Published first in the Huffington Post

Work in the 20th century

According to Wikipedia, work–life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development). According to the same source, the expression was first used in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s and in 1986 in the United States.

A few thoughts emerge here.

First, work is defined as something different from the lifestyle we choose, and life in a way is something starting when work finishes. That is how the phrase “it’s not personal, it’s business” started regularly being used at work. Second, ambition is related to work while life is related to health, pleasure, and spiritual development.

That concept has served us for the last 30-40 years and is probably the reason why the phrase “Thank God It’s Friday” became so popular in the 80s and 90s. After all, Friday marks the end of our working week and the beginning of our life… It’s no wonder so many people celebrate that night!

That is also the time Casual Friday became wide spread – a concept to relax without office dress code on Fridays to make the transition smoother. If somebody asked me then I would have probably proposed a Casual Monday instead because the transition from ‘life’ to ‘work’ is definitely the one that is more difficult to handle.

Another important concept related to how we approach work is the concept of scarcity or the existence of limited resources we need to fight for. Work was associated with a war and military jargon became part of everyday work life. We are led by ‘officers’, we ‘kill the competition’, ‘target’ clients, work ‘in the trenches’ and ‘on the front lines’, develop ‘strategy’ and ‘drive campaigns’.

21st century challenges

The more we go deeper into the 21st century, the more we see that these concepts are not working for us. How do we know they are not? The most obvious is that the workforce is disengaged at unprecedented levels and that continues despite the fact that more and more companies are talking about the importance of happiness at work.

Additionally, the media is full of information about wrongdoings of businesses and many people are deeply concerned with the impact of our work on the sustainability of our planet and the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Let’s explore that. We associate some of the wrongdoings with corporations and their owners and celebrity CEOs. But what could they possibly do without the millions of managers, researchers, marketing people, accountants, salesmen, administrators, to name a few? How could so many people be involved in some of these wrongdoings? Well, it’s easy. It’s all part of the design. Remember, “it’s not personal, it’s business”… Work is about a career and money making, while the rest of our lives is about spiritual development and happiness… So, we go to work to make money and excel in our careers so that we can make even more money and we look forward to the time outside of work for everything else we need.

Whether you are an individual who wants to have a more fulfilling and happy life at work, an organizational leader that is worried about engagement and performance at work, or somebody who wants to see a world in which our work is contributing to a better tomorrow rather than destroying it – the answer is the same.

Work is sacred

15 years ago, these words of Anne Wilson Schaef profoundly touched me: “Work is sacred. It is not just a way to earn money or gain power, though it may result in both. Work is a vehicle for testing out our gifts and talents and using them to explore their meaning. Work is a process of self-expression, trial and error learning, creativity, and risk taking. No matter what kind of job we have, work always has these potentials. Work is spiritual. It is a place where we have the opportunity for spiritual growth. Often these opportunities come from the “how” of the ways we do our work rather than the “what” of the work itself. Regardless of what our work is, we can enjoy it. And it is most enjoyable when balanced with other aspects of our life and not a tyrant.”

As Ken Wilber puts it, our very thoughts and actions are contributing directly to the forms or structure of tomorrow – we are a genuine co-creator of a reality that every human henceforth will pass through. I see that as a responsibility but also an opportunity. If we want to live in a better world, we need to exchange the old clichés that have been prevailing in the work places with their opposites:

  • We need balance in our lives but we do not need work-life balance because work is an integral part of life, not something separate of it.
  • It is a lie that work is not personal. Work is something very personal and love has a place in it.
  • Happiness is not something we pursue outside of work. Work is essential for our happiness and can be pleasure.
  • Spiritual development is not something we pursue outside of work. Work is critical for our spiritual development.
  • Work does not need to be about scarcity and killing each other, it can be collaborative, compassionate, creative, inclusive, and opening an abundance of possibilities.

Once we exchange the old clichés it will be easy to say “Thank God It’s Monday!” but also Tuesday, Wednesday and every other day of the week.