By Dr Lindsay McMillan
I recently read a Harvard Business Review article from 2012 on how the constant pursuit of perfection in the workplace can hinder work-life balance.
Despite five years elapsing between that article from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, and a myriad of workplace fads and gimmicks sold as work-life balance solutions, individuals in the workplace are still struggling.
We see this constantly in our research, and other workplace research, which shows employees feeling increasingly stressed and unhappy at work.
Whilst many organisations, including PepsiCo, PwC and Deloitte, have started to implement worthwhile flexible working policies in an effort to make it easier for employees to create their own work-life balance, it is clear more needs to be done.
For individuals, work-life balance is still marred by the perception that it means being perfect at everything, all the time.
In our mind, the work-life balanced individual has the perfect job in the perfect career, the perfect family and perfect relationships against a backdrop of the perfect house in the perfect suburb.
They excel at work, they are completely present partners and parents, they pursue hobbies and find time to exercise, relax, read and learn.
It is no wonder work-life balance can seem mythical at times. This is because these priorities inevitably clash – you have to work late on your partner’s birthday or you have neglected doing laundry because work has left you so exhausted. And that often fills us with guilt.
Kanter says perfection myths have a “do-it-yourself flavour” which is what makes them so appealing. The “do-it-yourself” mentality says you can have the perfect life if you continue to stretch yourself.
However, that can only lead to burn out and cynicism that work-life balance does not exist at all.
We should not give up on being balanced, instead workers must learn that work-life balance is imperfect. Instead of striving for perfection, we should be striving to make choices that are purposeful.
If we inform all our decisions with purpose, we can afford to let certain things slide for something that has higher priority. Purpose can seem like a vague concept, however if you know what is most important to you, you have purpose.
Today, purpose has an increasingly important role to play in the workplace too.
Work with purpose is becoming increasingly important for business leaders looking to attract and retain great employees. More workers are looking for jobs that fit with their life goals and more people are likely to see work as a calling rather than an occupation.
A perfect work-life balance is unattainable, but for those looking to have it all, I strongly recommend aiming to have a work-life balance that is purposeful instead.