Walls: Not the Right Way to Find Happiness in Work and Life

If Bill Maher is right, then we need new barriers between our work and home lives. However, that might not be the only (or best) way to achieve work-life harmony.

It’s true that many of us spend a lot of time working on our smartphones after hours and away from the office. And there’s no doubt this creates challenges to a well balanced and happy life.

But the best solution may be to bridge work and home life instead of building walls. And this already seems to be happening. Eighty-eight percent of millennials said they want a “fun and social” work environment, as compared to 60 percent of baby boomers who say the same. Millennials are also known to say things like: I used to separate “things in my head into work life and life life… But the thing is, my work is my life… If I can’t be open and honest at work, then I’m not really living, am I?’’ In this worldview stronger links between work and life might actually support overall happiness.

“Some young workers seem to answer the work-life challenge by seeking work they enjoy and building close friendships with their coworkers.”

New technology tools are a major driver of change in the way we work. Tools like Slack are supporting new ways of collaborating across time and distance. And platforms like Upwork and worker owned photography cooperative Stocksy are creating new methods for freelance workers to operate unbound by corporate employers. It’s very true that some technologies facilitate the intrusion of work in home life. But, this ecosystem is still in its infancy, and new innovations and social norms emerge almost daily.

Some young workers seem to answer the work-life challenge by seeking work they enjoy and building close friendships with their coworkers. However, suggesting that everyone can expect a perfectly supportive work environment where they experience the psychological safety and social trust necessary to successfully merge their work and personal lives might sound like the musings of an entitled millennial. The emphasis young workers place on employee welfare and sense of purpose when ranking potential employers shows that this may be a very real future they are already shaping in their image.

Uncertain. That might be the best way to sum up the social climate of the last decade and a half. And it might go a long way in explaining the willingness of young people to merge work and home life. Economic turmoil, social upheaval, violence, and institutional letdowns all characterize this generation’s formative years. It’s easy to see why young people seem interested in finding harmony and meaning now rather than trusting in an ambiguous future where work and life are reliably divided.

While uncertainty could contribute to a social order where the powerful exploit the weak, we can instead lean into the uncertainty and build a positive future. One where new attitudes (like the search for purpose and the desire for stronger social bonds), new institutions (like the Freelancers Union and Sama Group), and technology tools (like Code Academy) join together to expand access and control for a more independent workforce. In this future, work and personal lives merge for mutual benefit and in the pursuit of harmony and purpose. It may seem hard to imagine now, but considering the shifting nature of our world it’s a future I think we can all hope for. But one we will have to work together to create.

Originally published at www.workheartfully.com.