure time come at the expense of seeking meaning in our work? Might the stress we encounter seem less significant if we focus on the metaphorical cathedrals we are building rather than just the individual bricks we lay? This line of thought could offer compelling insights into why burnout is a relatively modern affliction and why it seems less prevalent in economically disadvantaged regions of the world.
Dividing time between work and life
Traditionally, the term has been used to divide one’s time and energy between work and other essential aspects of life. Is that not good? Well, it sounds good, but this approach often paints work and life as two separate entities, constantly at odds with each other. The traditional interpretation often paints work and life as two separate entities, constantly at odds with each other. Work-life balance assumes that work is only a necessary evil to earn money to have a life. Today, a new paradigm is emerging: work-life harmony. We are beginning to understand work and life not as separate but as interconnected aspects of our existence. This shift in perspective leads us towards a more holistic approach to work and life, where work is viewed as a part of life, not separate from it.
The world work-life balance suggests establishing clear boundaries between work and personal lives. It encourages us to create a dedicated workspace, establish a routine, and communicate our needs effectively. While these strategies can be helpful, they often lead to a compartmentalised life where work and personal time are kept strictly separate. This can result in a constant juggling act, where we feel like we’re perpetually trying to maintain balance.
The Emergence of Work-Life Harmony
In Western cultures, the clear demarcation between work and leisure is often emphasised, potentially contributing to stress, feelings of inadequacy, and even burnout. Contrarily, work-life harmony proposes that our professional and personal lives are not separate entities but rather intricately interconnected. This isn’t about muddying the lines between work and personal life to the extent that we are perpetually “switched on.” Instead, work-life harmony advocates for a flexible and fluid rhythm that seamlessly integrates various facets of our existence, allowing us to flourish in both spheres.
One contributing factor to the escalating rates of stress-related illnesses and burnout in the Western world may be the growing emphasis on individualism. Research shows that individualism correlates with individual wealth and wealthier societies with more choices. wealth In contrast, more collectivist societies, particularly in less affluent regions, foster a sense of communal belonging that could act as a buffer against such conditions. While collectivism presents challenges, it often instils in individuals the notion that they are part of a greater whole. For instance, living in extended multi-generational families and participating in religious or communal activities can strengthen this sense of interconnectedness. Furthermore, in these settings, work is often viewed not as a means to fund one’s leisure time but as a collective responsibility essential for the survival and well-being of the entire family. This perspective could reduce the emotional and psychological burdens often associated with work, thus mitigating the risk of stress and burnout.
Stress and harmony
While most of us would say that stress is a negative expression, not all stress is negative. Some stress occasionally may help us focus on improving the world and developing new solutions. Positive stress arises from exciting experiences, like a competition or a first date. It’s short-term, motivating, and can enhance performance. However, negative stress can be harmful. It can cause anxiety, poor concentration, and decreased performance. If it’s chronic, resulting from persistent stressors like work pressures or unmanaged health issues, it can lead to serious health problems. Achieving work-life harmony involves managing these stressors effectively. By harmonising work and personal life, we can transform potentially distressing situations into eustress, leading to a healthier, more balanced life.
Strategies for Achieving Work-Life Harmony
Achieving work-life harmony involves being fully present in whatever you’re doing, whether working on a project or spending time with family. It’s about setting clear priorities that align with your values and focusing on tasks that bring you satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of accomplishment. It’s also about finding joy and purpose in your work; consider alternate career or academic paths if impossible.
The Role of Technology
In the IT industry, technology is crucial in facilitating work-life harmony. With technological advancements, we’re no longer bound by the constraints of a traditional office environment. Remote work, flexible hours, and digital collaboration tools allow us to integrate our work into our daily lives more seamlessly than ever. However, using technology mindfully is essential to avoid overwork and burnout.
The shift from work-life balance to work-life harmony represents a significant change in how we view our work and personal lives. Instead of trying to maintain a precarious balance, we’re striving for a harmonious integration of all aspects of our lives. This holistic approach can lead to a more fulfilling and balanced life where work is a meaningful and enriching part of our existence.
Work and Life: Two Sides of the Same Coin
The holistic approach to work and life recognises that our personal and professional lives are not isolated but deeply intertwined. Our experiences at work influence our personal lives and vice versa. This perspective encourages us to find harmony between our professional responsibilities and personal aspirations rather than trying to balance them as if they were on opposite ends of a scale.
The Role of Company Culture
Company culture is pivotal in promoting this holistic approach to work and life. Organisations that value their employees’ well-being and personal growth foster an environment where work-life harmony can thrive. These companies understand that a happy, fulfilled employee is more likely to be productive and engaged at work. They invest in employee development, encourage flexible working arrangements, and promote open communication, fostering a culture where work complements life rather than competing.
Personal Fulfilment and Job Satisfaction
Personal fulfilment and job satisfaction are critical to achieving work-life harmony. When we derive a sense of purpose and satisfaction from our work, it no longer feels like a chore that we must balance against our personal life. Instead, it becomes an integral part of our lives, contributing to our happiness and well-being. This sense of fulfilment can come from various sources, such as challenging work, a supportive work environment, opportunities for growth, or the ability to make a positive impact.
Technology: A Catalyst for Work-Life Symbiosis
Technology, the very product of the IT industry, plays a crucial role in facilitating work-life symbiosis. With technological advancements, we are no longer bound by the constraints of a traditional office environment. Remote work, flexible hours, and digital collaboration tools allow us to integrate our work into our daily lives more seamlessly than ever. Only working from home may, however, also create stress. However, using technology mindfully is essential to avoid overwork and burnout.
Time Management and Prioritisation
Achieving work-life symbiosis also requires effective time management and prioritisation. It’s about making conscious decisions about what we spend our time on, both at work and outside. This doesn’t necessarily mean working less; it means working smarter. By prioritising our tasks effectively, we can ensure that we are dedicating our time and energy to the things that matter most to us, both professionally and personally.
Redefining work-life balance goes beyond merely delineating work from personal life; it involves harmonising these two dimensions. Adopting a holistic approach can lead to a fulfilling and balanced life. Then, work becomes a meaningful and enriching aspect of our overall existence. The quest for harmony can undoubtedly enhance our quality of life, but finding meaning in our undertakings is equally critical for a sense of self-worth and satisfaction. The analogy of building a cathedral instead of simply laying bricks can affect the quality of our work and satisfaction. This perspective may well mitigate the risks of burnout and stress-related ailments. Viktor Frankl’s observations further underline this point. He found that prisoners’ levels of hope for the future were significant predictors of their likelihood of survival.
At Gislen Software, we work in a country with a culture where burnout is unusual or unheard of. However, while many companies work 45-48 hours per week, at Gislen Software, we only work 40 hours per week and provide much more flexibility than the norm in Indian IT companies. If you’re seeking an employer who understands that you’re not a gear in a wheel or an automaton, consider Gislen Software. We recognise that our team members are, first and foremost, people. We aim to ensure people have the resources they need to produce outstanding jobs they like. They should also have enough time and energy to enjoy the rest of their lives. Look at our present openings here.