Journeying Toward Wholeness

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An Oakville Psychotherapist’s View of Work Life Balance

November 4th, 2010 · 7 Comments · Identity, Individuation, Jungian analysis, Lifestyle, Meaning, personal myth, psychotherapist, stress, therapy, work

 

The Toronto Globe and Mail has been running a series of articles on “Work Life Balance”.  There is one of these articles that I found myself reacting to rather strongly.  The article is entitled “Work-Life Balance: Why Your Boss Should Care” .  In particular, the article contains the following paragraph:

“Our inability to balance our jobs and our home life is costing corporate Canada as much as $10-billion a year in rising absenteeism, lost output, lower productivity, missed deadlines and grumpy customers, according to estimates by business professors Linda Duxbury of Carleton University and Christopher Higgins of the University of Western Ontario.”

Now, in fairness to this article, it is part of a series of articles that the Globe has been running, that all have somewhat different perspectives on work-life balance.  It is also true that this article states  that it focuses on the management perspective in a very up-front way.  Nonetheless, I feel that, from the perspective of a therapist, this article loses sight of a number of important things.

Work Life Balance is an Individual Thing

First, it’s not the job of corporations to sort out the individual’s work-life balance issues, nor is it within the corporation’s competence.  The task of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, plain and simple.  The large corporation, as much as the state, is an entity composed of masses of human beings.  However, the matter of work-life balance is a matter that is important to individuals, and it is only on that individual level that the question of the right relationship of life and work can be solved.

Work Life Balance is Not Fundamentally an Economic Issue

Second, the study emphasizes the cost to employers of distorted work-life balance.  However, it doesn’t appear that any corresponding analysis was done of the financial benefits to corporate Canada of people working hours that are weighted on the heavy end.  If that calculation were done, and if it were established that there was a net financial benefit to corporate Canada in encouraging overwork, would that conclude the matter, making overwork a good thing?  Unquestionably not.  Otherwise, you have reduced the value of the individual’s life purely to their economic role.

Work-life issues are not properly analyzed in terms of financial cost-benefit or markets.  They are only properly analyzed in terms of individual decisions, and in terms of what the individual values in his or her life.

Individuals Have to Take Responsibility for Their Own Lives

Individuals can’t offload their responsibility to find a personal solution to these issues to any corporation or other employer — or to any other collective entity.  Individuals have to really take hold of this issue, take personal responsibility for it, and examinine it deeply in the light of their own deepest values.  From the point of view of the therapist or Jungian analyst, the answers to those life questions are going to be fundamentally tied up with the individual’s understanding of his or her own personal identity, and with the story that the individual tells him or herself about her or his life — his or her own personal myth.

A Question of Identity

And that requires that individuals distinguish their work identity and social self — the roles they play, what Jung would call the persona — from their true identity, which rests upon the things that the individual most fundamentally values.  The journey of psychotherapy is to go in search of what that true identity is, even when it may conflict in some ways with the standards and norms of society and family.

How Does This Affect You?

Are you wrestling with issues around balancing work and life?  Have you faced particular times when this issue has come to the fore for you, and required decision, discernment or endurance?  I would really welcome any of your comments or life stories, either as comments on this post or as confidential emails.  I would really appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

+19053373946

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© 2010 Brian Collinson
Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, Ontario (near Oakville / Mississauga border)

7 Comments so far ↓

  • jamenta

    ‎”To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

    -Robert Louis Stevenson

  • Coinneach Shanks

    The giant corporation is indeed maade up of individuals (and ibvolves some other stuff, mostly relationships to capital). But it is a collective and therefore it has an unconscious and a shadow. In my experience the latter is usually located in “Human Resources”! I have some research mileeage in this area and I found that the corporation offered schemes to improve work life balance but as a mattter of conventience only. If it suits, thats fine. If your face fits, that’s fine. There were agreements with staff, but they were opportunistically applied. It seems to me that in more traditional workplaces with which I was associated, that there was a social “brake” applied to over-working. If you worked too much and too many hours you were regarded as “horse”. (Remember Stakhanov and his equivelant in Animal Farm?) But these social social values prevented much of the imbalances that we see now. The social is still made up of indviduals but where their relationship to each other is as a self-defined group, it makes a big difference. Sure we all have to take personal responsibility but I see many disorganised (non unionised) young men who maintain an excess of hours and talk of nothing else but work.

  • Brian C

    Thanks for your comment Coinneach. I think that my corporate and legal experience has led me to many of the same conclusions as yours. The corporation has a socially-sanctioned task, and that is to provide value to its shareholders. The corporation is essentially a big machine for extracting value from resources for the benefit of its owners. That’s fine, but when those resources are “human resources”, i.e., persons, there is indeed good reason to be wary of its shadow side. I think that this is particularly where people have to strive to be conscious, and to be aware that they must be mindful of their own growth / individuation, and I think, must also be asking themselves, “What is my vocation , not just as a worker, but as a human being — an individual?

    I take your point about the many young people today who, as they say, “have a work — not a life”. There is a very alarming tendency for people to become over-identified with their work role. In Jungian terms, to become fused with the work persona (the Latin word for mask). When your identity and the key values in your life all hinge on your work role, you are well on the way to workoholism. There is a crying need for people to stay creatively engaged with their real identity and their real life. Often, people need psychotherapy to sort all this through.

  • Brian C

    Thanks for quoting this very eloquent remark of Stevenson’s, John. He seems to have gotten it exactly right, doesn’t he? The idea that, to know what you prefer, at the deepest level, and to “go for it”, is to keep your soul alive, is a key insight.

  • jamenta

    Barbara Hannah wrote an excellent book called “Striving Toward Wholeness”. In one of the chapters of the book, she provides a fascinating psychoanalytical study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary career including Dr. Jekyl & Mr. Hyde. I would very much recommend it to you.

    Stevenson himself was an interesting personality, and said that many of his stories arose from his own dreams.

    Thanks for yet another interesting BLOG post. Here in US – viewing human beings as nothing more than work units seems to be the primary emphasis now on our culture. It is in my opinion a neurotic state for the country to be in and is leading to a kind of psychosis with the radical right-wing elements and the power principle of the extremely wealthy … I fear the consequences.

  • Brian C

    I’ve read several of Barbara Hannah’s books, but not that one. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it. Certainly Jekyl and Hyde is an uncannily psychologically profound book, and Jung and other Jungians have referred to it a very great deal in the context of the shadow. It’s very profound and almost prophetic in that it predates the work of Freud and the confrontation with the unconscious.

    Certainly there is something wrong in all of North America and perhaps all of the world in terms of our attitudes towards work and its place in a healthy life. I sense that the very tough economic times in the U.S., rather than leading to a questioning of this attitude, have merely intensified it. It seems that rather than leading people to creatively question attitudes towards work, and towards an over-identification with it, fear has led many, particularly on the right, to a retrenchment into extreme versions of outdated values that don’t reflect the deep kinds of economic and technical changes that we are experiencing in the world now. Frankly, I fear the extreme right in the U.S. — the Sarah Palins and Rand Pauls and Glenn Becks — because there is something profoundly irrational and disconnected from reality in their outlook. Without trying to be inflammatory, I think that Jung, looking at this phenomena, would say that it definitely has some of the marks of some kind of mass collective psychosis. It needs to be stridently opposed, and hopefully it will then gradually pass into irrelevance.

  • jamenta

    I guess we both need to ask – why we ourselves are now experiencing this type of culture. After-all – if we are too believe Jung, it is no accident, even for Brian Collinson and John Amenta.

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