Sorry, But There's No Such Thing as Work/Life Balance

Author of 'Balance is B.S.' on how to find your value system

Kindra Cooper

Work life balance

After founding one of Australia’s most successful marketing agencies while secretly moonlighting as a touring singer/songwriter, global wellness entrepreneur Tamara Loehr rejects the notion of work/life balance.

Her beef, she says, is it implies that work and life should be separate, while juggling scales connotes that investing more time and energy on one side compromises the other.

The binary nature of work/life is also predominantly considered a “female” problem; no one asks a man who’s babysitting his kids while he’s on the putting green.

As women represent a growing share of primary breadwinners (40 percent of US households with children under 18, according to a 2013 study), the work/life balance dystopia unrealistically pressures them to “have it all” – modern-day code for raising kids, keeping house and earning an income while making it look effortless.  

Work life balanceIn her book, Balance is B.S., Loehr unpacks the concept of a “blended” life as an alternative to work/life, urging professionals who are raising families or simply want to maintain their mental health not to compartmentalize their career and personal obligations because it’s inauthentic and stressful.

“It doesn’t make you unprofessional to admit that you’re answering a work call from home or during the school pickup run,” she writes. “You don’t have to find a quiet corner and pretend to be in an office when somebody ‘important’ calls. And you don’t have to feel guilty for taking that call on the weekend.”

At the upcoming CCW Online Summit ‘Contact Center Success in the Automation Age,’ Loehr will lead a discussion on how to live a “blended” life in a session titled ‘Great Leaders Avoid the B.S.,’ sharing her own tips and tricks as well as personal struggles.

We’re told that work/life balance is about knowing when to disconnect – taking regular vacations, silencing cell phones during family time and not checking work emails after hours. But, Loehr argues, that only leads to a productivity bottleneck when you return to “real life,” thereby reinforcing the binary.

Balance is BS book

In her book, Loehr offers a few examples of how she blends career and family life.

  1. After wrapping up a speaking gig, she doesn’t linger for questions. Instead, she tells the audience that if they want to discuss further, she’ll be in the pool with her kids and they can come find her there. “I’m pretty sure I’m the only entrepreneur at the business conference giving business advice in her bikini,” she writes.  
  2. When work and family obligations collide, Loehr will be transparent with the client that she’s taking the call during a family event and that they should expect to hear some background noise. By setting expectations from the get-go, both sides are appeased.
  3. She makes a point of hiring friends and making friends with the people she hires so that business meetings feel like social outings.
  4. Loehr requires all her employees to write a 100-item bucket list and share it with the entire team to see how they can help each other achieve their goals. Each staffer is held accountable for crossing four items off their list each year.
  5. While a rather extreme example, Loehr references the time when Sallie Krawcheck, one of the most powerful women on Wall Street, put 600 bank managers on hold during a conference call when her young daughter called because she’d promised her “if I take this big job, no matter where I am, what I’m doing or who I’m with, I will take your call.” When she resumed the call, Krawcheck was honest about why she’d put them on hold for 90 seconds: her daughter was looking for the pink nail polish and she was the only one who knew it was in the upstairs bathroom.

Most importantly, vanquishing the work/life mental construct allows people to be more human in business and more themselves, argues Loehr.

“How free would you be if you stopped switching between different versions of yourself and started being the same person all the time,” she writes, “whether you were with your family, on a date, drinking with your girlfriends or talking to your colleagues.”

Loehr also preaches the importance of living life according to your values rather than your plans, because plans are largely outside of your control, and you need to be prepared to move the goalposts when you-know-what hits the fan.