We’ve lost sight of why we work: the goal of well-being and happiness. October is National Work and Family Month which focuses on the challenges working families face every day. One of those challenges is being happy. Americans rank 13th among the happiest nations, according to the 2016 World Happiness Report. Since the US has the world’s largest economy, it clearly shows money does not buy happiness. Why do other countries, including third-world developing countries, score higher on happiness than American citizens? We work for many reasons, and one of those is money. We work longer and longer hours to make more money. We do this because we have been indoctrinated into the pursuit of profit and return on investment – Wall Street’s only metric in deciding if a company, and those that work for a company, are good or bad.
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, full-time American employees work an average of 47-hours per week with 39% working greater than 50-hours. Is this too much or too little of time to meet the needs of other roles in our life such as family, friends, self-care, spiritual, and pleasure? Well, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, and Sweden average a much shorter work week than the USA does, and those countries are higher on the world index of happiest citizens and are living a more balance life.
Do We Balance Work-Life or Integrate the Two?
Work-life balance has been broadly defined in the academic arena as how well an individual assesses his or her performance in balancing the multiple roles in life. In the past, turning off your office light or punching a time clock used to be the “off” switch that separated work from personal time. However, technology has not only blurred the lines; technology has interwoven them. There is no true divide between work and personal life.
Devon Bandison, based in New York City, is a high performance coach and speaker who, among many leadership attributes, is committed to helping his clients in work-life satisfaction. In one of Devon Bandison Podcasts, he interviewed Stew Friedman, who is the founding director of Wharton's Work/Life Integration Project. Stew’s take on work-life balance is that it shouldn’t exist. Balance is about trade-offs such as I need to give up family time for work time. Stew teaches work-life integration where people will benefit more by focusing on how an improvement in one role in life can have a ripple effect in another role. In other words, what positive outcomes in your life might occur if you make a positive change in one of your other roles? Stew teaches how to integrate work and life versus focusing on balancing life by contemplating the trade-offs one needs to make in their various roles.
I believe the ideal state might lie between balance and integration. For example, many Americans trade-off sleep to recapture more family or work time. According to the 2014 Gallup Sleep Study, 40% of Americans sleep six hours or less per night. The American Medical Association continues to advocate we should get between seven and nine hours of sleep to rejuvenate our minds and bodies.
Richard Fagerlin, one of the top 100 trust leaders in the world, believes the pursuit of balance in his life is a constant tension. He seeks excellence in everything he does yet realizes he can’t do everything at the same time. He chooses when to say no and when to say yes. Managing his priorities is how he manages the tension in his life and ultimately his happiness.
3 Steps to Become Happier and Improve Your Work-Life Satisfaction
1. Enjoy your work and the organization you choose to spend a significant amount of time with each day. Find engagement and meaning in your work so you can achieve a sense of accomplishment. Gaining these happiness attributes at work often lead to spill-over effects that bring happiness to the home. Can’t find this at work? Perhaps it is time for a career change.
2. Reflect on your meaning of happiness. What are your priorities in life? Where do you want to see improvements? Reflect deeply on what is important and why it is important. Then take a step in that direction. Remember, each of us are capable of great accomplishments. We can all eat an elephant one bite at a time.
3. What brings happiness to those you care about the most? One of the best injections of happiness is in having healthy personal relationships. Do you need to change the amount of time or mental energy you are applying in one or more roles in life to bring greater energy to your personal relationships? Do something today for someone you love that will catch them by surprise. Feel the gratitude and love they express to you. Remember that feeling and build on it in the near future.