Saturday, May 5, 2018

Bezos' 'Work Life Circle' Out of Touch

Before I enumerate the comments that Bezos makes that show that he is out of touch with the majority of his workforce, I would like to point out that the overall goal that he shoots for is what everyone should strive for. "If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy." And ultimately, that's what people are trying to ensure when the ask about work life balance. They want to know if they will have the time to be happy at both work and home so that one does not negatively affect the other.

At a high level, the examples he gives that show how he lives are well beyond the means that most people have available in terms of both time and money. Going on an amazing birthday trip with the kids to Norway for three days to stay in an ice hotel, go dogsledding and a wolf preserve; liquidating $1 billion and the time necessary to set up Blue Origin; even just having breakfast every day with your family are not things that everyone can do for one reason or another.

Bezos' comment of work-life balance being 'a debilitating phrase because it implies there's a strict trade-off' is inaccurate and/or left unexplained. Unless the only enjoyment in your life occurs at work, you have to sacrifice time at one to get time for the other. The best point that he could make here is that the act of balancing the time should come naturally. And that would truly be great. Unfortunately, as further points illustrate, that is easier said than done for people.

Setting aside some powerful, and arguably sappy, cultural messages and mores that promote putting life and family before business, many people have goals they want to achieve in their lives other than making a rich boss richer. Work is necessary to pay the bills, and that takes time away from these other goals. Without clearly defined boundaries, it is too easy for even altruistic bosses who only think they're encouraging a better life, to take away the things that bring one pleasure in life and work.

Now, let's look at the idea that the demands on one's time outside of work tend to increase the less privileged you are. It's great that Jeff  "sets aside a few minutes every day to wash his own dishes." Does he mow his own lawn? Clean the rest of the house? Fix his own car? Plan his own vacations. Take his kids to school, to the doctor? Help them with homework? Make their lunches? The answer to some of those is probably yes, but I doubt it's less than most people. How many chores does his privilege buy his way out of that then allows him the extra time to bring his work and life into harmony?

It's great when you control your own schedule such that you can eat breakfast with your family every day. That doesn't work so well for people that have to take phone calls from 1AM - 9AM with even moderately regulated break and lunch times. Nor does it work for people that can't afford to live close to work, must commute for hours a day, and have responsibilities that don't allow them to work even when they're lucky enough to be able to take public transportation.

Again, work-life harmony is good. But there are necessarily different ways of accomplishing that depending on what your goals and means are. Disparaging one approach as detrimental or toxic comes off as, at best, naive of the conditions in which most people live and work, and at worst looking down on the career and life goals of others.

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