Forget work-life balance. It was a good concept that did a lot of good but has now retired. It cannot any longer survive in the digital world.
This is not an apocalyptic warning of a permanent state of work slavery. In fact, on the contrary, the end of the world in this area has been permanently postponed. But it forces us to deconstruct the building of the original idea and reconstruct one with perhaps with some of the old bricks, but looking very differently.
The first thing to go is the arithmetic. The ‘balance’ implied a number. How much of work? How much of life? Was 50/50 OK? Or perhaps 40/60?
Also, work-life antithesis promoted an automatic and unconscious judgment: life became the opposite of work, so work equals not life. Perhaps here the expression ‘get a life’?
Today, the current ‘imbalanced slavery’, if any, means 24/7 attached to the server. Or in the cloud. How did we get to this?
For starters, some managers expected it and even demanded it. But this is old stuff. I have known many who clearly and openly stated ‘I expect you to answer my e-mail within 4 hours’. I remember vividly a particularly highly paid super leader of a highly complex organization, admittedly with an ego highly hyper-developed. All his direct reports were terrified. I am talking many moons ago. So, yes, there were, and are, leaders expecting this.
But then, the smartphone came in. They (we) don’t need to be that vocal now. All they (we) have to do is to fire emails, or texts, at 2 am, or every hour, or half an hour, so that the world knows that they (we) are active, ‘at the helm’, hard workers and committed corporate citizens. Nobody needs to say respond. People just do, because everybody is online anyway, so the circle perpetuates itself.
This tale of villain bosses and heroes employees looks today increasingly rubbish. When humankind walks around looking down, bended towards a screen, and a sophisticated and overpriced watch can bip you every few seconds with an alert, friend’s text, a news alert, or your pulse, the old blame game does not hold anymore. We are all victims. We all are villains.
Imposed bans on ‘hours of email’ or week-ends blackout are increasingly dated, if not absurd. Many people want to do work emails on weekends so that they can feel ‘free’ on Monday morning, For those, the slavery is the prohibition.
Today, the individual needs to lead the on and off switch. Always on is bad. Always off is bad. Maybe. You find out. (But, as leader, what you do or not, is not just personal, it has implications as a role model).
The work-life balance today and the one just a very few years ago have little to do with each other. The dichotomy concept does not make sense anymore. The question is not that balance anymore. The only question, one that the new young generations seem to be rather proficient at, is, what kind of Life.