Work Life Balance

It’s amazing how we use phrases without ever understanding what they really mean… recently, during one of the conversations, a manager told me that he would like to reduce complexity in the organization. I immediately nodded to acknowledge, but then when I wondered what “complexity” meant… I had no idea, “Reducing Complexity in the organization” felt as much like an abstraction as “understanding shapes of clouds”.

One of the best definitions I came across was “Complexity arises when an increasing number of independent variables begin interacting in interdependent and unpredictable ways”… Therefore the reasoning was that reducing complexity can be achieved by either a) decreasing the number of variables, b) reducing opportunities for interaction or c) reducing unpredictability. In an organizational design context this either means reducing number of independent roles (or people), separating the organization into different departments with specific focus or designing management controls in a way that it becomes easy to monitor and forecast the interactions… the choice of action would then depend upon the cost and the potential benefit of implementing actions a, b or c.

Unfortunately, firms get scared just at the thought of such analysis and to realize that some concrete actions are required to “reduce complexity”, therefore they feel comfortable merely discussing “complexity” as an abstraction and not do much about it :) Is it just companies… of course not, it’s also individuals… How about each of us wanting to achieve work-life balance! Do we even understand what work-life balance means?! I wondered!!work_life

If work and life must be balanced, then they must be different because there is no point in balancing things that are homogeneous… To understand what is (supposed to be) different between work and life, we need to first of all understand what work is and what life is!

What is work? Work is a legally binding contractual commitment with very less flexibility in terms and conditions. In fact the contract when looked at the totality of implicit terms and conditions is so brutal that it even restricts who an employee can and cannot talk to (or let’s say express his opinions freely to) and I say that in spite of factoring in the open door culture! Imagine an employee talking to the customer’s Vice president while he is only authorized to talk to the operations manager…Work is also a binding contract which simply will not give the employee any opportunity to contribute more than what is asked of him either because the firm does not see the benefit of the marginal reward for the marginal effort of employee or even worse because the firm is afraid of disturbing the sanity of hierarchical structure… Come to think of it, this is the nature of most corporate positions irrespective of whether the person works in McKinsey or Ford and irrespective of whether he is a financial analyst or CEO. Work is that part of life which is defined by a binding contract filled with constraints and it is for good reason that it is that way because firms exist purely in circumstances where free markets fail!

What is life? Ouch, that’s a tough one! In the context of work life balance discussion, let’s just describe life as (supposed to be) not a contractual but voluntary commitment to oneself and other relevant stake holders :) and with more flexibility in terms and conditions. Simply put life must have lesser constraint in comparison to work. Therefore what we real should balance is the time we spend living that part of life which is not driven by us because it has many constraints and is inflexible (i.e. work) and time spent on living the other part which truly allows us to do everything we want to do because it is free of constraints and is flexible.

Unfortunately, life, just like work, has many constraints like the maximum money available which translates into our ability to doing things we want to do and few commitments which although voluntary at the beginning become contractual after a while like family, marriage and kids. So here’s the dilemma… firstly, how to make sure life has little constraints and then once that is achieved how to make sure we balance the time spent in these two different parts… Not an easy equation to crack…

Many strategies exist; either find a job that will give the flexibility to do whatever one wants to do… (I guess successful creative artist partly belong to this category), or find partners and friends who will support one with whatever he or she wants to do. But here’s what is known about the most frequently pursued strategy: slog it out at work (the constrained environment) all your life so that one can earn enough (actually maximum) money which should enable the person to break as many constraints as possible… well… there are no simple answers, but unfortunately balancing work and life is not as simple as maximizing revenue :)

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