Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Secret Flaw In Work Life Balance

work like effectiveness by Mike Kline via Flickr ccI’ve never liked the phrase work/life balance. I’m just not comfortable saying it. I like the sentiment, but the phrase is somehow wrong. I now understand why, but it will take me a while to get there.

Cali Williams Yost makes a significant improvement when she writes about work+life fit. In her book Tweak It, Yost explains the origin of the idea. She was meeting with a senior executive, explaining the benefits to the company of offering employees better work/life balance. But as soon as she said “work/life balance”, his eyes glazed over. Yost asked him to explain why.

“Every time you [Cali] say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?”[i]

Yost explained that is wasn’t about working less, but about having the flexibility to choose when and where you work. Yost invented the phrase “work+life fit” on the spot. The executive got it immediately, recounting how he plays tennis twice a week, and tries to fit his son’s soccer games into his overall schedule. Work+life fit is about giving individuals the flexibility to make work fit into their unique circumstances.[ii] For Yost, this was a key breakthrough that has enabled her to open dialog with business leaders about increasing workplace flexibility.

I loved work+life fit when I first heard about it. It made sense to me, because flexibility is a significant improvement over inflexible work hours.  People are happier and less stressed if they have flexibility.

But, there remained a niggling doubt in my gut, which is captured by the image I chose for the post. Our heroine has work+life fit of a sort, but it is not a happy picture. Flexibility is a plus, but if one it merely moving around the ninety hours, there still is not enough time to have a balanced life.

The problem I am trying to solve is chronic overwork, and increased flexibility doesn’t help if the overall hours remain the same.

Continued … the Real Goal Is Life Balance

[i] Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day by Cali Williams Yost. p xiv More

[ii] Ibid p xiv-xv



  1. Work Life “fit” – yes, much better. Balance reminds me of a seesaw (not balanced); alternatives I’ve heard seem even worse.

    Fit allows for accommodating individual differences and differences when combinations change.

    Still, we are left with fundamental structural issues in both our employment environments (“employee status”) and our independent arrangements (no social safety net whatsoever). These impediments to real productivity much less “fit” remain, in my opinion, a major challenge – to mindset and culture as well as economic policy / politics.

  2. We’ve been running into the same challenge. Selling work-life balance to people who think it means “Work less, on a beach somewhere” is a frustrating uphill conversation. We went with integration – with the same idea as your word, ‘fit’. It is about doing the work, but doing it around the other things that need to happen for your health, your family and your happiness.

    • Thanks for the comment Lyndsay.

      I think it is time to call a spade a spade – we are working too much, and what we need is Life Balance. Somehow working only 40-50 hours a week has been defined as slacking off. Nothing reduces quality and increases stress like a bunch of people working 60+ hours a week.

  3. Very insightful piece, Greg. You made an excellent point when you mentioned Cali’s meeting with a senior executive that said, “Every time you [Cali] say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do.” I agree that the term “balance” isn’t the best word choice for this ideal as it leads to false expectations. It isn’t about working less, or cutting time from work or home life to strike a sense of equilibrium. As a work+life fit advocate and business leader operating a national staffing firm with a core focus on flexibility, I am beyond appreciative of heroines such as Cali, that work hard to accurately define this concept because, as you said – people are happier, more productive and ultimately less stressed with the implementation of flexibility. –Allison O’Kelly, founder/CEO Mom Corps

    • Allison
      Thank you – I appreciate the feedback, and Cali is truly a pioneer in this space.
      More flexibility is sufficient in many cases, but in others people also need to cut back the hours worked. I do not think the impact on their productivity will be significant, as many of the hours worked beyond 50 are not productive anyway.


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