I’ve recently completed a journey to a place that, compared with my day to day world, is such a far fetched reality. Being within such remote mountains where no car can access entire villages and houses, made me think a lot about the work life balance concept and all its applicability. In a reality that doesn’t give you much choice, survival takes priority to anything else. You don’t even begin to think of anything else but how to make sure you have food, water and a shelter for safety.
This thinking led me to remember the Maslow Pyramid. Adam Maslow was an American psychologist that defined the motivational theory according to which people’s needs influence their drive to do certain things. This theory states that there are five levels of needs that define our motivation. The most basic one is the physiological one: the need to eat, drink, sleep, breathe, be warm and mate. Once this level is achieved, one needs to feel safe. Personally, financially and health-wise. This includes having a safety net in case of accidents, loosing job or illness. Once the physiological and safety needs are met, a person will long for love and social belonging. He or she will need to have close relationships that help build positive feelings and determine the individual to grow further and change.
These three levels are considered to be crucial for a person to be able to reach a healthy self-esteem and self-actualization needs (the upper levels of the motivational pyramid). One cannot think of his life meaning and acceptance if he has lived on an empty stomach for days in a row.
While quite abstract, the pyramid explains some of the realities I’ve experienced in my trip to Nepal and the Khumbu region. Many people living there still fight for their basic needs. Safety is quite unsure in the context of the high risk of earthquakes. The most recent one in 2015 destroyed many houses and left families living in tents for months till they were able to rebuild their houses. And this is without going into much detail regarding the economical situation and the level of corruption in the country.
The role work life balance plays related to motivation
My thinking is that we simply cannot talk about the work life balance concept while people are jobless or starving or are at war. Tightly related to Maslow’s pyramid, there are the basic levels that people need to achieve in order to reach up to a life where we can begin to talk about work life balance.
When you don’t have a basic income your only worry is to find a job and you’ll work for that 24/7. When you live in a war zone you only look for safety and survival. These are indeed extreme examples, but yet they’re part of the world we live in, today.
Only when we’re comfortable physiologically, when we feel safe and loved is that we can actually start thinking about work life balance. I would even argue that we need to be quite well-off on the 4th and 5th level of the pyramid to be able to really grasp on the full complexity of what the concept entails. It’s very personal, it’s complex, and highly dependent on variables that are both internal and external to any human being.
Culture and context influencing work life balance
Of course comparing a quite secluded region in Nepal with the biggest city in Transylvania (where I live) is generating a lot of cultural difference, and the work life balance concept will differ greatly. While in one region this is simply not applicable, in the other one it is trendy and more and more discussed about.
But even in countries that are closer culturally, work life balance depends greatly in meaning. In the US it’s culturally acceptable to work long hours if you want a successful career and people don’t question this too much. While in countries equally well off, such as the Nordic ones, balance is all there is and how these people live by.
Even at micro-level (talking about context), work life balance can mean different things for the same individual in different moments of their life e.g. a recent mother focusing only on her baby versus a mother joggling with a job, children and a personal life.
Therefore, when speaking about work life balance is important to account for time, space, politics, economics, culture, to name just a few of the variable influencing the concept and what it can mean for different people.