Why we DON’T really want balance - Your chance to win!

by External16 Jul 2012

Why we DON’T really want balance - Your chance to win!Dr Adam Fraser introduces a new concept that may just assist in that elusive search for harmony in work and home life: transitions. Enter the competition below for a chance to win a free coaching session or a copy of Dr Fraser's new book, 'The Third Space'.

The term ‘work-life balance’ was first used in the UK in the late 1970s. Since then it has been the Holy Grail that every working person has pursued. After four decades of searching are we any closer? In a nut shell – NO! Eighty per cent of Australians feel the pressure to have better work-life balance. Eighty-three per cent hate or don’t like their job, and since the introduction of the term work-life balance, depression has increased by a factor of 10. What we are doing is clearly not working.

Why? We are focusing on the wrong thing – balance. Saying you want balance is like saying you want to be on a diet. You don’t want to be on a diet; you want to lose weight. We don’t want balance; we want to be happy and have better relationships. Rather than focus on our schedule, our time management and ensuring that each part of our life gets equal investment, we need to focus on our behaviour. In particular, what we do in the transitional space between work and home.


I first came across this concept of transitions was in 2008 when I watched a number of close friends return home from serving in Iraq. I saw them struggle to re-connect and relate to their family and friends. When I told them about my observation, they shared with me the pain and challenge of transitioning from a vigilant soldier to a calm, loving and empathetic parent or partner. Why was this transition so hard for them? Because the mindset they needed as a soldier was very different to the mindset they needed as a parent, partner or civilian. When we worked on how they transitioned home their behaviour and level of comfort improved dramatically.

I questioned whether this technique would apply to the average worker. Partnering with John Molineux from Deakin University we set out to test my theory. First step was to take a large group of small business owners and examine their mood and behaviour in the home. The initial survey did not paint a pretty picture. Only a small percentage said that they came home in a good mood, with a positive mindset and exhibited constructive behaviour. The next step was educating them on the ‘Third Space’ (my name for the transitional space between the activity we are doing now and the next activity we are about to transition into). We asked them to carry out the following three simple steps in the ‘Third Space’ between work and home.

Reflect: This is where they reflected on and analysed the day. However, they were encouraged to only focus on what they had achieved and what had gone well for them. This activity of examining how they had grown and improved increased their level of positive emotion and put them in a growth mindset.

Rest: In this step they took time to relax and unwind. Being calm and present allowed their physiology to recover from the stressful day. This phase also allowed their brain chemistry to support more constructive behaviours.

Reset: This is where they became clear about their intention for the home space and articulated the specific behaviours they wanted to exhibit. In other words, how they wanted to ‘show up’ when they walked through the door. From our research the most important step that determined if people had a good interaction in the home was how they entered the home environment. If they walked in happy, calm and relaxed, they had a positive interaction. In contrast, if they came home angry, frustrated and manic, they had a negative interaction.



Also refer to a YouTube animated video outlining this concept. 

After a month of the participants applying these three principles, we saw a whopping 41% improvement in behaviour in the home. When interviewed they conveyed that the improved interactions they had with friends and family led to a greater feeling of overall balance.

Case study 1

‘As soon as I get in the door at the end of the day the kids have to go to the rumpus room (their garage has been converted to a play room). They are not allowed out for 30 minutes. My husband is not allowed home during that time. It’s the only 30 minutes of the day I have to myself, where I’m not responsible for another human being. In that time I do my Reflect, Rest and Reset. NO ONE interferes with that time – my kids could be bleeding from the eyes and they would not get my attention. I could not even begin to measure its impact. I’m less stressed, the relationships with my family are better and I am a better mother, partner and psychologist. I love it.’

Case study 2

A CEO sent me an email after hearing of this concept. He realised that the people at work got the best of him. At work he was energetic, fun, optimistic and engaged. However, when he went home his family got the worst of him. Not that he was openly horrible to them, he just showed up better at work than at home. He gave the best of himself to work. He lives in a gorgeous suburb of Sydney called Manly. Due to his position in the company he has a parking space right under the building. After hearing of the Third Space he now parks the car outside the city and does a six-kilometre walk into and out of the city each day. On the way in to work he listens to music on his iPod. He thinks about what is coming up in the day and starts to visualise it – how he wants it to work and what his focus will be. In contrast, on the way home he doesn’t play music, he simply does his Reflect, Rest and Reset. He goes over the day in his head. What went well and then how he can relax. As he gets halfway to his car, he switches off from work and starts to think about how he wants to show up when he gets in the door. What kind of a husband and father he wants to be. He said that the Third Space completely changed how he enters the home environment. He no longer feels like his family gets the worst part of him.

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  • by Marie Crozier-Durham 30/07/2012 3:16:05 PM

    Adam’s Third Space provides insight into an important coping strategy to improve work/life balance. It supports the view that individual agency, self-efficacy, and positive emotions are an important aspect of work-life balance. Individual workers need to be active players in achieving work-life balance suitable to themselves (and different for each person). In my practice I refer to something similar called “proactive border management.’
    However, the research indicates that the ability of personal and family coping strategies to reduce work-life conflict pales in comparison to the effectiveness of actions that can be taken by the organization.

    The impact of work/life conflict is circular, in that demanding work situations, high stress, poor coping skills, role conflict, and insufficient time with family and friends undermine work performance. Consequently, the best way to improve work/life balance (improved employee attitudes and performance while enhancing well-being and family and personal satisfaction and relationships) is to create better quality jobs and more supportive workplaces, while keeping job demands and role demands at reasonable level, as well as providing valuable information such as in Adam’s book about personal and family strategies which work for the individual.

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