Work-Life Balance - By Any Other Name

The Debate Over Work-Life Balance - Does The Term Fit?

Every year, the American Dialect Society hosts the Academy Awards of words. If a word could win an Oscar, it would be here, at the society's annual gathering, where scholars and linguists vote for the words, phrases, or expressions that reflect the themes of the year before. Words need not be new, the 121-year-old organization points out, but "newly prominent or notable."

"World Wide Web" took the prize in 1995.

Later came "Millennium bug," "Google" and "tweet." And on January 7, the American Dialect Society announced "app" (an abbreviated form of "application") the Word of the Year for 2010.

With the unprecedented pace of the new millennium, it surely seems conceivable that "work-life balance" could soon top the list. While not new -- the term came of age during the heyday of Pac Man and power suits -- it has, without a doubt, achieved new prominence of late.

But whether or not "work-life balance" ever wins the war of words, the phrase has long had a divided fan base. Google a few alternatives, such as "work-life integration" or "work-life flexibility," for instance, and it's clear that, for many, the original buzzword has lost its buzz.

"Work-Life Balance" -- Stumbling on the Semantics: Cambridge Dictionaries Online calls balance "a state where things are of equal weight or force." And therein lies the rub.

In astrology, Libra holds aloft perfectly balanced scales, but we Earthlings know, when it comes to our work and our personal lives, devoting equal time to both is simply out of the equation.

What we all seem to be aiming for is a connection between the two that feels natural, intuitive -- and unique to each of us.

So how to define what this means to all of us?

Turn of Phrase: When a 2008 Sloan Network poll asked readers to choose their favorite term, 46% preferred "work-Life balance." Twenty-five percent picked "work-life integration," and 8% liked "work-life juggle" best.

But alternatives have sprouted up everywhere: Cali Williams Yost, author and work-life consultant, promotes "work-life fit"; Cathy Benko, chief talent officer at Deloitte, opts for the similar term "career-life fit;" Catalyst, a research organization working for the advancement of women, advocates for "work-life effectiveness;" Jodie Benveniste, director of Parent Wellbeing and author, created the phrase "work family flow;" and Paul Nyhan, Seattle Post-Intelligencer family reporter, favors "work-family rhythm."

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