The established concept of work-life balance should be forgotten. It’s all about integration now, writes Khara Williams.
Back in January 1948, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court officially agreed to a 40-hour, five-day working week in Australia. Along with it came the symbol “888” – representing the supposedly daily ideal of eight hours’ work, eight hours’ recreation and eight hours of sleep.
Firstly, I can’t remember the last time I had eight hours of sleep. An eight-hour work day is a huge rarity and eight hours’ recreation… well… if laundry and groceries count, then at least I’ve got that one nailed.
But in ‘48, the Australian public were pushing for this agreement. They saw it as a real chance to get their hands on the holy grail: work-life balance. Truth be told, that grail has alluded us for the 70 years since and, in fact, just like the real holy grail, I have strong doubts the thing even exists.
The boundaries between our professional and personal lives have been blurred for decades – and never before has this been more the case thanks to the many technological advances that have made work (and work objectives) impossible to be completed in a neat 24-hour cycle.
Throw ongoing family demands and health and fitness ideals into the mix and it’s no surprise that 35 per cent of Australian men and 42 per cent of Australian women feel always, or often, rushed, according to a study released by the ABS last September.
But perspective is everything and I suggest we change ours today. Because right now, there’s a new kid on the block – work-life integration, and it’s got a whole new take on the traditional nine-to-five.
Where work-life balance revolved around the concept of being able to “balance” your daily hours between your work and your private life, work-life integration is our ticket to prioritising – and integrating – both parts of our identity for the better. Once upon a time, we’d walk into the office at 9am and leave our private life at the door.
But in these digital days, social media sees us connect with colleagues and clients alike at all hours. Video-conferencing means catch-ups with remote workforces and international clients can take place before breakfast, and smartphones give us the ability to respond to emails anytime, anywhere.
By the time we reach our desk, we’re ahead of schedule, meaning we’ll be able to walk out the door at 3pm just in time for soccer training because, well, our calendar, task list and emails are in our pocket every step of the way. In short, our work life is bleeding into our personal lives and vice versa – and I for one welcome it with open arms.
And so does Jae Ellard, a mindful awareness author and teacher and founder of Simple Intentions, a conscious content company that arms employees at multinational corporations with the tools they need to learn, practice and master the skill of awareness.
“It doesn’t matter what we call ‘work-life balance’ because there’s no such thing,” says Jae. “Call it work-life harmony, integration, flexibility, flow, work-life fill-in-the-blank, because in the past eight years, I’ve spoken with thousands of people across 50 countries and I’ve found they have one major thing in common: a simple desire to create easy joy and meaningful engagement between the interconnected roles, relationships and responsibilities that make up their lives.”
So, let’s embrace the blending of our worlds as we search for a greater quality of life. I can go to my son’s school play because I’m able to check emails during intermission. Our whole family can go for a bike ride on Friday afternoon because my day started at 7am with a national conference call.
I can do these things and more thanks to technology and my ability to plan the week around both my personal and professional time. This is where balance and integration intertwine to create counter-balance. And while I’m not going to pretend this is the answer to our longstanding search for the holy grail, it’s a big step in the right direction.
Khara Williams is the director and founder of Purpose Hub.