The happiest workers ignore this common career advice
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“Work-life balance” is often seen as an important indicator of a thriving and successful career.
Millennials and Generation Z employees, in particular, place a high value on work-life balance and look for benefits that allow them flexibility.
About a third of Gen Z and Millennials say work-life balance factors (flexible work arrangements, more time off) are the most important quality in their careers moving forward, second only to higher wages, according to a recent Bankrate study.
But “work-life balance” is a “terrible and misguided” goal to strive for, says Ranjay Gulati, a professor at Harvard Business School.
“Find work-life balance” is common career advice that Gulati encourages his students — and the CEOs he interviews on his podcast “Deep Purpose” — to ignore.
“My main problem with the term ‘work-life balance’ is that it pits work against life…it assumes that work is bad and life is good,” says Gulati. “Work shouldn’t consume you, but when you treat work and life completely separately, you’re implicitly saying, ‘I’m dead when I’m at work.’”
Here, Gulati explains why focusing on work-life balance can backfire and offers a better alternative:
Maintaining an equal division of work and life is not only difficult, but it does not guarantee happiness either.
This is because the concept of work-life balance is based on a false assumption that work and life are two unrelated entities, says Gulati. For most people, work and life are intertwined, and trying to separate them can lead to burnout and lack of fulfillment in your career.
“It’s self-limiting, because when you subscribe to this belief, work is just work, devoid of any meaning beyond a paycheck and perhaps a sense of power,” Gulati says. “There is a lot of enrichment we can derive from our work when we find that what we do has meaning and connect it with personal value or interest.”
To be clear, Gulati is not suggesting that work should consume your life. Instead, you should reconsider how different aspects of your life can feed each other and promote positive energy.
According to Gulati, the “happiest” people are not looking for balance between their work and personal lives, but rather harmony.
When there is continuity between your personal and professional routines, you can create a more consistent and fulfilling life, says Gulati.
The goal is to find areas of compromise and synergy. For example: Forming meaningful connections with your coworkers is a great way to feel more motivated at work, as is volunteering on projects that draw on your personal interests or experiences, Gulati explains.
The benefits are endless if you can find meaning in what you do. Research shows that bonuses and promotions are more common among people who find their work meaningful. What’s more, studies have found that these workers tend to be more resilient, motivated, and work harder than their peers.
In other words, integrating your personal and professional lives can lead to a happier and more successful professional life.
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(Tags for translation) Business Economics