“Shhhhh, we don’t talk about work-life balance here,” an HR professional recently told Kyra Cavanaugh, President of Life Meets Work. Kyra, a leader in the flexible work consulting sector, shared her enthusiasm for a more flexible life at a meeting I attended just last week.

What exactly does Work-Life Balance mean? Once we figure that out,  is Work Life balance even possible? Why did the HR professional ‘shhhh’ the whole topic anyway?

Typically the phrase Work-Life Balance includes some sort of juggling act involving our  “work” (career and ambition) concerns on the one hand and our “life”  (Health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development) concerns on the other. Seems simple, straightforward.

Yet, according to Kyra, Work-life Balance is really a misnomer.  That is, many organizations today talk about work-life balance, even instituting programs for stress reduction, wellness, some time share options, yet sadly those programs are typically not fully integrated into an organizational commitment for creating a flexible workplace.

And, she should know–she’s lived it.  Not only is Kyra articulate, witty, knowledgable, she’s also passionate about creating more flexible ways to work that come directly out of her own experience in juggling her life. What a relief!

Ok, so we’re onto this idea that there’s more to balance than meets the eye.  How do we do it?

I mean, really, employees continue to be plagued by stress, with two-thirds claiming stress levels so high that they’re coming to work  in body yet knowing they’re ineffective–up to five or more days per year!  This according to the latest StressPulse(SM) survey by ComPsych released in October 2011.

Further, new press information coming from the Ultimat Vodka team adds weight to the notion that workplace stress is nothing to joke about.  Reportedly:

  • We’re Wearing Out: Working Americans feel tired (44%), stressed (43%) and underpaid (35%)
  • We Put Work First: Among workers age 30 and up, 69% report that its harder to keep up with their loved ones than their job responsibilites
  • We’re Running Late: 67% report missed or arrived late to a family function or social event in the last year, because of work

Top cause of stress is workload—simply having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

“As the economy continues to sputter, organizations are still doing more with less and that can take a toll on workers,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. “Many employees have reached a point of unprecedented burnout.”

I’ve never really understood the balance idea, as balance can be percarious at best, and consistently unstable.  Integrating one’s life seems more to the point, with  a focus on what-matters-most? It’s not about the amount of time you spend working vs. not-working. It’s more about how  you spend your time working and living  life, recognizing that what you do in one fuels your energy for the other.

According to Kavanaugh the key to addressing work-life issues has everything to do with staking a claim on our time and energies. Interestingly, in order to make time for change and space for creating meaning.  “We need meaning in our lives . We’re miserable because we can’t make a choice (about what’s important).”  If our organizations merely give lip service to creating paths for a sustainable work life, we must begin with ourselves.

Seems we’ve lost sight of what’s important in our efforts to keep up with ourselves in life and in work.  Makes  the notion of work-life balance or  work-life integration nigh impossible.

Shhhhh, first things first then—what matters most to you?