By Steve Kane
We often hear or read about work/life balance. It’s as though work is thought of as not part of one’s life but as a countering force. The very notion of balancing suggests conflict. After all it is conflicting forces that keep a scale in balance. Work, though, is a part of life. And, it should enhance a person’s life instead of weigh against it.
Could the notion of work/life balance really be the desire to compensate for something that is missing–to fill a void?
A job offers us the basics for survival and security in modern society: a paycheck. With this we buy the material things we need. However, it takes much more than this to satisfy our needs. Maslow established his hierarchy of needs as survival, security, significance (love and belonging), esteem (prestige and feeling of accomplishment), and self actualization. The paycheck addresses the first two. Employment (ideally) addresses the others.
People often join sports leagues to have some fun outside of work. They seek involvement with others. People want to belong and want to make a contribution. But, why outside of work?
Our emotional needs of significance, esteem and self actualization are essential. We’ll satisfy these needs however we can. If we don’t fill these needs in one place, we’ll look in an other. Of course this means if we don’t experience this sort of emotional fulfillment at work, we’ll look outside of work.
Work can’t fill all of our needs. Love and intimacy are perhaps best kept out of the workplace. What about or other needs?
The only way for an employer to get the very most of an employee is to provide the very most to the employee. More money won’t do it. Money relates to the fundamental needs of survival and security. Once these needs are met, the contribution of money becomes less effective at filling needs.
Employees need to have their emotional needs met. They need to belong–have a sense of community. They need prestige and a feeling of accomplishment. And, they need to make a significant contribution. Work, it seems, is the ideal place for this.
When these emotional needs are met, people have a greater capacity for creativity, collaboration and accomplishment. People have more to give.
We expect people to leave many aspects of their personal lives out of the workplace. At the same time, there’s not much of a chance that work can stay out of the personal life. After all, work pays for the personal life. The experience of work, good or bad, comes home with the employee. When people feel important and accomplished at work, they tend to feel that way outside of work. I think the opposite is also true.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see this in action at work. By giving employees more responsibility, autonomy, trust and respect, I saw operational performance improve. Workers were treated like professionals and they rose to the occasion. It seemed the employees stood a little taller. They were happy when the came to work in the morning and happy when they left in the evening.
Sure, the employees still bowled and played softball after hours and on the weekends. It just wasn’t as important to have their needs met that way. They just didn’t feel the need so much to try to balance their lives with work.