The title of the article, belonging to the Herald Sun, is “Time to Embrace Life’s Imbalance”.
It sits squirrelled away in the bottom corner of page 26 of today’s business section, a measly couple of hundred words. Easy to overlook.
In it, we are compelled by “business consultant” Judy Reynolds to forfeit a good work-life balance and instead adopt an attitude of “intentional imbalance”.
There’s two words we don’t often hear thrown together. I wonder where else we’d like to implement an “intentional imbalance” in our lives?
The article mentions a study by the Australia Institute, which found that the balance between work and life had worsened for nearly five million workers in the past five years. Five million, in five years. That’s nearly the entire population of Victoria. Imagine, as you’re walking around today, that every person you encounter is part of that group, and then marvel at the size of even the small percentage of that five million you’ve witnessed in a single day. In human terms, we’re not talking about a minority.
Although the piece has been penned in the language of choice, there is nonetheless the sneaking recognition that for those five million people whose work-life balance has worsened, the likely scenario was not one of a comfortable selection between option A or option B, with pros and cons to consider on each side, but rather grim acceptance or financial ruin.
Does the author of the article believe that people will voluntarily choose to increase their own suffering and enjoy it simply by changing the way they talk about it? Who among us stands to benefit from longer work hours and increased job insecurity. the two phenomena listed as “main culprits” for the causation of poor work-life balance?
It seems that the blurring of the lines between our work life and our private existence is a source of some discomfort to many employees. Many companies and workplaces now encourage some form of technological linkage with their hierarchy, whether it’s by smartphone, email or through an intranet/employee website. While many upwardly mobile workers use technology after hours to further their careers, this use of communications technologies after hours has also been correlated with an increased reporting of work-life conflict, and it’s really any wonder. Leaving behind the stresses of the workplace when the clock ticks over to finishing hour is I’m sure a feature of the terrain in the vast majority of employee’s minds.
We like to have clear cut boundaries between when we must be “on” in terms of our responsibilities, persona and outward behaviour, and when we can simply relax and be ourselves. The encroachment of business into our private lives in this way seems likely to cause more than a little existential discomfort in a situation that should ideally be free from unwanted external observation or interaction.
In fact, several studies conducted into the effects of work-life balance on the psychological and physical wellbeing of employees point fairly strongly towards a good work-life balance being a stepping stone to enjoying better health.
A study published in the Journal of Social Service Research indicates that “results show that employees who viewed their work schedules as flexible reported higher levels of work-life balance, which in turn were associated with positive paths to well-being.”
Investigations carried out by the Government of South Australia point to the same conclusion. “Work life balance initiatives increase loyalty and dedication, and decrease employee absenteeism, improving client service and enhancing business reputation overall.”
This 2002 study even suggests a benefit for employers:
“Many employees reported clearly benefiting from the flexible policies/practices offered by their organization. HR managers also generally believed that such policies/practices yielded tangible business benefits, including improved employee morale, greater employee commitment and performance, and reduced casual absence and turnover.”
In real economic terms then, supporting employees in their movements towards more balanced schedules gives us happy, committed and productive workers. This seems like a sound investment, a win-win situation that extends beyond the employer/employee dyad and out to the clients and families of the two.
So the question floating to the surface of this muddied pond seems to be, “who stands to benefit from the adoption of an ‘intentional imbalance’ in our work-life arrangements?”, and we don’t have to look far to answer that.
It seems Judy Reynolds is more than comfortable employing doublespeak to gussy up worker suffering.
Rather than addressing the problem itself, namely that five million workers (and more) are dissatisfied with the security of their jobs and the amount of time worked, Reynolds simply entices us to call our suffering by any other name.
The phrase “intentional imbalance” is a re-branding of wage slavery. What it means in real terms, stripped of the doublespeak, is that we are being beckoned by the business community to smilingly accept infringements on our rights at work. We are being told that things are not going to get better, and that rather than calling a turd a turd, we should simply spice it and serve it as gourmet.
Adam Smith’s condemnation of the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind” is as cogent now as it was when it was written. We cannot acquiesce to those who would run the world along the lines of “all for ourselves, and nothing for anyone else”, and this undermining of workers serves to perform exactly that function.
Who benefits from job insecurity? Business, of course, who can simply replace unruly workers with cheap overseas labour should they have the cheek to stand up and exercise their legal rights. They need not even follow through, as the threat of replacement is often more than enough to quash any organised resistance to damaging workplace policies. It may be too obvious to warrant mention, but longer work hours means exhausted workers, and the likelihood of a tired man causing a fuss is significantly lower than that from a well rested individual.
The observant reader will have noticed by now that these negative effects on the lives of workers are anything but good for the economy, so in practice, those businesses without access to government subsidies or the ability to whipsaw labour forces over international boundaries will likely suffer as much as their workers from this justification of abuse.
Ms Reynolds concludes her stunning insights into the topic with the suggestion that we “work out a plan that includes [our] goals for work, family, friends, health and recreation.”
I say we add to that list the direct and active opposition of Ms Reynolds’ absurd attack on the backbone of this country, and that we work to “intentionally imbalance” any attempts to implement it in our own lives and the lives of our friends, family and co-workers.
This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.