Moving From Work-life Balance to Whole-life Balance

by | Mar 18, 2020 | Life Lessons

It’s time to move away from work-life balance. Honestly, it’s been time. Balance is the one thing people wish they had more of, and the one thing that seems unachievable. But I have a hypothesis. I believe our perspectives and the way we talk about work-life balance are at the core of why some have yet to achieve it. Yep, this is another case in which thoughts and words create our reality.

The Evolution of Work-life Balance

The term work-life balance gained traction in the late 1970’s and 1980’s in the United Kingdom and in the United States as a new generation of worker ushered in different expectations of work and the work environment. In the Forbes Magazine article, The Evolving Definition of Work-life Balance, author Alan Kohll writes about the generational impact on work-life balance. According to Kohll, Generation X employees had seen their parents (Baby Boomers) devote massive amounts of time to their jobs and little to no time to family life. Pardon the generality. The new generation wanted something different for themselves. They believed they could and should have a successful career and time for their personal lives as well. Gen-Xers were more likely than their parents to search for companies offering  paid leave (vacation and maternity/parental) and telecommuting benefits. And, they were more likely than their parents to use those benefits. This period was the time work-life balance became a real thing – an essential part of a person’s consideration and vision for their life.

Then came the millennials. This group of workers is expected to make up over 75% of the workforce by 2025. They come with their own perspectives about work. For many, life outside of work is just as important, if not more than their work. Kohll states, “They [Millennials] are more interested in finding a career path that will support their ‘lifestyle,’ which in this context means their life outside of work.”

The changing viewpoints and expectations require a different way to talk about work-life balance. We need a way that moves us closer to what we want. The attempt has been to evolve from work-life balance to work-life integration. While that’s better, it still falls short. The latter term is meant to depict the seamless flow of work and life, but there is one problem – it’s still focused on the dueling domains of work and life. In the article, Defining Work-Life Balance: Energy is the Missing Ingredient, on, the writer says, “Work-life integration is too narrow a lens to re-imagine this as work-life balance. It’s still based on the idea of two separate domains — work and personal lives —  and a time tradeoff. The only material difference between work-life balance and work-life integration is that with integration, the two domains are expected to intermingle and increasingly overlap.

Whole-Life Balance

Integration might have been acceptable had it not kept to the work-life dichotomy. What people want, what we really want, is to experience our lives as whole and balanced. We want whole-life balance. With whole-life balance, we see all aspects of our lives as interdependent and contributing to our wholeness. Whole-life balance does not suppose equal parts, and it is not measured solely in time allotment. It’s also measured in energy. At times one aspect may require more energy than others. One aspect of life may fuel others. Recently, I heard Oprah describe life balance as being in the flow of your life. I think that’s it. When we experience whole-life balance, our lives are in a flow.   

How You Can Achieve Whole-life Balance

There are four ways you can begin to achieve whole-life balance:

  1. Look at all the aspects of your life with appreciation. See them as contributing to your wholeness. Your life wheel might include career, family/parenting, friendships, fun and enjoyment, health and fitness, finances, personal development, spirituality and purpose, and community involvement. You determine the aspects of your life that make up the whole – mind, body and soul. The more your life reflects your core values, the more likely you are to feel whole.
  2. Align the time and energy spent with your priorities. Evaluate the time and energy you spend in each area of your life. Do the time and energy spent reflect your life’s priorities at the moment? Realize that priorities can change, and the amount of time and energy spent should change to align with your priorities. Be flexible.
  3. Spend more time on things that energize you. If spending time at the gym, reading, meditating or volunteering in your community energizes you, make the time to do those things. Spend more time on the things that give you energy than the things that deplete it. Keep your energy reservoir full so that it can fuel you when an area of your life is more demanding. This is energy management. If you’re “out of balance,” look across all aspects of your life to determine where you can make adjustments. Remember, balance does not mean equal. Balance means flow.
  4. Ask for help when you need it. You may find it helpful to talk through your needs with your manager, coworkers, family members, friends, a coach or whoever is in a position to help you manage your energy effectively through prioritization, delegation or other means. Consider joining The Aha! Community on Facebook!

Here’s what I hope you’ll take away. I hope you remember that your life is not comprised of two domains, work and life. Work is integral to life, not separate from it. By seeing all aspects of your life as contributing to the whole, you can better manage the time and energy to achieve whole-life balance.

Affirmation: I have whole-life balance. All parts of my life exist in synergistic harmony, and I use my time and energy wisely.


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