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  • Writer's pictureScott Behson

What is Work-Family Balance, Anyway?

“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name” – Confucius

After a vacation week at Disney, FWF blog is back for 2013

After a vacation week at Disney, FWF blog is back for 2013

Since starting this blog, I’ve been writing 2000 words a week on the general theme of work-family balance.  Before that, I published several academic journal articles and a dissertation about work-family balance (my cv here). You would think this would make the concept of work-family balance very clear to me. However, “balance” is exquisitely difficult to precisely define.

It is easier to define what work-family balance is not. I can confidently say it is not:

  1. Spending equal time on work and family demands

  2. Spending as much time as needed for full success in both work and family roles

  3. Having it all

The best definition I ever came across is “the extent to which individuals are equally involved in, and equally satisfied with, their work role and their family role” (Greenhaus & Singh, 2003). I heart this definition because:

  1. It does not concern itself with time spent on both roles- it focuses instead on involvement and satisfaction. Such a flexible definition is useful because it means there are many ways to achieve something approaching balance

  2. It doesn’t set up the false dichotomy of “family = good”, “work = bad”

  3. It does not assert that the two roles are necessarily in opposition or should be fully separated from each other

  4. It implies that one can achieve some level of success in both roles, and that involvement and satisfaction reinforce each other (the more involved a dad you are, you’ll be more satisfied; the more emotionally invested in work/career you are, the more satisfied you tend to be). Work and family compete for your time, but caring about both can lead to a more satisfying life.

  5. At the same time, it does not assert that balance means having it all or doing it all.  Being involved and satisfied is enough; being Superman is too high an expectation

Thanks to Mark P- in his great comment below, he noted that the word “equal” in the above definition is problematic. I agree. Perhaps “sufficient” is better? Any ideas?

I’d love to hear your definitions of work-family balance- serious, humorous or otherwise. Maybe we can crowdsource a definition together. Let’s get your suggestions in the comments section.

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