Why We Must Retire the Term, "Work-Life Balance" Yesterday - Work is Part of Life

Your people are burning the candle at both ends. It worries you, so you send out emails about the importance of work-life balance and urge your teams to avoid excessive overtime. You talk about how their families need them and how they must fully refresh and rejuvenate on the weekends so they can get back at it on Monday. You subject your email “Finding Work-Life Balance.” It shows that you care about the people who work for you. Your email might even become an article on the company intranet. You feel good about it.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but you are reinforcing the problem. You have reminded your team that the office is where they work, and home (or elsewhere) is where they live. You’ve reinforced the idea that the 50 or even 60 hours plus they are devoting to you and your business every week doesn’t qualify as life. If they respect you and care what you think, they’ve just been told by someone they respect that for a third of their lives, they are surrendering the chance to lead a fulfilling existence.

Very few can make dramatic schedule changes without compromising work performance so, what do you suggest they do with that information? How can you expect them not to feel robbed?

To lead a fulfilling life, humans build rewarding relationships and follow passions. We explore, we discover, we create. We invest our energies where we are sure of returns, like fun hobbies and sports, our children, or connecting with like-minded communities and making new friends. If work isn’t where we “live,” why would we invest any energy there?

(And we wonder why employee engagement is at an all-time low?)

What if we could stop thinking of work and play as unalterable parallels for pain and pleasure? If we are constantly striving for "work-life balance," aren't we setting ourselves up to further resent work for taking us away from life? Isn't work part of life? It had better be! Because if work is not part of life, that means we all spend a minimum of eight hours a day for forty years without really living!

At An Hour of Play Inc., we avoid the term “work-life balance.” We teach and equip people to see the opportunity for life, laughter and friendship in every corner of the world, including the workplace. We promote an attitude of playfulness for adults, one that helps them make everything they do more rewarding, including work. We don’t teach them to see life and work as mutually-exclusive. We help them learn to experience life in every task, every locale, and every breath. And they do it through play.

For play to be effective in workplaces, it must be integrated with and supportive of, tasks and operations. This is not only possible - it is essential. At An Hour of Play, we discovered that by following nine steps, anyone could reap the benefits of play for a healthier, more engaged, and productive work (and home) life:

1 Give yourself and the people who work for you, permission to laugh and have fun every day. Milton Berle said that laughter is an instant vacation. Is there anything quite as liberating as a good belly laugh? Nothing energizes quite like it. It is also lethal to despair and hopelessness. "A sense of humour is one of the most powerful tools in making certain that a daily mood and emotional state support good health,” says Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D. Laughing has a whole host of benefits for mental health. It has incredible power as a stress reliever, and it releases endorphins in the brain that can leave employees feeling restored.

As well as being good for your mental health, laughing can keep employees physically fit too. It turns out that laughing for 10-15 minutes can burn 50 calories and have an effect similar to exercise. A host of other benefits including reduced blood sugar levels, improved sleep and better blood circulation can be derived from regular laughter.

2 Use play to get work done with more passion and flair. A better mood is as simple as humming a tune while you work or sharing a funny story with your coworkers. You can even make tasks into a game, which makes the tasks more rewarding. You created something that helps people work more effectively and have fun at the same time. You can be proud of that.

3 Cultivate a play identity - learn the types of play that energize your authentic self and that of others. We have little reason to fake enjoyment during play, which is what makes play an excellent indicator of what genuinely moves us. The authenticity that comes from enjoyable play will refresh and recharge you. It will build your emotional stamina. You will handle disappointment and heartache with greater serenity. You will have less anxiety about tomorrow. 

4 Play until you’ve been fully energized. Recharging our emotional batteries through play is a process with eight steps. Find out what those steps are, how to know they’ve been achieved, and make sure you achieve those steps regularly.

5 Indulge in playful rituals together. Rituals are activities we repeat that have special meaning for us as families or communities. If they’re playful or even silly, they create a strong connection between friends and give us the chance to laugh together. They make us feel part of the group.

6 Take micro-vacations packed with super-charged play. Micro-vacations are brief breaks we take during the week devoted to activities we love. Because we enjoy them so much, they recharge our batteries quicker and don’t require us to miss any work.

7 Play together without any screens or substances involved. Screens and “liquid courage” take us away from each other. Put your phone away and make eye contact for a change. Alcohol may be thought of as a “social lubricant,” but really it only isolates us further by anesthetizing our need to meaningfully connect. You don’t have to avoid these altogether, but have at least some interactions that are screen-less and drink-less.

8 Be silly and spontaneous. See the irony in life and share it with others. Experience deliberate joy. Dance. Walk up to a friend like a zombie or Quasimodo on the street or in the supermarket. Give the gift of cheerfulness every day, even when you don’t feel up to it. A little silliness goes a long way. You’ll feel better soon enough.

9 Change your goal: instead of deciding to be a good worker, commit to becoming a good player. When you relax on weekends, do it like you would do your work. Treat play like it’s an important client you’re meeting with. Don’t answer your phone or let your mind wander. Focus. Then watch your work life fall into place.

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