“Work-life balance? Work-life bullshit!”

The separation of work and life is misleading. It is work that makes us what we are. But we need good work that satisfies and fulfils us. For this, we need to adapt work to people, not the other way round.

Thomas Vašek

First work then pleasure? Living, some people believe, takes place outside of work. But that is a misunderstanding. Work is a central component of our lives. It is more than just an annoying necessity in order to make our living. Work highlights our abilities and conveys identity, recognition and meaning. It is work that makes us what we are.


Previous generations were more prepared to accept unfulfilling work over many years, postponing their own needs. Today, young people in particular, like the much talked about “generation Y”, expect meaningful fulfilment and fun here and now – and rightly so. Today more than ever, companies need to understand that only those who can provide their employees with good work can acquire good employees and retain them in the long term.


People rely on recognition

Work cannot be reduced to the mere activity. It involves numerous rituals and routines, from phone calls and e-mails to meetings and discussions with colleagues and even informal chats at the coffee machine. Good work is more than just a “job”. Only when we take it seriously can we create the conditions for good work at a company. This begins with the working environment. Contemporary office landscapes meet the needs of the employees.

A trusting, cooperative working atmosphere can be more important than financial incentives and make a significant contribution to ensuring that employees identify with their company and their task.

But this is about more than simply creating a superficial “wellness” atmosphere. A table football game and a climbing wall in the office are of little use if the employees have no time to make use of these facilities. Good work arises only through interaction between the work environment and employees themselves. Modern office environments can help with achieving the inner values of the work by promoting collaboration and communication. People rely on the recognition and appreciation of others, and for precisely this reason they also need to interact with others.


Suitable office environments can support this interaction. However, this only works in a culture which facilitates communication among employees. In every work environment, there need to be informal areas where employees can simply talk without being disturbed, about new ideas but also about their worries and problems.


Freedom and leisure instead of permanent control

However, the company management must also allow its employees the necessary freedom and leisure to make use of such offers. This requires above all a practice of trust rather than permanent control that stifles every innovative idea. A trusting, cooperative working atmosphere can be more important than financial incentives and make a significant contribution to ensuring that employees identify with their company and their task. In turn, this also benefits the company itself as economic success largely depends on the identification of employees. 


Innovative ideas can arise only from good work that gives people scope to develop their skills. However, good work is not simply what can be “created”. It also requires the commitment of every individual. Those who do not love their own work, who are indifferent to it or even reject it, cannot unlock its intrinsic value. While companies do have a responsibility to create the conditions for good work, the individual employees are responsible for commitment to their own work. Only in this way does work become a pleasure. 

Thomas Vašek

Thomas Vašek, born in 1968 in Vienna, is the author of the book “Work-Life-Bullshit – warum die Trennung von Arbeit und Leben in die Irre führt” (Work-Life Bullshit  – Why the separation between work and life is misleading). Vašek is editor-in-chief of the philosophy magazine “Hohe Luft”. 

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