The concept of work-life balance is a puzzling one. Insinuating that work is somehow outside of life brings with it a wave of questions. Why is work not a part of life? Where does work end and life begin? Can everyone achieve work-life balance? It would be dishonest not to acknowledge that, at least for now, the idea of work-life balance is a privilege that not all workers can fully enjoy. (The person writing this has the luxury of working from home.)
The internet is littered with articles promoting journaling and green tea as the antidote to burnout, a condition recognized by the World Health Organization as of 2019 that is characterized by chronic workplace stress. While it is sensible to practice self-care, these remedies can often feel like a temporary respite to a greater problem. Tangible change often comes from above. Compassionate, accommodating bosses make healthier and happier employers and can inspire systematic transformations. If this isn’t incentive enough, countless studies show that these qualities improve employee retention, engagement, and company profitability. Two of the top five reasons people quit their jobs are lack of flexibility and poor management, both factors that a manager can control. Over 90% of employees say they’re more productive when they work remotely, and people who work more hours per week are less productive than those who work fewer hours. Portfolios containing companies with exceptional corporate wellness programs significantly out-perform those that don’t.
Perhaps the reason that the World Health Organization has just begun recognizing burnout at a legitimate condition is because we live in the age of the #hustle. Social media is flooded with aspiring entrepreneurs bragging about 18-hour workdays, reinforcing the unhealthy ‘first to arrive and last to leave the office’ mentality. On the other hand, social media has also divulged to us the daily routines of people who manage to accomplish an inconceivable amount of tasks in a single day. Mark Wahlberg famously wakes up at 2:30AM, works out twice a day, recovers in a cryogenic chamber, attends meetings, and still has time to pick up his children from school. Being constantly exposed to these extreme routines causes us to forget that these stories are the exception, not the norm. It creates unbearable pressure and demands that we feel guilty when we aren’t working, or taking advantage of every minute of our time and disconnecting allows us reset our expectations. Businesswoman Randi Zuckerberg suggests finding balance in imbalance: “every day when I wake up, I think to myself: Work. Sleep. Family. Friends. Fitness. Pick Three. I can pick a different three tomorrow, and a different three the following day. But today, I can only pick three.” Note: cryogenic chambers do not make an appearance on Randi’s list.
Being able to create guilt-free time for yourself is exceptionally valuable, but a lot of this article presupposes time, not money, is the asset we’re all aiming to maximize. This neglects the struggles of low-income workers, a population particularly vulnerable to burnout. It is up to act as advocates for change through kind leadership and redefining the way we measure success in order to create a world in which we can all thrive. In the wise words of Toni Morrison: ‘when you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.’