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Is work-life balance an elusive dream?

Nobody can raise a kid over the phone, nor a passionate feeling be consummated through an inter-virtual communication.

By Jaykhosh Chidambaran

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

“Remember to live”― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If truth is the first casualty in war and love, the prima facie casualty in corporate life is time. Societies are positioned in time and many in the developed world and emerging markets have transitioned from agrarian to industrial to the 21st century, ‘Third Wave’ knowledge societies. The defining paradigms of this change are rapid urbanization, explosion of information, proliferation of technologies and creation of wealth, unprecedented in human history. These information/innovation economies are marked by frenetic pace of commercial activity that spills over into social and personal lives, disrupting the work-life balance of its participants to the extent of jeopardizing the bedrock of any nation, community and individual, which is family!

Adding to this conundrum is the pressure to perform and apprehensive of the prospect of losing jobs, executives are forced to work long, extended hours and invariably join the bandwagon of rat racers to reach the future first and to reap its first fruits. These prisoners of time are engulfed pitilessly in a contagious environment of stress and lifestyle diseases, while simultaneously contenting, comforting and deceiving themselves that it is the new normal. 

Amidst this evolved backdrop, successful executives who climb upper echelons of the corporate ladder through consistent exemplary performance are those who could reconcile their professional and personal lives, who better utilize their human capital by strongly anchoring it in the family. They have unconditional access to emotional and intellectual support systems within their social networks. For them work-life balance is never an elusive dream but rather, allocating quality extra-professional time is a conscious choice of will. 

The following key points will enable a deeper introspection of the priorities in life to achieve a harmonious work-life balance.

Relativism of Success:

Most executives unknowingly fall into the classic stereotypical trap of success by merely trying to emulate others who are seemingly successful in material terms without an honest evaluation of his/her personal definitions of success. By principle, success is relative and inextricably linked to one’s personality and worldview. For many it could mean amassing wealth at the expense of health and character, some define it to be at the top of the corporate ladder in the shortest span of time; but to an endangered few, success is least materialistic but to raise a successful family, where their children shine as stars without blemish amidst a crooked and perverse generation. For the latter group, success is not measured by corporate success at all and assumes a spiritual and philosophical dimension. 

Such relativistic perceptions of what it means to be successful should be incorporated into one’s personal and professional lives to create a lifestyle that helps achieve them. Retrospectively all will know the cost of their success and it’s true meaning. Interestingly, individual perceptions of success can also evolve over the professional trajectory of an executive. It is equally important for corporations to acknowledge gender variations in the definition of success. Women give more emphasis to individual achievement and receiving respect over organizational achievement or ongoing training and development which are valued highly by men.

Career is a 20th century invention and however irreplaceable and indispensable it is in contemporary social dynamics, should not ignore the fundamental element of all civilized societies, the family. For many who are positioned in time, driven by dreams and aspirations, who knows when to start work at the beginning of the day are ruefully ignorant when to stop it. The family binds and holds an individual together, provides a substratum for growth and development and is the bedrock of civilization, from where culture unfurls and history unfolds. Invariably, the greatest achievers in history had vouched for strong family bonds as their driving force whereas most of the vilest deeds ever perpetrated on this planet have their roots in broken families.

Managing Technology:

The quantum pace of technological advancement over the past 30 years has redefined social dynamics and its individual interactions. Smaller and smarter communications devices warrant an executive accessible and available for work-related chores much beyond the normal working hours. An executive is subjected to an onslaught of e-mails, text messages, voice mails, that is required of time-sensitive responses so much so that the little sounds, colors and sights of life pass under his nose unseen, disrupting the equilibrium of undivided attention essential to spend quality time with one’s family and community. Such inescapable encroachment of machines into the lives of human beings disrupt relationships, both within family, personal and social, stifling the healthy, well-rounded development of individual identities. Workaholism may deprave oneself of wisdom gained from contemplative serenity, reducing humans into a robotic, automata like existence. Are we entering into a post-human phase of existence?

Nobody can raise a kid over the phone, nor a passionate feeling be consummated through an inter-virtual communication. The critical elements of sight, touch and feel through which, feelings overflow and passions manifest, where synergies are created, identities established, individuals appreciated and taken into confidence are imperative of any interpersonal communications. If a multi-million-dollar business deal will never be closed through an online interaction, one can never expect to build a strong inter-personal relationship by virtual networking. Bemoaning that there is no time is an escapist excuse. Time is a classic. Unless you seek time, it will never seek you.  

Building Support Ecosystems:

Outside of families, executives need to identify, nurture, develop and maintain social relationships with colleagues and friends to tide over life’s trials and tribulations. A good network of friends and colleagues can greatly dissipate personal angst by acting as an emotional vent, source of counsel and solace during times of intense mental anguish. While developing sound relationships with colleagues can resolve work related anxieties and uncertainties, stronger bonding with people outside work can infuse fresh perspectives into life and work. 

Reviving one’s hobbies and areas of interest, all the more beneficial if they are compatible with the immediate social network can be an ideal way to unplug and unwind from the monotonous drag of corporate life. Most executives seem to abandon their passions when they evolve in the organization, citing the age-old stock response “no time’, cocooning themselves from social life, forfeiting the little pleasures of life that had inspired and motivated them in the past.

Our autonomous nervous system has two branches. The sympathetic deals with the body’s stress response and the parasympathetic deals with the rest and digest response. It is necessary that we endeavor to explore, create, develop and indulge in activities that instigate the parasympathetic nervous system more which, is inevitable for creating a harmonious balance in our lives. Work is only one part of life and matter can never provide lasting happiness. We shouldn’t compromise our time and transient lives to lament as in the words of the poet William Henry Davies in his half sarcastic poem ‘Leisure’, “No time to wait till her mouth can Enrich that smile her eyes began. A poor life this is if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare…” 

About the author : Jaykhosh Chidambaran is an accomplished management professional with over 20 years of diverse industry experience in MNC’s and is currently an EdTech Growth and Strategy Consultant for India & Middle East. He is an alumnus of Chicago Booth School of Business. 

Disclaimer : The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of TAS and TAS does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.