Work-Life: Is Productivity in the Balance?

Many organizations regard work-life benefits as an investment designed, among other things, to attract and retain talent. How do such benefits affect productivity for the individuals, the company, and society?
by James Heskett

Summing Up

This month's column sought to pose a trade-off between improved work-life balance and productivity. In general, many among the large number of respondents rejected the notion. As Brian O'Leary put it, " ... finding a work-life balance will not undermine American productivity or threaten our world competitiveness. It may actually help us find ways to be more productive." Susan Seitel agreed, saying "there are ways to have both and we have proof. The country's dramatically increasing output comes coincidentally at the same time more and more employers are implementing the flexibility that workers not only want but must have if they're going to handle their dual responsibilities." David Lovelace asserts that it is "clear that employees with higher morale will be more productive. An organization that focuses on the importance of employees' lives outside of work is going to ... increase morale." Faisal Shaheen takes the matter one step further by asserting that "If not supported and recharged, households will not be able to add productive talent to the future labor force."

There were a number of suggestions about how to resolve any conflicts between work and life more broadly defined. Joe Violette suggests that at least in the project-oriented environment in which he works, one should "Make your family a part of your work team and you'll create a good work-life balance." Lisa Grainger proposes that before imposing a set of practices, "Ask team members what would work for them, their service area, customers, and work colleagues." Stacy Krauss suggests that "Employers who give employees flexibility win in the longer term due to loyalty and a sense of control... Each day presents different choices, and balance allows employees to choose what the priority of the day must be." Marc Michaelson says he has "been frustrated by the programmatic approach to this issue by employers and providers. Leaders, managers, teams, and individual contributors respond much more proactively to the notion of balance when it is placed in the context of their personal values, interests, and stage of life."

There were a few dissenters to these views. Tom Patterson characterized these in opining that "Most people in an organization ... need ... to feed off the urgency of the organization. It's not possible for all people to feel that urgency with the reduced amount of one-to-one contact that now takes place" under more liberal work-life policies.

It's clear that these issues are not peculiar to the United States. Several Indian respondents noted that the issues are becoming more acute in that country. And James Trantham commented that "I noticed while traveling and working in countries in both Eastern and Western Europe ... that this debate is everywhere."

To what degree has technology changed all of this either for better or worse? As Biplab Das said, "With [new] ... technology, how do you draw the line between 'work' and 'life'? ... I think we need new definitions for [these terms] ...." Do you agree? And what interpretation should we place on the unusually large proportion of anonymous responses to this month's column, many of them somewhat doubtful that progress is occurring on the work-life balance front, in part because of the inherent trade-off between productivity and a "work to live" philosophy? What do you think?

Original Article

A reader of this column who follows global trends and has lived in both the U.S. and Europe suggests the questions of the month. He writes: "... Natural resources and geopolitical advantages played no small role in the American rise to power, but the bulk of the credit belongs to the American work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit... There has been a recent shift in American attitudes towards the work-life balance... In some ways, America is adopting a European attitude towards labor: 'work to live' instead of 'live to work.' Several years ago I would have absolutely felt this was a good thing. Though I am not decided either way today, I have a better perspective on the issue. I acknowledge the value of spending time with one's family, but I do not discount the overall advantage a society enjoys when its members are at the peak of their productivity."

Clearly, many organizations regard work-life benefits (as a subset of all benefits) as an investment designed, among other things, to attract and retain talent. Such benefits recognize the growing demands on the lives of people, particularly at times when jobs are being expanded to achieve higher productivity—to do more with less. Responses have ranged all the way from flex-time work hours to sabbaticals intended to enable people to tend to extended personal challenges and "recharge their batteries." And of course they include one of the more popular benefits, maternity (and paternity) leave.

The debate centers in part on whether all members of an organization should have access to a similar package of benefits intended to address work-life issues. There are advocates of a cafeteria approach to the matter, one in which individuals can select benefits such as time off, working hours, educational benefits, or even selected assignments from a menu made available to everyone. This is not dissimilar from the cafeteria plan for medical benefits offered by many organizations. Others favor the more traditional approach of clearly prescribed benefits for everyone with a certain amount of seniority. The debate would be more informed if, in many cases, there was a clearer idea of the degree to which these initiatives address real employee needs, how much they cost, and how much quantifiable long-term benefit they create for the firm.

An irony in all of this is that many organizations have made the workplace so much more attractive that they have encouraged employees, often by choice, to spend more rather than less time on the job. At the same time, technology has blurred definitions of the workplace and somewhat fuzzed the dichotomy between work and life. What impacts have these developments had on work-life balance?

Finally, what effects do responses to work-life issues have on productivity at the level of the firm? Do they net out positively or negatively? Does it depend on the nature of the work, the nature of the job, or other factors? If so, should we be more concerned about, and make allowance for, such issues for certain types of jobs and certain people within the organization? Or should a more egalitarian approach be taken to making available opportunities to balance the demands of the job and personal life? And just how will all of this affect national productivity levels? What do you think?

    • Joe Violette
    • Project Manager (retired), Bechtel Corporation

    Balancing work-life is a family matter. My family was part of my project team. My children visited many of my projects; my wife traveled with me on many occasions to visit projects (both domestic and overseas), meet my clients and attend technical meetings—sometimes at my expense, sometimes at the company's expense. My family knew that the project came first and they supported me in whatever I did. Vacations were difficult to schedule and I had a hard time convincing them to go without me, if necessary. But I made a promise that if I didn't start the vacation with them I would always end it with them. A promise I kept.

    Make your family a part of your work team and you'll create a good work-life balance.

    • Training manager
    • Odu'a Telecoms, Nigeria

    I'm a Nigerian and the issue of work-life balance pales significantly in the presence of poverty. In Africa, life is work. As a manager, I'm working to live because the environment conditions me to do that. In other words, this issue is environmentally determined. My general fulfillment is intimately tied to my work because of the environment I am in.

    • Lisa Grainger
    • Management consultant, freelance

    You pose two interesting questions regarding work-life balance. On the first question of the degree to which work-life balance initiatives address real employee needs, the key to ensuring that they do is to take a team-based, grassroots approach to establishing what working patterns and hours would address needs. Ask team members what would work for them, their service area, customers, and work colleagues. It's amazing how innovative people are and the customer benefits that accrue from changes in working patterns and hours.

    On the second question regarding taking an egalitarian approach to work-life balance options, one of the biggest mistakes an organization can make is to have a work-life balance strategy that is rooted in equal opportunities, most often focused on parents and women. The organization will never maximize the business benefits of work-life balance by doing this, and the backlash that can result is very destructive.

    • Anonymous

    Technology allows flexibility on where and when one can work. However, they make one available 24/7 and the expectation, especially for senior management, is that they are available 24/7.

    I view work-life benefits as one of the more attractive benefits for employees. It has been useful as a tool to attract talent. However, there should be enough down time away from the work environment to allow for some "white space." This is difficult in this electronic age.

    • David Lovelace
    • Application Specialist, Sprint

    I believe it is certainly clear that employees with higher morale will be more productive. An organization that focuses on the importance of employees' lives outside of work is going to cultivate more positive attitudes towards the company and increase morale. Employees will feel a greater responsibility for their performance in the business as a reflection of the business acknowledging the family values possessed by its employees. This will also create a higher retention rate which decreases the costs of having to find qualified people as replacements or train new people. With competition as fierce in the marketplace as it is today, retaining well trained and seasoned people is going to be another important strategy to stay ahead of the competition.

    • Anonymous

    Here in India there are a large number of qualified people who are willing to do your job for less, without complaining. So people end up running harder just to stay in place. This leaves very little time for "life." The worst part is that even after working so hard, our productivity is less than that of the developed world!

    • Stacy Krauss
    • Manager Sales Services, BOC Gases

    Work-life balance is something that is achieved one day at a time. Each day presents different choices, and balance allows employees to choose what the priority of the day must be. Employers who give employees flexibility win in the longer term due to loyalty and a sense of control. Ultimately one is able to achieve higher levels of productivity.

    • Anonymous

    The debate regarding access to work-life benefits is dependent on the type of role one has and the organization's level of trust to let go of the dogma that "one needs to be seen to be productive." Clearly, knowledge workers are able to adjust work arrangements much more easily than production-based workers due to the nature of their jobs.

    Having observed the different trends in organizational design such as management by objectives, empowerment, total quality management, Kaizen, etc., the underlying principals at work are that you need to have a strong team in place, with internal leadership, clear objectives, a focus on improvement, and a reliance on the organizational network.

    • Kaushal
    • Undergraduate

    Though I have not started full-time work yet, I want to share my perspective of work-life balance as a university student.

    In universities today, the competition is so great that virtually everyone is working extra just to earn an A grade or a better recommendation during an internship. So invariably our university life gets lost in work, work, and work to achieve a little more, do a little better.

    I have no choice but to take part in this never-ending race in order to reach the so-called heights of glory.

    Professor Heskett describes America as becoming like Europe, and the irony is that Europe is becoming like America. And people like me from developing countries have no choice but to "live to work" in order to move my society and my country towards leadership in business.

    I still consider work-life balance extremely important, but my priority right now is work.

    • Anonymous

    I made a major career change: geographically (smaller metro area), industry-wise (I left entertainment), and position-wise (was a marketing manager for nine years), in order to "work to live" rather than "live to work." For the most part it has worked out: I have much better balance between work and home (active, married with children).

    However, it is my strong belief that corporate America has not yet figured out ways to make it possible for employees to work toward successful career accomplishments while keeping a real life outside of the office. My sacrifices have been to give up my career growth opportunities—temporarily, at least, until I figure something else out—in exchange for an 8 to 5 work schedule in a stagnant work environment with little demand on my personal time and lifestyle.

    I am still an innovative, energetic professional with nearly twenty years of cutting-edge marketing experience. Reasonable hours should not mean no opportunity for creativity, great accomplishments, and advancement. But this—my current employment situation—is what I have found so far. Companies preach balance, but they do not support it. What am I to do? Give up one for the other; or is there balance out there? Still looking...

    • Ravi S. Ramakrishnan
    • CEO, RvaluE Consulting

    Excellent article of current interest across the globe. The focus on work-life balance, to me, is more like work-home balance (or work-family balance), since we do have a life at work and more than 80 percent of available time is spent on work. Organizational productivity will fall if this issue does not get the right level of attention by leadership.

    One area of additional focus is the rapidly emerging globalization through outsourcing and offshoring of processes across the world—time zone differences, 24/7 shift work, stretch-time, etc. This aspect can also be touched upon as we develop an approach to find more information around work-home balance.

    As a consultant in the BPO space, I will be happy to be involved in any study that addresses this essential requirement to create better value for one's own life as well as to the community as a whole.

    • Cheryl Butalla
    • Special education teacher

    In response to your article about working to live instead of living to work, I would argue for living to work. I understand the importance of the job and productivity as being for management's ability to pay the bills. I live to work based upon the respect I have for management. We work as a team. When the job I have requires me to go over and above my normal expectations, I willingly complete the tasks because, through experience, I know that management will reciprocate in times when I am needed with my family. My husband's company has taken away some important symbols that many have held dear, such as the worker summer picnic and Christmas hams. I firmly believe that American society should be a place to live and enjoy our jobs and family. There should be a balance.

    • Itamar Offer
    • Medical Director, Clalit Health Services

    As [some] of us have employees and managers reporting to us and we also report to people above us, we should think about it both ways. In terms of our subordinates we have to understand that the need for more "life" time is different for different people at different times.

    Frequently, a worker who used to be very much into work suddenly—due to different issues—needs more time for himself or herself. Our role is to acknowledge and respect it, especially if we want to continue and enjoy that person's service.

    In terms of our own boss, it is very important to adjust expectations as early as possible, and when times are changing (e.g., due to family issues) talk about it and readjust.

    • Anonymous

    I think many workers want a balance of work and home life. However, I do not see our jobs permitting it. Seldom can a quality job be done without working 60 to 70 hours a week. Add a two-hour commute, then a person is away from home and family at least 70 to 80 hours a week. For one to do a quality job to the point of being rewarded with promotions, add another 10+ hours a week.

    We cannot go on vacation like the Europeans. If we do take a vacation for a long weekend, then the laptop and cell are with us to ensure we can respond immediately to a corporate request. Hilton is placing WiFi access on their beaches. My reaction is I do not want to stay at a Hilton.

    I believe many more people desire a balance of life than actually have it. I still see the situation getting worse. The economy is not hiring yet. Many employees are stretched very thinly...much too thinly. It was much better when employees and employers were much more supportive of each other.

    • Anonymous

    What we are experiencing in the workplace today is a dynamic shift. In the social experience of the 80s and 90s, we found ourselves in a space and pace where we needed to prove we were able to function at top speed all the time. Now the bubble has burst, reality has set in, and while we find that work is important, there are other elements to life that are of equal or greater importance.

    Reformed workaholics know that the balance enables critically important things. Life foundations include secure children, key friendships (both social and professional), and strong marriages/partnerships. Without the strength in these areas, a work-life prolifically out of control can yield more work, perhaps, but how does one quantify the difficulties and time lost on the breakup of a critically important relationship? In the end, perhaps it is better to have a balanced life and not encounter lost productivity, expense, and heartache.

    • Marc Michaelson
    • Principal, The Glowan Consulting Group

    I have been working on the fringe of the work-life industry for the past fifteen years and have been frustrated by the programmatic approach to this issue by employers and providers.

    Leaders, managers, teams, and individual contributors respond much more proactively to the notion of balance when it is placed in the context of their personal values, interests, and stage of life.

    Currently I am involved in providing leadership development, which focuses on integrating self-leadership as an integral part of the performance equation. When delivered in this context of personal choice, participants respond favorably—and make the connection to the fact that when people manage themselves well, they make better teams and stronger organizations.

    • Anonymous

    The Japanese have a special word for people who die of overwork; we don't care enough in America to have that. Work-life balance is really about toxic job syndrome, and many Americans have that.

    • Tom Patterson (HBS MBA '96)
    • Senior Vice President of Technology and Operations, Markettools

    I've been working in Silicon Valley for almost ten years. I've seen the life benefits that employers grant (working from home, flex hours) lead to reduced productivity in the workplace. I think it all comes back to everything we learned about controls and "people pursuing the path of least resistance." Most people in an organization, unfortunately, need to have urgency placed upon them and/or to feed off the urgency of the organization. It's not possible for all people to feel that urgency with the reduced amount of one-to-one contact that now takes place, not to mention when part of the company's values are to spend more time enjoying yourself.

    I've seen myriads of people get these "work from home benefits" granted. More people than just the low end of initiators are abusing the privilege. I find it really hard to believe that people are fully engaged in work when there are so many distractions on the home front which include a tendency to be comfortable and inactive. Working from home probably works for those who are self-motivated, but what percentage of an organization truly is?

    Exceptions probably should be made for certain specialty skills that are hard to find such as a star advertising exec, etc. However, the standard employee would reach higher levels of productivity if required to be places at certain times and to give so much visible proxy for output per day. So many tasks of today's knowledge workers are hard to measure. Who could possibly say that there is no correlation to achievement and more hours worked?

    It just feels like America does not push its workforce nearly to what's possible and incent them appropriately. This scenario would be one in which those who produce and work more get rewarded (productivity gains pay for this incentive). This has been compounded to me in my initiatives in India to set up operations. It's just amazing the willingness to work and the work ethic differences that are displayed. This seems so foreign to the average U.S. organization I've worked or consulted with. There is less of a sense of entitlement out there than seems to be growing in the American workplace.

    It's scary to believe we can continue to be competitive when there are parts of the world that are so hungry and want to take their share of the pie away from us in a good, fair, competitive way.

    • Mohsen Ghadami, PhD
    • Iranair d.m.d Training and Development,, Member of Iran's Public Policy Change High Committee

    In my opinion, in an organization as an entity it is identification and empowerment that can lead to success, including productivity. Empowerment, or enabling people and providing skills, is much easier than providing identification. The issue of skills, which requires continuous correction and sometimes creative destruction, is of temporary value. On the other hand, when you build identification it will create potential productivity.

    • Mridula Dwivedi
    • Senior Lecturer, Institute of Technology and Management, Gurgaon, India

    Is it that we sometimes confuse hours spent at workplace with productivity? It has almost become a norm to judge the person by the number of hours he/she spends at office rather than the actual work completed. If people are competent and try to leave after doing a lot of work by, say, 5:30 in the evening, chances are they will be not be considered as serious about their careers. As long as this mindset prevails at the workplace, people often ask for five days for work they can actually do in two. I wonder if this is the way we should really be thinking about productivity. As soon as we relax a bit about "the hours," it probably becomes easier to maintain work-life balance.

    • Anonymous

    I work in an Indian software consulting company. I find that in India the work-life balance is quickly and surely disappearing. With the onslaught of offshoring most Indian companies have come to believe in 24/7. Also, we can't forget that the client always demands work at all hours, requiring top performance service.

    I think that it is time companies realize that the measure of productivity should not be on the basis of hours put in. In my experience I found that a lot of people actually wile away time chatting, drinking coffee, and finally getting to work much later—so in the end everyone has to stay late and then, of course, you hear the usual complaints: "Oh I have so much work to do."

    Also many times bosses are not available for the required approvals, etc.

    As one of the earlier writers mentioned, government intervention may not be the required solution, but individuals have to realize that work-life balance is required to actually increase productivity and creativity in the office.

    • Hariharan
    • Controller, Perstorp Aegis Chemicals

    It is true that time off is essential for all employees regardless of whether the workplace is more congenial than elsewhere. It is a holistic way of rejuvenating the faculties which otherwise are blunted through repeated use. It is also a good way to get out of the monotony that builds in the workplace over a period of time. A change in lifestyle is imperative for a fresh bout with the routine again.

    • Jeng Lamug
    • Senior Manager, United Laboratories, Inc.

    I subscribe to the school of thought that says there really shouldn't be a demarcation line between work and life. Work is a component of life as much as family, sports, or hobbies. Those who perceive that work and life are two different things either are dissatisfied with work or don't know how to manage their time wisely. We sometimes feel we don't enjoy much of life because we aren't passionate enough. I believe we all have the ability to create the time to do what is truly essential to us.

    • Anonymous

    I think this continues to be a struggle for employers and employees alike. I work for a Fortune 500 company that tries to remain an "employer of choice" by balancing benefits and personal satisfaction against the demands of the business. We have also been in business with 24-hour operations for a long time. The "don't go until the job is done" attitude is hard to suppress here. It has gotten better for me since I changed jobs to a more strategic rather than tactical position, but I have had to make some tough choices about personal vs. professional responsibilities. I personally think we can find balance without losing our competitive edge over other nations—and, maybe improve our health and family values at the same time.

    • Brian O'Leary
    • Principal, Magellan Media Consulting Partners

    It's hard to imagine that our parents and grandparents worked more hours or more productively than we do today. They enjoyed a period of unchallenged world dominance for reasons that extended well beyond American know-how. When the oil price shocks and competitive threats of the 1970s surfaced, most Americans found they had to work harder and longer to achieve a standard of living more readily available to our parents.

    I think finding a work-life balance will not undermine American productivity or threaten our world competitiveness. It may actually help us to find ways to be more productive. With luck, it might also bring us back to our families, our communities, and our social institutions with a renewed commitment to doing more than just competing. In an era of increasing stratification of wealth and opportunity, that would be good news for our democracy.

    • Marco Ottenga
    • CEO, Cabur (Italy)

    Everyone adopts what he likes and can. Honestly, oftentimes for the best managers work is the most stimulating game of their life. That is the big opportunity of every person and every company as well as the big risk for both. Excellent companies are those that select the best and keep their motivation high. Generalizations are never a good description of individuals or small groups; rather, they need better understanding and a selective approach.

    • Anonymous

    Work-life balance is very positive for employees and society overall. However, I'm not so sure it has been positive for businesses. Unfortunately, flexibility is often now seen as an entitlement and it is not appreciated by many employees. Additional benefits are expected and flexibility is often abused. Instead of using flexible scheduling for important needs, employees just use it to take off early because they want to. The benefit becomes an entitlement and employees feel the need to use it whether they need it or not. The burden then goes on the company to administer a benefit that is not being used as intended. The Family and Medical Leave Act certainly gets significant abuse as well.

    Another issue is that we often do not see upper management exhibiting work-life balance. It is obvious by their actions that we are still expected to get the work done and we are expected to put in extra time if it is needed. I do appreciate the flexibility I have at work, but it is hard for me as a center manager to take advantage of it. I am very fortunate to have a director who does prioritize work-life balance, but he is unusual compared to what I see elsewhere. Because of him, I probably do better than I would otherwise. Maybe he is just starting a trend that will improve in upper management, but abusers will ruin it long term for everyone if we can't find a way to curtail them.

    • Susan Seitel
    • President, Work & Family Connection, Inc.

    The subject of your article says, "There has been a recent shift in American attitudes towards the work-life balance... In some ways, America is adopting a European attitude towards labor: 'work to live' instead of 'live to work.'" He's certainly right. But this is not optional on the part of workers who must also raise families. For them, there simply is no other way. America has a clear choice to make: Do we or do we not want a healthy future, good future leaders, and a productive future workforce? If so, our children must be nurtured as well as nourished.

    Fortunately for companies that must demand increased productivity, there are ways to have both and we have proof. The country's dramatically increasing output comes coincidentally at the same time more and more employers are implementing the flexibility that workers not only want but must have if they're going to handle their dual responsibilities.

    • Terry L. Christopherson
    • Owner, TLC Seminars

    The subtle assumption in your description of the issue is that productivity and life-value are mutually exclusive. There is also the assumption in many of these debates that productivity is king and that all questions are related to whether we can afford life-value. You referred to the work-to-live versus live-to-work dilemma, yet there is more to the question than that.

    The heart of this issue is not juggling time but determining what is important. Stress is the result of the gap between what we value and hold as true against what we do and how we spend our time. As a seminar speaker in workplaces all over this country, I have asked people to list the things they value most. Then I ask them to consider how they spend their time and if their use of time reflects their values. It is not uncommon to see tears as people grapple with that issue.

    The greater the gap between what we value and what we do, the greater the stress. Would our productivity demands change if we lived closer to our values?

    • Faisal Shaheen
    • Visiting Research Associate, Sustainable Development Policy Institute

    As a member of the labor force in both north and south, I believe in an approach that elevates the position of the household within the economy rather than one that simply places all focus on the productivity of the firm. If not supported and recharged, households will not be able to add productive talent to the future labor force, but rather will burden the labor force with individuals who are not as developed or capable of contributing productively to society in values, ethics, productivity, and participation in the community levels of the nation state. The south, for all its underdevelopment, still seems able to produce high-caliber individuals with a strong work ethic, not because they have developed sectors and firm environments, but rather strong and supported households.

    • Anonymous

    I work in Nigeria. In this country, work-life balance seems to be at best a myth, especially in the consulting and financial services industries.

    Most companies tend to take a more traditional view of things and don't encourage such things as flex-time or even sabbaticals. There are a few exceptions, though. It seems they are convinced that if they keep you in the office for the whole day, they are getting productivity levels worth a whole day's work. I disagree. I think people can only do so much work; and especially where work requires some levels of creativity it is important to create flexibility: making people comfortable enough to "dream the impossible" and make it happen!

    I think lack of flexibility can stifle creativity. At my organization, though, we try to encourage people to take time-outs (one or two days off) intermittently whenever they feel they need it. This has been proven to work but much more can still be done.

    • Anonymous

    It's a value exchange. No doubt the integration of Blackberrys, cell phones, wireless laptop connections, and other such technology has engaged many of us beyond the office. But at the end of the day, I find the use of such tools aides me in work-life balance, reduces overall stress, and provides alternatives that allow me to flex the demands of my profession as a manager with my profession of being a mom, companion, friend, sister, aunt, and daughter. Before the integration of this kind of technology, I may have indeed taken time off from the office to address personal matters, but carried the inherent guilt and worry of what I couldn't attend to and needed to attend to while away from the office.

    Now I stay connected but have better focus wherever I am. Though I worked for an organization that goes above and beyond in trying to provide work-life balance, there is no one answer and what we have today may not work tomorrow. Work-life balance has to be a living, evolving approach by both the corporations and the individuals. It is a shared, joint responsibility—at least it must be if there is any chance for success.

    • Anonymous

    I think a lot of the benefits in productivity depend not on the setup, but on the individual. If the company hires high-value, productive employees, then giving them greater flexibility often ratchets up their productivity to even higher levels. Conversely, there are certainly those who take advantage of the flexibility to simply work less or work the same amount, with no added benefit to the firm.

    • Debra Kessler
    • Staff Accountant II, Southern Cross Corp

    I think work and life should be an avenue to accomplish each party's agenda. Never should work-life be such that it infringes on the quality of life for the worker. Quality of life is enhanced when all needs are met, and if meeting the needs of the worker will also meet the needs of the organization, then a two-fold agenda has been met.

    The quality of work-life does dictate the quality of life in many degrees. More times than not, workers are subject to decreased confidence and acceptance on the job which can affect the quality of life apart from the work. An organization that offers childcare, education, medical leave, etc., is promoting quality of life and the likelihood of longer-term employment of its workers. It is my belief that I work to live. I do not live to work. I enjoy my work for many reasons and it is for those reasons that I commute in each day. Yet, it is my life that I live for.

    • James Trantham
    • Consultant/Entrepreneur, Compass Rose Group, LLC

    In working my way up from a day laborer job 25 years ago to a manager position in a very large E&P corporation, I thought I had a pretty good handle on "the Balance." The kids turned out great and are well educated, the marriage is truly a sacrament, and my economic situation is good. However, when I look around in the American workplace I am definitely the exception when it comes to those kinds of metrics. While recently spending three years in the Norway working for an American corporation, I noticed I was not the exception compared to the typical Norwegian worker. The country has virtually no homeless people, crime is low, drunk driving is not tolerated, and the consequences of polarization between haves and have-nots are minimal. Norwegians definitely fit the "work to live" scenario because of their egalitarian approach. This may also be a result of geographical isolation in the past as well as a combination of resource wealth and education since the 1970's.

    Another thing I noticed while traveling and working in countries in both Eastern and Western Europe is that this debate is everywhere. Newspapers in Norway, television in Italy, bathhouses in Budapest, conferences in Amsterdam, etc. expend way more effort on the debate than we do in the U.S.

    • Jonathan Hinkle
    • Design Engineer, Organization: a large computer OEM

    I think a greater focus on work-life balance is a very good thing in the United States—when it's voluntary. As the market makes adjustments, businesses will try to attract better talent and compete on benefits. However, the more that government mandates restrictions and requirements on businesses, the further our economy will suffer. Government requirements on work-life balance in European countries have been popular until more recently, as their economies have become worse and worse.

    I don't think we should be concerned about the market reducing our productivity, but only about the blind hand of government intervening.

    • Anonymous

    When someone is intensely goal-oriented, it is difficult to prescribe a balanced approach based on defined organizational norms. My personal feeling is that a balance between work and life can be achieved but varies between individuals. Example: If I am working on an important issue such as developing a business opportunity, I tend to continue until I feel I need to stop. This has the consequence of leading me to work long hours to accomplish my intended desire. However, there are times when I feel I do not have important issues or when I need to be away from work for a short time—which I need in order for my mind to get revitalized. Hence I believe there is no one prescriptive solution. The solution has to be entirely based on the individual's resilience towards work and also on the influence demonstrated by his or her family.

    • Biplab Das
    • Director, Credit Suisse

    With your reference to technology, how do you draw the line between "work" and "life," when the expectation is that—armed with a Blackberry and a Laptop—you stay tuned at all times wherever you are. I think we need new definitions for "work," "life," and so on.