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“Work-life balance” is often considered an important indicator of a prosperous and successful career.
Millennials and Generation Z workers, in particular, place a high value on work-life balance and seek benefits that allow flexibility.
About a third of Gen Z and millennials say work-life balance factors (flexible work arrangements, more free time) are the most important quality for the future of their career, just behind higher pay, according to a recent Bankrate survey.
But “work-life balance” is a “horrible and misleading” goal, says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at Harvard Business School.
“Find a work-life balance” is common career advice that Gulati encourages his students — and the CEOs he interviews on his “Deep Purpose” podcast — to ignore.
“My main problem with the term ‘work-life balance’ is that it pits work against life…it assumes that work is bad and life is good,” says Gulati. “Work shouldn’t consume you, but when you completely separate work and life, you implicitly say, ‘I’m dead when I’m at work.'”
Here, Gulati explains why focusing on work-life balance can be counterproductive and offers a better alternative:
Maintaining an equal split between work and life is not only difficult to achieve, it also doesn’t guarantee happiness.
Indeed, the concept of work-life balance is based on the flawed assumption that work and life are two independent entities, Gulati explains. For most people, work and life are closely intertwined, and trying to separate them can lead to burnout and a lack of fulfillment in your career.
“It’s self-limiting because when you subscribe to this belief, work is just work, devoid of meaning beyond a paycheck and perhaps a sense of power,” Gulati says. “We can get much more from our work when we find that what we do is meaningful and we connect it to a personal value or interest.”
To be clear, Gulati is not suggesting that work should consume your life. Instead, you should reconsider how different aspects of your life can feed into each other and foster positive energy.
According to Gulati, the “happiest” people are not looking for work-life balance, but harmony.
When there is continuity between your personal and professional routines, you can create a more grounded and fulfilling life, says Gulati.
The goal is to find areas of compromise and synergy. For example: Making meaningful connections with your colleagues is a great way to feel more motivated at work, as is volunteering for projects that draw on your personal interests or experiences, says Gulati.
The benefits are endless if you can find meaning in what you do. Research shows that raises and promotions are more common among people who find their work meaningful. Additionally, studies have found that these workers tend to be more resilient, motivated, and hardworking than their peers.
In other words, merging your personal and professional lives can lead to a happier, more successful career.
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