What is work-life balance?

what is work-life balance

Work-life balance is one of those overused phrases that’s thrown about so much that I’m not sure we know what it means anymore. Work means different things to different people; life presumably means personal life, but it’s unclear if we’re talking about spending time with your partner and your children, or having time for your hobbies, or just making sure that you take a break from your office work; and balance is some representation of the proportions of each of these two things – usually, it’s a question of more life and less work. But how can work and life be measured, simply in time or in some more subjective unit? If not in equal proportions, then who decides what are the “correct” proportions? Too much work and you might die of a heart attack, or at the very least end up sad and alone; too much “life” and your money might run out! So what is work-life balance?

What is work-life balance?

In the corporate world, work-life balance is about making sure that you have time to go to the gym after work, have dinner with your family (before then going back to your emails), play golf with your buddies on Sundays. As Nigel Marsh said in a Ted talk on How to make work-life balance work (– well worth a watch! spot on, and very funny), “being a fit 10-hour-a-day office rat isn’t more balanced, it’s more fit”. We can tell ourselves that our employers care about our health and our family life, but they only care insofar as these things make us better employees: work, and profit, will always come first.

My mum has often told the generalised story of Mr Johnson, who is called into the office one day and told that he’s fired.

“But – I’ve given everything to this job! I’ve worked here for thirty years, I’ve worked evenings and weekends. My wife has left me, my children don’t talk to me, I have no friends or interests outside of work.”

“Well, of course, we’re very grateful for that Mr Johnson. Goodbye Mr Johnson.

Another story that she tells is about a colleague of hers who was incredibly unhappy in her job and longed for retirement. When the colleague finally reached retirement age, she found that she had a brain tumour and passed away soon after. Postponing your life until when you can you retire, until you’ve earned x amount of money, until you’ve done whatever it is you feel you have to do, is a very risky strategy, and an unbalanced one at that. In a slightly more positive version of this story, we have Google CFO Patrick Pichette’s resignation memo in which he explains how he had an epiphany on Kilimanjaro that led him to his decision to quit his job to travel the world with his wife. Lucky him – but, as he himself admits, his children are now grown and have moved out, while his long-suffering wife may find it’s too little, too late. And will he be happy with this new backpacking life or will he find a way back into the world of work via a position on some board or getting involved in some new project? Only time will tell if there’s a happy ending there.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Tim Ferriss advocating the four-hour work week: setting up a business that is so completely automated that you can remove yourself from the business and go off and learn to tango. This is equally disingenuous: while I’m all for travelling and learning new things, I also enjoy the challenge of real work projects, getting to know new colleagues, working together and seeing the results. I know some people like to keep work and personal life completely separate but I want to enjoy my work as much as I also want to challenge myself and learn new things in my personal life. Buying and selling protein powder or coffee beans or whatever product with the sole aim of making money will never appeal to me as a business proposition.

An impossible goal

In fact, I happen to think that the entire construct of work-life balance is artificial and impossible to achieve. You can’t separate work and life – these are not mutually exclusive things like life and death or sleeping and being awake. Work is an inherent part of life, whether we mean the standard white-collar definition of “9-to-5” in the office or a more modern idea of remote working and virtual offices. If you hate those hours that you’re spending working, whether it’s four hours or forty or more, then no amount of “life” after work is going to make up for that. But equally even if you could give up work with no thought of earning an income I think it’s unlikely that you would find it fulfilling to spend your days bumming around; they say that most people who win the lottery choose to stay on in their jobs, whether because they want some degree of normality or because they like their colleagues and actually enjoy their work.

In my case, as for Millennials (well, I am one, according to my year of birth), I “don’t desire a career as work is one pursuit of many. Instead Millennials view work as a portfolio asset – work is one element of their portfolio, alongside outside pursuits and passion projects”. It’s not so much a question of balance between work and life as an overall sense of balance across all different aspects of life to keep me challenged and fulfilled, earning enough money without selling my soul, spending time alone and with friends and family, eating well and staying fit, learning new skills and having new experiences, being active and having a rest.

Ultimately it’s a choice of how you want to live your life, how much and what kind of work you want to do and need to do in order to live your definition of a comfortable life, what you choose to prioritise, how you fill your time when you’re not working. And if you’re experiencing an imbalance versus where you would actually like to be, you don’t necessarily have to make drastic changes, quitting your job or taking a year off; even small steps can make a huge difference. I just spent the weekend dog sledding and cross-country skiing in Lapland for goodness sake – a weekend! That’s all it took to get away from my everyday routine and have one of the most amazing and invigorating experiences of my life. In the case of Nigel Marsh, a few hours spent with his son was all it took for his son to have the best day of his life.

The meaning of life

I’m reminded once again of that quote from Viktor Frankl:“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.” If you don’t answer that question, if you don’t make these choices, big and small, then someone else is going to make them for you – and you may not like the result…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You might also be interested in these articles

“Everything you’ve ever
wanted is one step outside
your comfort zone.”

Book a free consultation

Get on the phone with Anna to discuss your unique goals and situation to determine the best programme for you, so you can start taking action towards creating the business and lifestyle you desire.

Explore a broader definition of success

Download this free assessment to consider what ‘success’ means to you across different areas of your life, evaluate where you are today, and prioritise the right goals to get you to where you want to be.

We will use and protect your data in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Explore a broader definition of success

Download this free assessment to consider what ‘success’ means to you across different areas of your life, evaluate where you are today, and prioritise the right goals to get you to where you want to be.

We will use and protect your data in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Download the brochure

Find out more about our flagship mentoring programme for experienced professionals who want to translate their skills and experience into a profitable business that brings them more freedom, flexibility, and fulfilment.

We will use and protect your data in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

Privacy Policy

This privacy policy sets out how One Step Outside uses and protects any information that you give One Step Outside when you use this website (https://onestepoutside.com/).

One Step Outside is committed to ensuring that your privacy is protected. Should we ask you to provide certain information by which you can be identified when using this website, then you can be assured that it will only be used in accordance with this privacy statement.

One Step Outside may change this policy from time to time by updating this page. You should check this page from time to time to ensure that you are happy with any changes.

What information we collect and why

We only ever collect the information that we need in order to serve you.

Generally, this just means collecting your first name and email address that you enter, for example, when you request a resource, register for a webinar, or submit a message via a contact form.

If you are a paying customer, we also collect your billing information including your last name and your postal address.


When visitors leave comments on the site we collect the data shown in the comments form, and also the visitor’s IP address and browser user agent string to help spam detection.

An anonymised string created from your email address (also called a hash) may be provided to the Gravatar service to see if you are using it. The Gravatar service privacy policy is available here: https://automattic.com/privacy/. After approval of your comment, your profile picture is visible to the public in the context of your comment.

Contact forms

We use Gravity Forms to allow you to contact us via the website. We will use the information you submit for the sole purpose of that specific form and will explicitly ask you to provide your consent to allow us to do so.

Embedded content from other websites

Articles on this site may include embedded content (e.g. videos, images, articles, etc.). Embedded content from other websites behaves in the exact same way as if the visitor has visited the other website.

These websites may collect data about you, use cookies, embed additional third-party tracking, and monitor your interaction with that embedded content, including tracking your interaction with the embedded content if you have an account and are logged in to that website.

Advertising and Analytics


We use Google Analytics to track and optimise performance on this site as well as embedding video content from YouTube, and this means that your web browser automatically sends certain information to Google. This includes the URL of the page that you’re visiting and your IP address. Google may also set cookies on your browser or read cookies that are already there. Apps that use Google advertising services also share information with Google, such as the name of the app and a unique identifier for advertising.

Google uses the information shared by sites and apps to deliver our services, maintain and improve them, develop new services, measure the effectiveness of advertising, protect against fraud and abuse and personalise content and ads that you see on Google and on our partners’ sites and apps. See their Privacy Policy to learn more about how they process data for each of these purposes, and their Advertising page for more about Google ads, how your information is used in the context of advertising and how long Google stores this information.


We use the conversion tracking and custom audiences via the Facebook pixel on our website. This allows user behaviour to be tracked after they have been redirected to our website by clicking on a Facebook ad and enables us to measure the effectiveness of our Facebook ads. The data collected in this way is anonymous to us, i.e. we do not see the personal data of individual users. However, this data is stored and processed by Facebook, who may link this information to your Facebook account and also use it for its own promotional purposes, in accordance with Facebook’s Data Usage Policy https://www.facebook.com/about/privacy/.

You can allow Facebook and its partners to place ads on and off Facebook. A cookie may also be stored on your computer for these purposes. You can revoke your permission directly on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/?entry_product=ad_settings_screen. For more guidance on opting out you can also consult http://www.aboutads.info/choices.

Who we share your data with

We use a number of third parties to provide us with services which are necessary to run our business or to assist us with running our business and who process your information for us on our behalf. These include a hosting and email provider (Siteground), mailing list provider (GetResponse), and a payment provider (Stripe).

Your information will be shared with these service providers only where necessary to enable us to run our business.

How long we maintain your data

If you leave a comment, the comment and its metadata are retained indefinitely. This is so we can recognise and approve any follow-up comments automatically instead of holding them in a moderation queue.

For users that register on our website, we also store the personal information they provide in their user profile. All users can see, edit, or delete their personal information at any time (except they cannot change their username). Website administrators can also see and edit that information.

The main reason for collecting this information is to be able to send you resources, updates and, sometimes, information and products and services, as well as for internal record keeping.

The rights you have over your data

If you have an account on this site, or have left comments, you can request to receive an exported file of the personal data we hold about you, including any data you have provided to us. You can also request that we erase any personal data we hold about you. This does not include any data we are obliged to keep for administrative, legal, or security purposes.

How we protect your data

We are committed to ensuring that your information is secure.

Where we have given you (or where you have chosen) a password that lets you access certain parts of our site, you are responsible for keeping this password confidential and we ask you not to share a password with anyone.

Unfortunately, the transmission of information via the internet is not completely secure. Although we will do our best to protect your personal data, we cannot guarantee the security of your data transmitted to our site; any transmission is at your own risk. Once we have received your information, we will use strict procedures and security features to try to prevent unauthorised access.

Links to other websites

Our website contains links to other websites. This privacy policy only applies to this website so once you have used these links to leave our site, you should note that we do not have any control over that other website. You should exercise caution and look at the privacy statement applicable to the website in question.

Changes to our privacy policy

We keep our privacy policy under regular review. Initially created on 18th November 2016, it was last updated on 23rd May 2018 to be compliant with GDPR.

Contact information

If you have any questions or concerns related to your privacy, you can get in touch here >>