With the global search for talent, employers have paid increasing attention to their 'work-life balance' policies to attract potential employees. Some have rejected this as an inappropriate label for what they call 'work-life blending': 'balance' implies a distinct separation between 'work' and 'life', whereas 'blending' describes the inseparable mix of the two. As The Future Laboratory's January 2007 report explained, the evolution and spread of technology, as well as changing expectations regarding one's job, made work-life blending one of the main trends impacting the world of work.26 Today, according to their report, nearly half of all workers (46.8%) have jobs that involve them working away from the office. From this, 41% of the men who spend time out of the office say that it constitutes more than ten hours (or more than a day) each week.
Work-life blending is a growing phenomenon, to which several factors have contributed: mounting expectations of constant connectedness both at work and home blurs the boundaries between previously compartmentalised 'work' and 'life'. Technologies enable easier access to telecommuting, as well as self- and side-employment, or other DIY escape routes from traditional corporate settings. As a result, a new generation of workers27 happily email friends from work, and polish the next day's presentation from home. They also increasingly seek meaning in their work. This application of a 'consumer's judgement'28 to their career means that they are more likely to look for a profession that is fulfilling-in ways other than financial-if their current job doesn't fit their values.
The rejection of the implication of a 'work-life balance'-that work is so awful it shouldn't be considered as part of life-is one of the main thrusts for 'blending's new popularity. As blogger Ryan Healy wrote, we would never consider looking for a family-life balance or a friend-life balance;29 why would a work-life balance make any more sense, especially if, as Healy thinks, this balance is doomed to fail?
Someone personally invested in work will probably: care more about their work and its results; work harder to reach objectives; and do a better job. Having a profession that reflects this sense of self means they will probably try to tease out issues with friends, in the same way they would a strictly 'personal' issue, which could be conducive to more creative problem-solving. Some argue30 that too many hours in the office makes one's marginal productivity plummet, and therefore being able to alternate the time allotted to various activities during the day could also help to avoid being overwhelmed or burnt out. Finally, Healy claims that making one's schedule fit one's needs is not novel but, if sought, requires flexibility-i.e. the willingness to do a little work at home if necessary. Work-life blending involves not worrying about which tasks go in the 'work' box and which go in the 'life' box.
Critics would point out that this blending is only something geographically flexible twentysomethings with white-collar jobs and no family obligations would seek. Once Wednesday afternoon piano lessons kick in, taking extra time to put the finishing touches on Thursday's presentation might become difficult, even unacceptable. Not all jobs can be done from home; those that can usually require a significant investment in the appropriate technology. So work-life blending is really practical only in a region with widespread, reliable and accessible technological infrastructure, where having a cell phone, personal computer, printer, scanner, BlackBerry and/or fax machine are part of the way of life, and for individuals of a certain professional standing.31
Beyond the caveats, however, the focus on work-life blending is increasing. Whether this is a positive development is yet to be determined. A survey32 released by Digital Life America in February 2007 showed that owners of BlackBerry-like devices in the USA were split about whether these gadgets further bind one to one's work or not: one-third agreed, one-third was indifferent and one-third disagreed. The same survey showed that users of such technology tended to work more, felt that they didn't have enough personal time, but also that they earned more. 'Contrary to shiny happy ads suggesting we do more in less time, in fact, there is evidence to suggest that we simply do more, more of the time. [. . .] While being "always on" is natural for young people, many of those in the 25-54 age group with families and corporate jobs are struggling with work- life blending. There is a need for the mainstream workplace culture to offer ways to counterbalance', said Digital Life America analysts.33 Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business panellists agreed that technologies such as the BlackBerry have a tendency to make work become very present in one's personal life, making the determination of family time a challenge.34 Donna Hall, Director of Marketing Strategies at Digital Life America, explained the feeling of being too tightly bound to work by business technologies as resentment for this intrusion: 'Many have been given a BlackBerry by their employers. The expectation on the part of the employer is that once they have it they will be accessible at all times. There are no more boundaries or times when they are unreachable, even on vacation.'35 Finally, not only is better technology pushing us to work more overall, it has raised expectations-and stress levels-for documents previously written in weeks to be produced in hours.
One could therefore wonder whether work-life blending is as healthy as it appears: if one is very invested in one's work and stress levels are high at the office, how and when does one relax, or reflect about work? 'Going home' might just mean moving one's body between two locations; one called 'work' and one called 'home'. For some, being able to make a clear distinction, be it geographical or chronological, can be important to one's capacity to let go and enjoy the present. Plus, sharing both personal and professional life with the same people can be problematic-excusing sloppy work or behaviour in a friend is easier than in a co-worker with whom there may be little emotional bond.
Time will reveal whether more work- life blending will mean the extension of corporate consumption of people's time, or an empowering of people so they can 'consume' a wider choice of working options. Individuals, which include workers, demand more affordable custom-made solutions for everything: grocery shopping, friendship and, yes, work. As Ryan Healy laments, there are those who are still 'thinking of work and life as a constant tug of war. If you are doing something you love then why can't they be one and the same? The goal of a blended life is not living to work and it's not working to live. The goal is to have a life.'36