“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name” – Confucius
Since starting this blog, I’ve been writing 2000 words a week on the general theme of work-family balance. Before that, I published several academic journal articles and a dissertation about work-family balance (my cv here). You would think this would make the concept of work-family balance very clear to me. However, “balance” is exquisitely difficult to precisely define.
It is easier to define what work-family balance is not. I can confidently say it is not:
- Spending equal time on work and family demands
- Spending as much time as needed for full success in both work and family roles
- Having it all
The best definition I ever came across is “the extent to which individuals are equally involved in, and equally satisfied with, their work role and their family role” (Greenhaus & Singh, 2003). I heart this definition because:
- It does not concern itself with time spent on both roles- it focuses instead on involvement and satisfaction. Such a flexible definition is useful because it means there are many ways to achieve something approaching balance
- It doesn’t set up the false dichotomy of “family = good”, “work = bad”
- It does not assert that the two roles are necessarily in opposition or should be fully separated from each other
- It implies that one can achieve some level of success in both roles, and that involvement and satisfaction reinforce each other (the more involved a dad you are, you’ll be more satisfied; the more emotionally invested in work/career you are, the more satisfied you tend to be). Work and family compete for your time, but caring about both can lead to a more satisfying life.
- At the same time, it does not assert that balance means having it all or doing it all. Being involved and satisfied is enough; being Superman is too high an expectation
Thanks to Mark P- in his great comment below, he noted that the word “equal” in the above definition is problematic. I agree. Perhaps “sufficient” is better? Any ideas?
I’d love to hear your definitions of work-family balance- serious, humorous or otherwise. Maybe we can crowdsource a definition together. Let’s get your suggestions in the comments section.