Why You Should Embrace Work-Life Imbalance

Why You Should Embrace Work-Life Imbalance

Why is everybody so concerned about work-life balance? According to one urban legend, based on 1950s pop psychology, workaholics are greedy and selfish people who are bound to die from a heart attack. Not really. As the great David Ogilvy once said: “Men die of boredom, psychological conflict, and disease. They do not die of hard work.” This is especially true if your work is meaningful.

Most of the studies on the harmful effects of excessive work rely on subjective evaluations of work “overload.” They fail to disentangle respondents’ beliefs and emotions about work. If something bores you, it will surely seem tedious. When you hate your job, you will register any amount of work as excessive — it’s like forcing someone to eat a big plate of food they dislike, then asking if they had enough of it. Overworking is really only possible if you are not having fun at work. By the same token, any amount of work will be dull if you are not engaged, or if you find your work unfulfilling.

Maybe it’s time to redefine the work-life balance — or at least stop thinking about it. Here are some considerations:

Hard Work May be Your Most Important Career Weapon

Indeed, once you are smart-enough or qualified to do a job, only hard work will distinguish you from everyone else. Workaholics tend to have higher social status in every society, including laidback cultures like those found in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, or South America. Every significant achievement in civilisation (from art to science to sport) is the result of people who worked a lot harder than everyone else, and also happened to be utterly unconcerned about maintaining work-life balance. Exceptional achievers live longer, and they pretty much work until their death. Unsurprisingly, the 10 most workaholic nations in the world account for most of the world’s GDP.

Engagement is the Difference Between the Bright and Dark Side of Workaholism

Put simply, a little bit of meaningless work is a lot worse for you than a great deal of meaningful work. Work is just like a relationship: Spending one week on a job you hate is as dreadful as spending a week with a person you don’t like. But when you find the right job, or the right person, no amount of time is enough. Do what you love and you will love what you do, which will also make you love working harder and longer. And if you don’t love what you are doing right now, you should try something else — it is never too late for a career change.

Technology Hasn’t Ruined Work-Life Balance — It’s Exposed How Boring Work and Life Used to Be

Did you ever try to figure out why it is so hard to stop checking your smartphone, even when you are having dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in ages, celebrating your anniversary, watching a movie, or out on a first date? It’s really quite simple: None of those things are as interesting as the constant hum of your email, Facebook or Twitter account. Reality is over-rated, especially compared to cyberspace. Technology has not only eliminated the boundaries between work and life, but also improved both areas.

People Who Have Jobs (Rather than Careers) Worry About Balance Because They Can’t Have Fun at Work

If you are lucky enough to have a career — as opposed to a job — then you should embrace the work-life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love. If you are always counting the number of hours you work you probably have a job rather than a career. Conversely, the more elusive the boundaries between your work and life, the more successful you probably are in both. A true career isn’t a 9-5 endeavour. If you are having fun working, you will almost certainly keep working. Your career success depends on eliminating the division between work and play. Who cares about work-life balance when you can have work-life fusion?

Complaining About Your Poor Work-Life Balance is a Self-Indulgent Act

The belief that our ultimate aim in life is to feel good makes no evolutionary sense. It stems from a distorted interpretation of positive psychology, which, in fact, foments self-improvement and growth rather than narcissistic self-indulgence. This misinterpretation explains why so many people in the industrialised Western world seek attention by complaining about their poor work-life balance. It may also explain the recent rise of the East vis-à-vis the West — you will not see many people in Japan, China, or Singapore complain about their poor work-life, even though they often work a lot harder. Unemployment and stagnation are in part the result of prioritising leisure and pleasure over work.

In short, the problem is not your inability to switch off, but to switch on. This is rooted in the fact that too few people work in careers they enjoy. The only way to be truly successful is to follow your passions, find your mission, and learn how to embrace the work-life imbalance.

Editor’s note: Study referenced in opening paragraph: Friedman, M.; Rosenman, R. (1959). “Association of specific overt behaviour pattern with blood and cardiovascular findings.” Journal of the American Medical Association (169): 1286-1296]

Embrace Work-Life Imbalance [Harvard Business Review]

Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an international authority in personality profiling and psychometric testing. He is a Professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), Vice President of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems, and has previously taught at the London School of Economics and New York University. He is co-founder of metaprofiling.com.


  • Rubbish. The eight-hour working day didn’t come about by chance. Many studies were carried out to find the right length for a working day – as regards the productivity and efficiency of the workforce. When the working day was increased during wartime in the UK to 12 hours, productivity actually dropped.
    So, you can tell your digital slaves to knock off early, and take a (literal) hike. They’ll be more productive and a lot more creative when they get back.

    And as for the nonsense about the constant hum of your smartphone? Why are large corporates having ‘no-email’ days and why do so many of the innovators portrayed here on Lifehacker (The way I Work) restrict their email to very limited periods of the day, and have abandoned IM, etc?
    Because tuning into a constant hum of white-noise is NOT productive. Turn your device OFF. Find a quiet place and find space to THINK.

    • I don’t disagree with your issue about productivity but aren’t you conflating two concepts here? Multi-tasking and white noise has been shown to diminish productivity. Space and time to think is, in my work, engagement and “doing work” in a fulfilling career as LH explains. Surely he could have attended to nuance a little more closely but couldn’t we all?

  • This: “If you are lucky enough to have a career — as opposed to a job — then you should embrace the work-life imbalance. A career provides a higher sense of purpose; a job provides an income. A job pays for what you do; a career pays for what you love.”

    I DO NOT advocate endless 100 hour weeks. I’ve had 395-hour months (not counting times thinking about work or doing email when not at the office). I’ve averaged over 75 hours a week for two years straight. And folks, there’s a point at which you DO start doing your health in, if your work is very detailed and requires lots of concentration. It got to a point where after the third all-nighter in a week, I’d ask a co-worker to walk with me to the bus stop to make sure I got to it without being run over, after a couple close calls taught me that I just didn’t reliably have enough concentration left to translate a red light into meaning “you have to stop” rather than “traffic is stopped, so you can cross”.

    But 60-80 hour a weeks, maybe with a week every month or so where you drop it down to 40-50, are easily doable for many with the life circumstances that accommodate this type of schedule, including me.

    Whilst I was there, it was the highlight of my full-time working life. I lived for it and the professional results I got were beyond any I’d achieved before (and probably any I’ll achieve after it). I don’t have family, and I didn’t miss sitting at home on facebook or hacking Linux or whatever. That was the highest-value use of my time in terms of personal satisfaction.

    Problem was, I was too good. In my short time there, it had been a meteoric rise and I had the attention of many high level people in a large company. A new manager (with 15 years of seniority at the firm, but new to the team) was jealous of and suspicious of me as a geeky woman (in her world, women wore short skirtsuits, smiled with apologetic hopefulness a lot and got men to do the tough technical work, and she thought that confident technical women were a strange thing that ought to be unwelcome), and tanked me. I lost nearly a quarter million dollars of unvested performance bonus awards.

    The down side to work being your life is that if there’s a significant part (like its continuance) that someone else has more control over than you do, you’re taking a HELL of a big risk and it’s only if your luck is good that it will pay off. You need both luck and hard work to experience the success talked of in the article, and you don’t have as much control over the luck part as you might like.

    I endured over a year of terrible harrassment that had coworkers randomly walking up to me and hugging me in the halls in sympathy before a corporate-wide layoff provided the perpetrator with sufficient ground cover to get rid of me. I refused to leave because I’d earned those performance awards and insisted on doing whatever it took to stay around long enough to collect them and never have a mortgage payment again. It didn’t work, and the stress of the unabating harrassment — one of the things the problematic individual did was increase my workload even more — took such a toll on my health that dozens of people were worried about me. I tried going up to my contacts, but found out that the division had had legal troubles with being accused of poor treatment of female managers before, and they were afraid that due to their history it would cost them tens of millions if they exposed themselves to a lawsuit from another one, so this one was untouchable due to being in exactly the right-for-her place at the right time, and I’d just have to wear the results.

    So, work/life imbalance for the win, if what you’re doing at work floats your boat. But the odds are not 100% in your favor or under your control.

  • What planet is this idiot on?
    I’d rather be at home with my family playing with my kids and exploring my own interests in my own time.
    There is really no contest…

    • Happiness doesn’t come from work.

      I live my life to see the world, I work to live, not live to work. I’m not going to my deathbed, whether it be 60 or 80 years old with regrets and too much work.


    For everyone else that wants to flame this guys work with no evidence, reasoning or even due consideration, please follow the provided template so you’re not tempted to put any thought in your response.

    It’s an interesting paradigm when those born of privilege are so easy to scorn others who remind us to not take all that we have for granted. Work life balance is such a misnomer. It gives the impression that work and your life are something different. You don’t die when you go to work. Whether you like it or not, life doesn’t stop when you clock on, and I think what the article was trying to highlight was that we shouldn’t be constrained by what others tell us is enough. I liked it.

    [End Rant]

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