There Is No Such Thing As Work/Life Balance: Leader’s Series


December 22, 2009

Charge Bikes, Somerset
Image by Into Somerset via Flickr

As I continue to have strong interest from readers in the work/life flexibility discussion, I asked a friend of mine, Mike VanDervort to contribute his ideas on the topic.  If anyone knows how to try and make it all work, he does.  Mike is a busy HR leader, father, husband, public speaker, blogger/writer, and more.  Let’s see what work/life flexibility means to him….

Life is all about Balance

A couple of weeks ago, Trish McFarlane asked if I would like to participate in her Leader’s series on Work/Life. Since this is a topic near and dear to my heart, and my personal sanity, I quickly agreed to do something.

It is a good thing that I had a publisher with flexible deadlines, because I got very busy and couldn’t write anything for her. Then I went on vacation for a week. Then I came back and was overwhelmed with catching up. Tomorrow, I leave for another week of vacation wrapped around the Christmas holiday.

I’ll come back to this thought of balance a little later in the post. I want to look at a couple of other things first.

Thought Leaders speak on Work/Life Balance

Here is what Trish had to say recently about the emerging tends from her Work/Life series.

When I started this Leader’s series, I was not sure if there would be agreement or disagreement. Here is what I am seeing emerge:

  1. As much as we may want to ignore it, or pretend it doesn’t matter, flexibility in one form or another is on the mind of many employees and leaders.
  2. It is not necessarily a generational difference but seems to be based more on the phase of life someone is in.
  3. Regardless of what we call it; integration, unity, juggle, balance, etc., it all comes down to the fact that different people need varying amounts of flexibility in their life depending on their family and other commitments.

Keep these themes in mind: Work, Life, Flexibility, Juggle, Balance.

Here is what another thought leader had to say about Work/Life balance back in June 2009.

” There’s no such thing as work-life balance, there are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.” — Jack Welch, speaking at the 2009 SHRM National Conference

We need to add some new words to our theme list: Work, Life, Flexibility, Juggle, Balance, Choice, Consequences

Stanley Bing is the author of the book “How to Relax Without Getting the Axe. Here is a bit of his take on Work/Life balance.

” The secret is learning and adapting the tricks of powerful, successful people” , says Bing, whose book is subtitled “A Survival Guide to the New Workplace”. “In essence, the tricks are timeless ways for anyone to gain control over their job, their time and their life, he says. “The lack of control is what makes people unhappy, and supreme control is what signifies powerful, successful people,” he said. “In between is the regular day that we all have.”

We need to add some new words to our theme list: Work, Life, Flexibility, Juggle, Balance, Choice, Consequences, Control

The Reality of Work/Life Balance

Even though it pains me to say it, Jack Welch is right.

There is no such thing as Work/Life balance.

Excellent employers may strive to provide an atmosphere whereby the demands of a job are lessened by amenities. Frankly, most won’t. Where they do, many employees will choose not to take full advantage in the name of “too busy” or “high performance culture”.

If there is no Work/Life Balance, what is there?

To answer that question, we must look to our theme list:

  • Work
  • Life
  • Flexibility
  • Juggle
  • Balance
  • Choice
  • Consequences
  • Control

These are the factors in the equation that is Work/Life Balance. Understanding the equation is the answer to finding Work/Life Balance. The equation is like life, a series of events that unfold, offering each individual the opportunity to choose how they will behave.

If you choose to always work, your equation will be out of balance. The consequence will be the complete lack of a personal life.

Some people choose to live that way. Others choose to opt out of work altogether.

There is no perfect solution or answer to this equation! Each individual must find the answer that works for them. It is up to you to find your own answer.

Finding that balance

Even when work is overwhelming and demanding, including heavy travel, you can find short respites- if you choose to do so.

I recently had to make a trip from Tampa to Washington D.C. for a conference, and then fly from DC to Miami, keeping me away from home for a week, Wednesday to Wednesday, including working on the weekend in Miami.

I scheduled the trip so that I was able to get a block of time in DC that ran from 10 AM to 3 PM in which I was free. I used this time to take an extended walk around the sites and monuments that are offered on a beautiful autumn day in Washington D.C.  After a meeting, I used the open evening hours to meet with social media friends Mark Stelzner and Jessica Lee rather than attend a meaningless cocktail hour where I didn’t know anyone. While in Miami, I stayed near the beach in Fort Lauderdale, giving me the opportunity to rise early and take some beautiful beach walks along the Atlantic Ocean.

Total free time out of a 7 day business trip – 10 hours.

Reward – priceless!

Admittedly, I could have been working, catching up on things that got put off at the office due to the travel, but I was so far behind from an intensive 60 day schedule that spending that time working would have yielded very little long term value. The respite – the personal time to rejuvenate was far more important at that time.

You have to stay sane at work in order to remain productive. Staying sane at work when it is crazy is an art! It is your responsibility to make the choices that will provide you the proper personal work/life balance.

I will close with some tips on how to do this.

Tips for getting your own life back

  1. Never forget that you are your most important personal asset. You need to make sure that you are providing yourself with sustenance on a physical, profession, emotional and spiritual level in order to have a fully rounded life.
  2. Make time to relax. Use your vacation.
  3. Find opportunities for respite during the chaos!
  4. Don’t sublimate. Follow your passion. Don’t let work and obligation derail from some time with those things that nurture your soul and spirit.
  5. If you find yourself growing resentful and angry, take the time to reflect on why this is happening. It is impossible to work your way through this if you are imbalanced in your personal and professional life.
  6. Analyze your self-established limitations. Are you living up to impossible rules and standards for no good reason? Stop it, now!
  7. Are you staying in a bad situation because of obligation? If so, evaluate it carefully. It could be literally killing you.
  8. Go get help if you need to. I did, and it paid off.
  9. Find something that you want to do just for yourself and go do it

So, what do you think?  Does this approach work for you?  Let Mike and I know in the comments. Thank you to Mike for  participating in the Leader’s Series.

Michael VanDervort is the founder of The Human Race Horse Blog. Michael writes and speaks on topics related to human resources and social media. You can follow him on Twitter by clicking here.


  • Trisha- Another great post. I think the takeaway here is what works for one, will not work for all. Everyone needs to find what suits them. It is refreshing to read about how you took time for “you”. It sounds like you figured it out. Cheers!

  • Frankly, it looks like Mikey doesn’t have balance because he’s always on vacation……On a serious note, I agree with him and Jack. It’s all about the choices you make. If you’re like me you have to do something you like or you can’t do it for long. When you do something you like it doesn’t seem like work. When you enjoy it you tend to do more of it and it becomes a lifestyle. I do know people who lead a double life, they work their 40-50 hours, go home and do other things. They are not gadget connected. They just go home and eat spaghetti and play with the kids and watch movies.

  • Control is the essential foundation to balance. However and remember, balance is fleeting. Perfect balance is motionless.

    Ever done the balance test on a Wii? The line squiggles all over the place for me anyways. No matter how much I focus on self-control, there are always observed variance.

    My point, be aware of the fulcrum points in your life. Choose wisely with the knowledge and experience that life is really just a ride on the teeter-totter.

  • Mike, excellent post. I agree with everything you said, and will keep these points in mind for the coming year.

  • Mike – love that you found ways to enjoy a few of the the simple things in life on your trip. Something as simple as making sure you have a few minutes to take a walk on the beach can do wonders for your enthusiasm and energy.

    Out of your tips, for some reason #7 hits home for me most.
    “7 – Are you staying in a bad situation because of obligation? If so, evaluate it carefully. It could be literally killing you.”

    Look forward to more great stuff from you, and Trish in 2010!

  • @Trish – thanks for giving me the opportunity to be part of the Leaders Series. Putting this post together was fun.

    @Shennee – thanks. How are things going for you?

    @Karla – Someone has to do the vacationing around here! It may as well be me!

    @RM I am going to try that Wii balance thing today. My sister-in-law brought a Wii up to our Georgia cabin, where we are having a family reunion/XMAS for my wife’s family. Should be fun. I KNOW mine will be squiggly.

    @Rich – #7 applies to a lot of people. I managed to put my #7 behind me.

    @HRMArgo thanks!

    @Everyone – HAppy Holidays!

  • I really like the tone of the posting. Everybody should take time to reflect, every day. Just take 5 minutes to compose and sit and think, do nothing but close your eyes and sit quietly. Strange we all know what to do yet we don’take care of “me” yet we tell everyone else what they should do.
    Life is a balance,who we spend time, what task to do!
    Thanks for reminding us all that we are of little use to others if we cannot take care of ourselves

  • Thanks to Mike V. for writing such a thought provoking post for me. I appreciate his insight. Thanks also to everyone who commented. Without you all, my blog would not be a two-way conversation. Appreciate you taking the time to leave your thoughts.

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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