In my last post, I argued that it’s time to ditch the Lightbulb Model of Balance, the outdated idea that work-life balance is achieved by timing out how long to be “on” and how long to be “off.” Burnout often stems not from work being overwhelming, but rather from work being unsatisfying. Put another way, burning too bright is rarely the cause of burnout. Rather, burnout is caused by “flickering” too much: when flurries of emails, conference calls and meetings prevent us from ever finding time for the sustained work that made us want our jobs in the first place.
This is why we at Getaway see balance differently. Work-life balance, as I explained in Combatting the Great Spillover, is less about the frequency of hitting the off-switch and more about separating and balancing three modes of being: production (focused work), coordination (interaction with others about work), and leisure (not work). When you prevent the three modes from spilling over into each other — say, by preventing conference calls (coordination) from interrupting vacation (leisure) or preventing Youtube videos (leisure) from interrupting a work session (production) — all three modes can support work and life.
The Lightbulb Model has broken the traditional vacation day system. If all we need is to be “off” every so often, the thought goes, then all we need is the option to not show up to the office every now and then. But we all know this model does not work.
First off, because most vacation days are voluntary and not mandatory, we never use all of our days. Employers know that most of us have a “work martyr complex” that leaves us not wanting to disappoint our teammates by taking off when projects need to be done. (And guess what: there is never a time when projects do not need to be done!)
Second, when we do take vacation days, we bring our work with us. According to the U.S. Travel Association’s “Overwhelmed America” survey, forty percent of us don’t take all of our vacation days because we worry about coming back to a mountain of work. Some of us try to square the circle by thinking we can solve for our post-vacation piles by carving out a few hours on each vacation day to get a bit done. But, of course, this leads to second-rate work and second-rate relaxation.
Finally, even if we do not bring our work with us on vacation, our work seems to find us. Our co-workers still leave us “a few quick questions” voicemails and our bosses still send us “I know you’re on vacation, but could you just read over this before I send it out” emails. As long as the lines of coordination are still open (and they always are if our phone is on), we can never escape work.
Vacation policy under the Balance Model is different: not emphasizing shallow senses of “on” time and “off” time, but rather acknowledging the need to separate and balance production, coordination and leisure.
At Getaway, our newest addition to office balance policy has been to roll out what we call a “Production Day” policy. Production days are similar to vacation days, but instead of being centered on deep leisure, they are centered on deep work: clearing away all distractions so as to get a project done.
Office balance policies are easier said than done. It’s hard to transition from a culture of work martyrdom to a culture of balance. Here are three ways to make it work:
Office commitments to work-life balance is just talk if not tied to routines and policy. Implementing better leisure day policies, and supplementing them with production day policies, helps us take balance seriously.
Originally published at medium.com