Work-Life Balance? Bah, Humbug!

If you enjoy what you do, working longer may not be a negative.

By + More

Marty Nemko
Marty Nemko
Who could be against work-life balance, especially as we approach the holidays? Only Scrooge.

Yet a good case can be made for work-life balance being humbug.

Can you legitimately assert that a cardiologist who chooses to work 40 to 60 hours a week treating more patients should be perceived as out-of-balance, let alone pathologized as a workaholic? Might heroic be fairer?

Or take even an accounts payable clerk who chooses to spend 40 to 60 hours ensuring that everyone gets paid promptly and accurately. Should that person be tarred as a workaholic? Or might responsible be fairer?

But you ask, "What about burnout: If you work a 60-hour week, won't you be mistake-prone and eventually crash and burn?” In fact, even a lifetime of 60 hour weeks is likely to leave you healthy and happy as long as you're working on something of value, are good at what you do and have a measure of control over your work tasks.

You might also ask, "Shouldn't life be not just about work but about pleasure?" Come on! Do you really want to argue that Mother Teresa and countless others who spent most of their waking hours trying to save lives amid horrific conditions, lived a less worthy life than someone who left work at 5 o'clock on the dot to maximize time at happy hour?

Still you might ask, "Won't working so much make you a dull person? After all, they say that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?" Can you really say that a person who spent hours 40 to 60 hours at work, even on something as mundane as widget marketing is less interesting that someone who spent those hours watching the Bears and Seinfeld reruns, ensuring the home looks like “House Beautiful,” reading and responding to all their friends' Facebook updates and making meals of the two-hour prep variety? After all, that widget marketer is interacting with all sorts of people, data and information.

But what about the parent who says, "Sure I can understand that working may be more valuable than playing guitar in a punk band or vegging-out at a day spa, but isn't time with my children important?" Neither evidence or logic persuades that a parent working 60 hours versus 40 who spends a few hours a day with the kiddo damages the child. In fact, there's good reason to believe the opposite. Whether it's two hours or 24, what matters is the quality of that time. It's easier to provide quality time for just a few hours a day without getting frustrated with or not outright lashing out. Besides, because society implies you're a bad parent if you don't spend lots of hours with your progeny, merely your sense of guilt will motivate you to be exemplary in those few hours. Don't say that just preparing meals takes hours alone. A healthy and delicious meal can be prepared in minutes: a salad filled with family favorites, spiced broiled chicken and yogurt with fresh fruit.

Sure, if your job is to haul hot beams in a clanging, carcinogenic steel plant or if your boss is Darth Vader, then work-life balance might indeed be a wise goal. For less beleaguered people, working long and hard is wiser and more worthy of being called hero than workaholic. Here's to Bob Crachit.

With regard to fun-loving Fezziwig and his work-life balancing ilk, bah humbug!

Editor's Note: Next week in Marty Nemko's Bah series, he will argue that the job market will get worse instead of better.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach." His latest books are How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. He writes weekly for as well as for More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on