Work-Life Balance versus Work-Life Flow

April 20, 2012

I was listening to a interview about Work-Life balance on CBC Radio this week. The conversation spawned from Sheryl Sandberg's (COO of FaceBook) comments that she believes  there is no such thing as work-life balance. In a recent interview, Sandberg shared that she leaves the office at 5:30 every day to be at home for dinner with the kids at 6. In the interview, Metro Morning host, Matt Galloway was talking about Work-Life balance being replaced with the concept of Work-Life flow.

The term Work-Life flow resonated with me and for the first time in my career, I think I may have been thirty years ahead of the curve.  Work-Life flow is about how we are "Always on" and "Always accessible" but still able to blend "It" into our life. "Always on", "Always accessible" and "It" is our job... our employment... our work.

I have touched on this idea before in my blog 7am. I am what some people would consider a workaholic.  I regularly work 50-70 hours each week and in the past 15 years have travelled over one million  miles on Air Canada and probably a few hundred thousand more on other airlines.

The fact is, I am not a workaholic. I differentiate a workaholic from myself in two ways. First, I work because I genuinely love what I do and have for most of the past 30 years. When I am overcommitted, stressed and working too hard, it is because I am having too much fun doing what I am doing to say "no". Second, working hard allows me to have control over when I work, and when I don't. 

I am very fortunate to have a very understanding wife and four great adult kids. That said, I can't recall ever missing a parent-teacher interview, a parent's night at swimming lessons (even when they were in the middle of the afternoon), or a nursery school or elementary school play (again usually during school hours). As they grew up, I don't recall missing any high school event or external sports tournaments that they were involved in or any other significant events that were important to their lives.  I vividly recall doing homework with them over the phone when I was three time zones away and proof reading their essays in a hotel room or on a plane. To me, working so hard gave me the luxury to be really involved in their lives, not just by being present all the time, but by being there when it really counted.

To me, the advent of technology, which allowed me to be wired 24/7, didn't remove me from family time, but rather it enabled family time. I could go on vacation to the cottage, work from 6:30am until 8 when the family would awake up and be able to manage my business without impacting our family time. In WFANP Part II (Working from a Nicer Place, Part II) , I wrote "Another way to think about vacation is that I start vacation Easter weekend when the ice goes out and end it at Thanksgiving when we close the cottage. In between, I am on vacation, except when I am working. I work for a couple of months in October and November when the weather is crappy. Ski season starts in mid-December and once again, I am in vacation mode, taking time out to work during the week. In April, the snow melts and then it is back to the cottage." In that piece, I was being a bit "tongue in cheek" but it was really my way of expressing Work-Life flow. 

Many senior people that I work with are concerned about the up-coming Gen Y workforce.  They are scared of the Gen Y sense of entitlement and valuing work-life balance to the determent of commitment to the companies that they work for.

I am more optimistic. Many Gen Y's who I have had the pleasure to work with, are getting what I got thirty years ago. Simply put, the harder I work at something I love, the more success that will bring me, which in turn allows me the flexibility to define my work rules. "Family first" doesn't have to mean "Work last" and "Work first" can mean "Family first". 


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