Psst! Work-Life Balance Is a Myth!

by Meredith Turits

When Wendy Clark, Senior Vice President, Integrated Marketing Communications and Capabilities at Coca Cola, stepped on stage at the 2014 Makers Conference with a slide that read "Work-Life Balance is False," the room grew quiet. But what about the idea for which we've all been striving — a core objective for all women in the workforce who want to lead a fulfilling life? It's a false goal, Clark tells me after her presentation at the conference. Balance is out: integration is in.

"We're all extremely goal-oriented, and you put a goal in front of someone, and typically they say, 'Fine, I'm going to go achieve that goal.' It's just something I could never achieve from a goal perspective. Over my career, people would say, 'You've got to get more balance. You're working too hard.' This is an impossible task," Clark says. "Too often we go, No, no, it's going to be fine!' but balance is going to be difficult if you're really trying to do a 50/50 — the definition of balance — it's really to not going to be possible to have these high-powered jobs and to have that. But if you find a company who will allow you through flexible work practices, on-site day care, etc. etc., it's entirely possible, because your life is integrated."

So, what does work-life integration actually look like? Clark gave a few tips on how to meld the two together so you can move more sanely between job and home.

Set guidelines with your technology, and declare your intent

"[Your phone] is always close to you. It's so easy to get pulled back into it, so the careful management of technology is really important. Commit to and proclaim what you're going to do. My team knows from 6 to 9, I'm pretty much off the grid ... declaring that is important. During that time, I'm not going to be very available. They have my home phone number, and if something's burning down, someone knows how to get me."

Own your work

"There will be times when I'm out with my kids on a weekend, and I'm waiting for a really important email from my boss, and I'll describe to them what's going on. It's not that I'm just randomly hanging out looking for something and ignoring you; I really have something I'm looking for."

Dedicate your focus

"There was one situation where we had just gone in to put-put golf, and I got an email from my boss, and I literally had to answer it. I'm sitting there going, I can't do [both these things]. You're not going to do either one well — that's the most important aspect of that. It wasn't going to be a good email, and it wasn't going to be good mommy time. I'm going to fail at both if I try to do both. So we got set up and I literally said, "Each of you play two holes for Mommy, and by hole number 7, I'm coming back and I want my scores to look good. And I'm going to go do an email." And rather than stand there and do it, I removed myself from the situation, went to the car, sent the email I needed to send, left my phone there, and came back. I think that's a really important aspect.

"If you splice your life into highly focused elements — now I'm put-put golfing, now I'm emailing — instead of trying to put it together, you're much more effective. Give yourself permission to focus fully, even if it's really finely spliced. That's what I mean by life integration."

Image: Getty Images