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Work-Life Blending and the Demise of the Nine-To-Five

For those of you who take the search for the perfect work-life balance seriously, I have some bad news. There’s a growing body of opinion which argues that the whole concept is a myth, a mirage that does little but stress us out even more because we never seem to be able to get there.

For some of you, as you’re sat there in bed reading this in between answering those last work emails of the day at gone 10.30pm, this probably won’t be news at all. What work-life balance, I hear you cry. But therein lies the problem. That thing you’re holding in your hand right now. Yes, technology.

For those of you crushed by the idea that your whole life’s quest for a work-life balance has been akin for hunting for the Holy Grail, a pointless search for El Dorado, let’s row back a bit. It hasn’t always been like this. Once upon a time, you see, it was possible to balance work and life quite satisfactorily, if you put your mind to it.

The key thing was keeping work and the rest of your life separate. Work was what you did between the hours of 9am and 5pm on weekdays. Family time was evenings and Sundays, socialising (if you were lucky) on Friday nights and Saturdays. The problems only arose when you started taking on too much overtime, only saw your spouse and kids in passing all week and more or less forgot what your friends looked like.

Then along came technology to throw a spanner in the works. The issue now is that so many of us just don’t compartmentalise work into regular fixed hours anymore. With a laptop, it’s just too tempting to do that extra bit of work on the train home or while you’re waiting for dinner to cook. Let’s face it, we all love the work-from-home option. And how many of us use the same smartphone for work and leisure? Where’s the separation?

All a blur

When the lines between work and the rest of our lives are becoming increasingly blurred, a situation gratuitously enabled by technology, it becomes next to impossible to unravel them enough to be able to talk about balance and equality. For those who calculate their salary by charging by the hour, this creates a more pressing practical problem – how do you account for those three emails you just sent while you should have been watching Emmerdale?

The solution some people are taking to this increasing complexity and intertwining of work time with not work time is positively Stoic in its simplicity – just embrace it. So what if you’re on the internet researching your next project when you’re sat around in the evening with the family? Your kids are all listening to Spotify or playing video games anyway, while your partner is engrossed in a deep and meaningful conversation on Facebook Messenger.

As much as anything, the concept of work-life blending advocates embracing flexibility. If you take the option of working from home, the chances are that you might take a tea break or two more than you would in the office, or find yourself pottering around the garden on a sunny day for an hour or so.

Get flexible or switch off

The ultimate end of work-life blending would be for the concept of working for fixed numbers of hours to fall by the wayside completely. Work would be judged by results, not by the clock – as long you got what was required done, the rest of your time would be your own.

We’re a long way from that in most professions, of course, and there are many where it simply wouldn’t work – service-based industries have to have people working at set times so they can provide service when customers want it. On that basis, there are plenty who are very skeptical about the whole idea, and see work-life blending as just a way to validate working longer hours and letting the job intrude on our home lives.

Maybe the only solution is for us all to make our own choice about the relationship between work and life that suits us. If we like the flexibility of choosing when and where we work, and don’t mind trading late evenings huddled over the laptop for late starts and extended afternoon breaks, a work-life blend approach might work.

But for those of us still searching for a balance, don’t be told your El Dorado isn’t there. Just do yourself a favour – when work finishes, switch off.