Running an organization built on the foundational belief that work and life should be synonymous is no easy feat. Altruistic at best, it often feels like forging your way through a thick, lush jungle full of trees that refuse to be cut down. Yet, when we look at why prioritizing work and life is necessary, it is clear to most of us that it matters. How much it matters is the real question.
Inevitably, our efforts to build a better mouse trap elude us. Our culture of “never enough” convinces us that we live in a world full of scarcity when, in fact, the opposite is true. And so we reward hard work to our own detriment, inevitably chasing abundance, which results in high financial rewards and low personal returns. Therefore, when it comes to creating systems within our organizations that fuel and encourage the balance we so desperately need to help fuel healthy corporate growth, we choose instead to shun those systems, convincing ourselves we don’t have capacity for the rest we need. We keep churning, often to a point of detriment for our leaders, our teams and ourselves.
All too often, we trade built-in breaks and holidays, paid vacation time, mental health days, and even our lunch breaks for allegiance to our corporate bottom lines. We work as if we are indispensable when, in reality, we are at the mercy of an economic engine that can easily chew us up and spit us out on any given day, despite our sacrificial giving. We let our fear of poor financial performance and job insecurity usurp our intrinsic need for rest and restoration. Therein lies the problem with work-life balance and why we say we want what we are unwilling to choose.
When discussing the creation of what I call a “Live. Work. Play.” corporate culture, it’s easy to make the business case. In fact, a report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans determined that “most North American employers saved $1 to $3 in their overall health care costs for every dollar spent on employee health and wellness programs,” of which work-life balance is a part. But because we have not slowed down enough to fully assess the reality that the two go hand-in-hand, and because we fail to acknowledge that work and life are codependent, we in essence trap ourselves in hamster wheels, chasing “more” instead of accepting the reality of “enough.”
What would happen if we let our organizations grow and thrive at their own natural pace instead of at the pace of our self-imposed deadlines? What would life at work without self-induced stressors look like? Could we not reach a more symbiotic norm, wherein we acknowledge the financial impact of our real lives on our workplace?
According to the American Institute of Stress, stress costs U.S. companies $300 billion dollars per year in lost productivity. These losses accrue annually by way of decreased productivity from tired and burned out employees. What’s more, they limit creativity and productivity and fuel employee turnover, while leading to disability and illness, which increase health care and insurance costs for employers nationwide. Systemically, it’s not a reach to infer that stressors at work inevitably bleed over into employees’ home lives, causing family disruption, parental absenteeism, divorce and, in some instances, premature death within families, whose needs suffer because of employers’ sole focus on the bottom line in absentia of the needs of their human capital.
With social media, instant messaging and virtually 24/7-access to employees, it’s no wonder we can’t have what we want. And it’s easy to see why most employers and employees alike want – no, desperately need – what we are not designed to provide: work lives that allow and make space to live, work and play.
When you consider that we spend more time at work than we do outside of it, it’s no wonder work-life balance matters more and more with each passing day and year. Sadly, as our needs to win, dominate, compete and be the best grow, we are driving ourselves further away from our desired corporate ideal. Likewise, we have set ourselves and organizations on a path for epidemic burnout if we do not find ways to integrate our two worlds by allowing employees to find joy and balance in their work life every day.
Work-life balance, or what I call JOY economics, is not just about making employees happy at work. To the contrary, it is about healing the world by helping organizations find more ways to help employees live, work and play in mutually beneficial ways. As a disruptive corporate norm, it is designed to inspire best-in-class leadership by requiring more humanity from corporate leaders.
When we create awareness and empathy within the ranks of leadership nationwide, we inspire growth that is fueled by empowerment, creativity and higher morale, which inevitably spark healthier bottom lines. With this newfound space in our lives for daily for rest, relaxation and restoration, we can then truly lead with eyes wide open and gifts used freely. Only then can work-life balance can be more than just a notion.