Balancing Act: Achieving Work-Life Harmony

Andrew Soren discusses the framework released by the United States Surgeon General, which promotes mental health and well-being in the workplace.

Satisfying the needs for dignity and meaning in work

Nick: So let's flip it now. Let's go away from the dark side and move on to mental health and well-being. Recently in the United States, you noted that the Surgeon General released a framework for mental health and well-being in the workplace. It’s a five pillar framework. So do you want to run through that framework?

Andrew: Sure. So this just came out probably about a year ago. Vivek Murthy, the United States Surgeon General, basically being the top doctor of the United States, came up with this really wonderful evidence-based framework that really places the worker voice and equity at the center of of what organizations ultimately should be focusing on.

This framework does a really good job of getting both that freedom from and freedom to element. It starts with just protection from harm—that work should fundamentally allow us a sense of safety and security. And that is an essential element of what work can be.

From there, we have community and connection, recognizing that we have these human needs of social support and belonging, and that work is a great place for that to happen. That we need work-life harmony, which is really all about those needs of autonomy and self determination that we talked about earlier and flexibility.

Something that I think many people are especially realizing on this side of the pandemic, especially in hybrid and flexible work contexts, that we need opportunities to grow on the job, because we all have this desire and need for mastery and learning and also a real want for accomplishment and achievement in our lives and mattering at work.

In this framework, mattering at work is defined as satisfying the needs for dignity and meaning. So, first and foremost in there, it has provide us with a living wage. And we need to be able to make sure that workers have some say in the decisions that they get to make in an organizational context.

Then we need to think about, how do we build cultures of gratitude and recognition in our organizations? How do we ultimately connect individuals to organizational missions and purposes and values and see those things is kind of intimately connected? How do we help people ultimately feel valued and valuable within their organization?

Nick: That's a good question. The term work-life harmony’s a bit different to the more common term work-life balance. And actually one of my past podcast guests, and a good friend of mine, Steve Beauchamp on episode 46, he writes a lot about this idea of harmony as opposed to balance.

So do you think there is a difference between work-life harmony and work-life balance?

Andrew: Absolutely. I mean, literally nobody that I know, I don't think feels like there is seeking equilibrium between work and life. I mean, even when you say that, it almost sounds absurd. I mean, that it needs to be 50/50. Like as balancing.

So I love the choice of harmony, because harmony is about how things play together. Does it play the harmonica in a dissonant way. Does work and life work together in a way that ultimately creates beautiful music? I think that trying to figure out, and especially for those who are engaged in deeply meaningful work, the likelihood that they even want a pure 40-hour work week where they just step away.

I mean, some of the things that I think we are trying to impose on work are not actually necessarily even things that people who are engaged in meaningful work want, because they actually love what they do. And they don't necessarily want to step away from it. But they still need to find harmony.

Nick: Yes. Now, I do like that term. So I'll do another shout out to Steve. So there you go, Steve, work-life harmony. It's a real term now, used by the Surgeon General. So that's interesting.