What is a Work/Life Balance?

Every Monday at Sparkle, we host a “lunch and learn” session. Each takes turns to bring to the table and discuss something specific they want to share. Our most recent one was led by Bidemi, who wanted to discuss work/life balance. As we each went around the room, I was fascinated to hear how everyone’s perspectives [from Millennial, to Gen Z to Gen X to me] were completely different. They all had different work experiences and, importantly, expectations on how life should be.

So let’s start with the basics. What does work actually mean? When I was young, it was a place where you went to, got paid and kept separate from your life. It was a physical place, just like a bank, you clock in and clock out. Completely transactional and separate from your life. Enter the advent of technology, and you’re now reachable outside of work hours; work is all of a sudden encroaching slightly into your home life. The next step was having the technology to actually work from home — so you can take your work home. By this point, the boundaries between work and home were fully erased, although of course you had the option to switch off [or not even switch on]. The current incarnation of technology in the home has been accelerated by COVID; work now lives with you. At home.

Interestingly, two generations ago, my grandmother would work on her farm, and in the home — there was no real separation of the two. Was that work/life balance? No technology, no mobile phone, no laptop [not even a desktop]… but she still worked. All the time. She did not come home to peace. Why? Because life is work. You have to work at everything — to generate money to live, to be healthy, in your personal relationships… even your hobbies and pastimes — to be good at them, you have to put in the work.

I’m not advocating that we should be all work and no play — what I am suggesting is that we remove this partition concept of work/life balance and move to a hybrid model, where all aspects of your life are intertwined. Much like the make up of a suggested plate of food [25% carbs, 25% protein, 50% vegetables] you can have a balance on one plate — three plates aren’t required.

What does this mean in reality? For me, it means everything on one calendar, potentially colour coded, but it’s important to show and prioritise each and every aspect / diary entry. Business meeting? Tennis lesson? Take your child swimming? French classes? Catch up with friends? They all deserve equal priority in your schedule. Not a case of “work first and then let’s see if I can make it to my daughter’s swimming class”. This level of activity and execution requires commitment and full transparency about what you are doing; I think people call it being “intentional” these days. If I have a hobby or interest in my diary, my assistant knows it’s non-negotiable in terms of moving it for a paid work activity. She would not even ask me to move a dinner with my daughter that was in my diary and replace it with a business meeting. My social and personal life is so highly prized and prioritised and woven into my daily routine, it is never a case of “maybe”. The same discipline I have for work, I have for non-paid work. Let me repeat — I work hard at it all — but I don’t differentiate between work and life. The two are fully integrated. Discipline is a skill that can be transferred across every single aspect of your life.

13 months ago [pre-COVID] it was actually hard work to get to work; get up, get changed, get in the car, get stuck in traffic, make chit chat with colleagues… before you even get to the actual work part — the usual routine we all recognise. But now, with a more flexible approach to work [and location] I can channel that time to do more productive work, more productive time with my family — enriching my life. Not just me — we all can, if our paid work lives [companies] are built to withstand this. This is especially important for women, who still continue to be the dominant force behind the household activities in terms of running a house and family. They need the flexibility to integrate paid and unpaid work more than ever to enable them to focus on work, family, themselves, their health and more. And yes, it is unfortunate that women are still carrying out so much unpaid work around the family unit — this will take generations to change, so until then, we need to make inroads into finding solutions to at least ease the burden, where possible.

Now of course, we all do paid work to live; let’s be real here. But with expectations of what life is for, and with technology presenting itself as both an enabler and a hindrance to a more productive life [depending on your relationship with it] then we now need to ensure corporations and businesses can make sense of the opportunities and build working processes around it. They need to find a way for people to be productive in both their paid and unpaid work — seeing time as a commodity and technology as a force for good to get the most out of each and every hour of the day. This is how Sparkle came to life — by using technology to simplify and remove wahala from both work and personal lives; blurring the boundaries between the two in a positive way and enabling people to simply do their tasks and move on with their day.

For me, Sparkle in itself is both paid and unpaid work; I am working hard and betting that it will work financially, of course, but at the same time, the unpaid aspect is also working hard to effect change and make a significant difference in the market my team and I operate in. And part of that is creating an enabling environment for people to work productively, another part of that is job creation that then allows my team to have the ability to make choices about all other aspects of their lives. So whilst I am battling against, and ultimately want to dismantle the current binary concept of work/life balance — I do also want to contribute to there being balance in peoples’ lives; what balance means though just needs to be reevaluated within today’s shifting business and life landscape.

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