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Why I Don't Need 'Work-Life Balance'

28/07/2015 8:15 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Every Sunday newspaper supplement invariably carries an interview of some CEO or a leader with an opinion on work-life balance and how this is so vital in today's busy world. Then there are advice columns that give you step-by-step instructions on "how to switch off from work" or "how to say no" or "how to take regular holiday breaks" and "how to manage stress".

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The misanthropist in me gets amused.

Work-life balance is not a verb or a task that's actionable. It's a state of mind.

My position is that for any conscientious person who wants to achieve something for his employer (read the one who signs the cheques that feed your family), work should be life and life should be work - for his own comforts, for his family, his community, for those who look up to him and to make a difference in society.

Of course, many people work strictly by the watch all their life, causing a traffic jam at the exit gate at 5.29pm if the official hours are 9am to 5.30pm. I wonder how they finish all their tasks for the day with such alarming precision.

Ratan Tata during a Jaguar and Land Rover meeting in the UK expressed his reservations about the attitude of UK managers, who are out of the door as soon as the clock strikes six or whatever official hours are. This itch to leave work and switch off completely from Friday afternoon through Monday evening, especially in the West, surprises me too.

"But why should your work, your family, your job, your children, your time commitments give you stress? If you love them all, you'll be able to manage their demands with a smile on your face."

If a senior manager was made the owner of his company (where he is employed) overnight, would he switch off or allow anyone to switch off or even fathom switching off for two-and-a-half days?

And then there are people who can plan their holidays months and sometimes years in advance. Again I wonder -- how can there be a guarantee that the organisation wouldn't require you at a future moment or a project may not require your attention? How can one commit to a holiday ahead of time?

If you need to travel with your family you just do it whenever you feel that you can be away from work. If there is a family compulsion just inform your team and leave without any question or doubt.

But if you don't need leave why do you want to be away from work - which after, all, is meant to be "worship" in our childhood books -- just because you have a few leaves pending?

I am inspired by Netflix and the culture that this company has managed to implement. Amongst many game-changing initiatives is the absence of a leave policy. And guess what, the liberty to take a need based leave actually improved the efficiency and profitability of Netflix.

The company's policy is captured in five words: "Act in Netflix's best interest." That's it. Culture cannot be simpler.

Stress is another popular topic of discussion these days. Everyone is seemingly stressed. Everyone is talking about stress management. So does that mean that life is giving you stress?

But why should your work, your family, your job, your children, your time commitments give you stress? If you love them all, you'll be able to manage their demands with a smile on your face. Anything that you don't love or don't respect will give you stress.

I believe that efficient managers do not need "stress management" or laboured attempts to reach the elusive "balance". God gave you a body with a mind and a heart that do not switch off until you die. And if God believed that humans need to be switched off, he would have designed a switch in the body.

If a person has the ability to think, how can they expect to - or need to - switch off? An average person sleeps for eight hours, has an average two-hour commute, works for 10 hours and does everything else in the remaining four hours, including eating, socialising and family time. Being alive is a balancing act in itself.

So what's the point?

"Anyone who is seeking work-life balance or feels that it can be sought or achieved won't ever find it. And anyone who needs to switch off isn't switched on enough."

We allow our mind and body to be shackled in the assumed burden of work and then seek balance. If you love what you do, why do you need unshackling? If you are responsible enough to hold the position that you are holding, why do you need to switch off?

Even though you are away from work, you are still thinking about it all the time. But can thinking kill anyone? After all, psychologists ask you to regularly play Sudoku to prevent Alzheimer's. Why can't people see their work as a game of Sudoku?

Evolved beings work, enjoy life, and, yes, party simultaneously. There can be no distinction between work, partying and life. Work is life. Work is a party.

It may be something of a cliché, but if you love what you do and consider your work as a hobby, you will think about that hobby all the time. For instance, I don't find it strange that sometimes in the middle of the night when I think of a new idea or thought, I instantly WhatsApp it to the leaders of my team so that that the flash of a good idea is not lost, so that it can spark the imagination of my team who will translate the vision to organisational reality. In my opinion, no hour or place is odd. You could be having an absolutely unproductive day at work, but while lying down at home think of an idea that may make a huge difference to the organisation.

I think about my work all the time. I love golf, economics and stock markets and I think about them all the time as well. I feel I am in a state of equilibrium.

Anyone who is seeking work-life balance or feels that it can be sought or achieved won't ever find it. And anyone who needs to switch off isn't switched on enough.

The English educator L P Jacks sums up the matter beautifully:

"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he is always doing both".

Manu also has a blog and writes on topics such as finance, strategy, relationships, leadership.

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