July 22, 2013 — Recent discussions of work-life balance have focused too much on the needs of the traditional nuclear family, while leaving a key demographic to the side: people without children. This category includes those at the beginning of their careers, men and women who can’t or choose not to have children, and a significant percentage of LGBT employees.
Many people are judged by their bosses and co-workers for wanting to leave work on time to meet friends and family members who aren’t dependents. But work-life balance means different things to different people. A friend recently noted that for her, work-life balance means being able to come in late once a week in order to fulfil a volunteer commitment of serving breakfast to underprivileged children. She also enjoys being able to meet friends for a drink on Friday nights. There are some weeks when this will be impossible, but in general she’d like to have the option—and she resents being expected to put in 12-hour days on a regular basis simply because she doesn’t have children.
When asked about the concept of work-life balance in an interview last May, the editor of Marie Claire magazine, Lea Goldman, responded, “I find the term a bit annoying and dated. Yes, my life is crazy busy, and I’ve always got a lot on my plate. But 1) I like it that way and 2) even women without partners or kids have hectic schedules. Working moms don’t own the term.”
And working dads shouldn’t, either. It’s not just parents of young children who should be able to organize their lives in a way that allows them to be happy and healthy; it’s everyone—LGBT and straight people and women and men included. Older people with no (or grown) children often have other family obligations, such as caring for elderly parents, and everyone has social commitments and a desire to cultivate a fulfilling life outside of work.
Standing up for what we need and having consistent access to our personal support networks, whether or not they include children, isn’t selfish—it’s necessary. People who feel that they control their own lives are not just happier and healthier; they are more loyal and productive employees.