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Work-Life Balance 'A Myth'

23 February 2007

Work-Life Balance 'A Myth'

The idea that busy workers can micro-manage their lives to achieve work-life balance is a myth and doesn't help to deal with stress, says meditation expert and author, Paul Wilson.

Mr Wilson was brought to New Zealand this week by leading recruitment firm Robert Half International to address 250 finance and HR professionals at a business breakfast on the theme of Perfect Balance.

Known internationally as the "guru of Calm" Paul Wilson is the best selling author of Instant Calm, Calm at Work, The Little Book of Calm, Perfect Balance and more recently The Quiet. In his presentation to Robert Half, Mr Wilson outlined his personal philosophy on how to obtain perfect balance and encouraged New Zealanders to think beyond the idea of just re-scheduling their priorities.

"The whole notion of work-life balance is a myth," he said. "Anyone who thinks that by rearranging the different parts of their lives they will achieve balance is fooling themselves.

"All these skills you have of being able to micro-manage don't work when it comes to finding the balance in your life."

Wilson said when, as a young businessman, he started investigating how to find balance in his life, he went back to the example of his father, who worked in shearing sheds in Australia's outback.

His father travelled long distances, worked seven days a week in uncomfortable surroundings and was often away from his family.

"By all standards, his life should have been unbalanced." But it was not. "He was doing something meaningful, something he wanted to do."

Wilson said finding that personal meaning, or centering, was the key to reducing the stresses of modern life.

When people tried consciously to achieve "work-life balance" they frequently focused on their work, social life and health, but too often they forgot their spiritual side.

"I'm not talking of spiritual in the sense of religion ... but in the sense of 'my life has purpose, I'm doing something useful'.

"Unless all these elements of life are in balance somehow, then life will never get that sense of balance."

Everyone had experienced times when they were centred and nothing fazed them - such as when their first baby was born, or when they had just fallen in love and they felt a sense of meaning.

Learning to reconnect to that sense of meaning, even when stressed, was the only long-term way to achieve balance, he said, and it was an intuitive, personal task - not something employers could provide.

This did not, however, mean that workplace initiatives to encourage work-life balance - such as allowing flexi-time, working from home and unlimited sick leave - were a waste of time.

"Companies have a responsibility, and there's a bottom-line advantage in companies doing these things. Actually connecting with a sense of purpose is something only individuals can do."

Because the world around them was constantly changing, people would need to make constant, small changes to their lives to maintain a sense of equilibrium. But once they had centred - become aware of what gave their lives meaning - they would be able to maintain that sense even in stressful circumstances.

Robert Half's Division Director Kim Smith says "Businesses need to recognise that expectations have changed and work-life balance is now paramount for most employees. It is up to the individual to find what works for them but employers have the ability to make this a reality with a open mind and flexible approach."


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