Finding Meaning in the ‘Work’ of Work-Life Balance

Finding Meaning in the ‘Work’ of Work-Life Balance

For many, the priority is no longer making as much money as possible, but to optimize the more meaningful factors of their lives. Why is this the case? Most millennials and gen Z were raised by generations that prioritized making money at the cost of their well-being, as well as their leisure time with their families, which once they began to get closer to the years in which they’d be in the workplace, prioritized wellbeing and preventing burnout.

So Harvard Business School conducted a study on the students of the University of British Columbia, on whether their priority is time or money, and studied how their priorities shaped their lives in the careers that followed. Their results concluded that those who prioritized time i.e. would work fewer hours to have more time, with the consequence being getting less pay, reported higher subjective well-being. In addition to having higher wellbeing, they were also more satisfied with their jobs, due to prioritizing the gratification aspect of their careers, i.e. they chose their careers based on enjoyment and meaning it brought them.

What does it have to do with work-life balance though? For many, finding a balance can be difficult. It’s hard to segment your life into neat sections labeled ‘work’ and the rest, ‘family’, ‘leisure’, ‘friends’. At times, the former requires extra attention and time, while the latter comes with its own difficulties in keeping to a pre-set schedule. The consequence of not having a work-life balance is unfortunately burnout. But there are ways to keep yourself from burning out while overcoming the seeming impossibility of scheduling your life down to the most minute details, and that is for workers to find more meaning in what they do. This is something that leaders and management can and should have a role in making a reality. Instead of putting your life in compartments (with much difficulty).

Harvard Business Review adapted Edward Deci and Richard Ryan’s research on the six main reasons why people work, to a framework for the modern workplace, finding that play (being motivated by the work itself), purpose (working because you value the work’s impact), and potential (how it provides further opportunities) have a direct relationship with a worker’s performance. 

Up at the higher seats of the company, it’s easier to see how much of your vision has unfolded, or how far you’ve come, among your workers, it might be difficult for them to see how their tasks contribute to a greater whole, leading to higher levels of disengagement, demotivation, and eventually, higher levels of turnover. According to psychology, people see objects as being more valuable when they belong to a set. When applying such a principle to the workplace, it means that leadership needs to find a way to link their workers’ individual duties, which they might see as insignificant if they are disengaged from their work to a greater goal aligned with the company’s overall mission. This is aided by building a culture that sees the organization as one team or promoting a greater good. In addition, leadership should set the tone by exemplifying behaviors such as encouraging and celebrating the efforts of individuals in their day to day tasks, as well as in their corporate social impact efforts. Leadership can also incorporate the aspects of ‘play’, ‘purpose’, and ‘potential’ in their culture, with examples such as rethinking and redesigning your employees’ various roles, and making a ritual out of explaining why and how everyone’s tasks are related to the whole, and out of ‘team huddles’ with the intention of reflecting on each individual’s purpose.

When people find meaning in their professional lives, they feel wellbeing in a more enduring sense, which increases productivity, engagement, and performance and also find more joy and motivation, when their tasks are linked to a greater whole. Beyond time management, which can sometimes feel impossible in today’s work environment, a different kind of balance can be achieved when you find meaning not just in the non-work aspects of your life, but within the professional sphere as well.



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