Here's why work life 'fit' -- not balance -- is important

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Fit. Just the word conjures up images of women and men running, swimming, doing gymnastics, riding bikes, boxing, playing footy, netball, basketball…

But whatever your image associated with ‘fit’ is, it will probably suggest that fit tends to reflect ‘healthy’.

But fit doesn’t mean fit in all circumstances – not the running around kind of fit anyway.

Indeed, writing in the Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin said of gene selection there would be a “preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest”.

Fit, as in ‘fit for purpose’.

You may not have thought of fit in this light but its worth making that connection, according to Morra Aarons-Mele, author of Hiding in the Bathroom, who told the Knowledge at Wharton Podcast that “work life balance is a lie” and that we actually need to think about work-life “fit”.

First things first, we need to separate the notion of work life balance somehow being related just to parenthood, Aarons-Mele said, noting, “I think it’s become totally twinned with parenthood and being a working mom, and that is not good for anyone. There are a lot of people who don’t have kids at home and who really crave a life. Let’s be honest: It’s not about having kids.”

The key she said is that “we want to work in a way that suits us… You’re on, and then you’re off for a little while. That’s your work-life fit.”

She doesn’t judge her husband and friends “who love to work all the time” because “that’s their work-life fit”. But she does say “I really love my work, but I need to work in a space that I can control.”

She says the open-plan office is not good for her.

“I am no good at showing up at an office for 10 hours a day and sitting in an open-plan cubicle. That’s not my thing. I’m bad at it. But give me control over my time and space, and I’m amazing.”

That open-plan being the enemy of work life fit is a notion explored by Tim Samuels in “Who Stole My Spear”. Samuels said the geography of the open-plan office is “an unnatural source of emasculation that sends our [mens] flight/fight hormones haywire.”

He says that open-plan constantly reinforces workers “sense of hierarchical position by keeping in the same space – or close by – those that wield direct power’ over resources and status.

Some people just can’t cope with that and Aaron-Mele says, “fit is about what works for you, with compromise at the edges, and becoming the best person you can be in your career. It’s so much healthier than balance.”

Thankfully though, companies have cottoned onto this need for flexibility because they recognise that not only in a competitive job market they need to offer better conditions for workers but also because workers are now forcing companies to recognise that for the extended connectedness to the office there has to be some sort of payback.

“Gallup did a great study that I always cite” Aarons-Mele said.

She highlighted the survey found, “that 86% of working Americans said they don’t mind being reachable on their smartphone as long as they have more flexibility on how they manage their workday. That means, “I’ve got to leave for a kid’s soccer game. Please don’t give me you-know-what for it.” Or, “I might want to come in a little later to avoid traffic…. but I’m going to be reachable for you at odd hours”.

This is changing the nature of office contact time she says and “work is shifting” as a result.

That means “some really smart companies have core days, so they let employees work at home or work how they like on, maybe, Monday and Friday. But Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are in-office days where people can see each other and do that collaboration. With technology, work is shifting and things are changing” she said.

From a businesses point of view, this ability to offer what Aarons-Mele refers to as the “deep work” time of immersion when workers can “really think and be generative and do what you love to do” is “your work/life fit”.

Clearly both parties benefit – workers and companies – from the flexibility to allow work-life fit. Companies likely see improved productivity and a more engaged workforce and workers will find themselves happier and achieving more day to day and likely in their career.

Sounds like a good deal all round. Time to talk to the boss.

You can read the transcript or listen to the podcast here.

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