Do You Work to Live or Live to Work? Can We Do Both?

Whether you work to live or live to work, it doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. Here’s a look at how to make healthy choices.

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Do You Work to Live or Live to Work?

Here's what you need to know:

  • The person who lives to work tends to love their job so much that they cannot find a happy medium between their professional and personal life
  • Those who work to live focus more on their personal life than their work
  • People can find it challenging to recognize when the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction
  • Work-life integration allows people to integrate work, family responsibilities, health and well-being, and community into each day

“Work as though you will live forever, and live as though you would die today. Go another mile!” This quote by Og Mandino, who wrote “The Greatest Salesman in the World,” sums up the struggle for work-life balance. It sounds great, but who can understand it and pull it off?

Although most people do not think in such philosophical terms about finding the middle ground between their work and home lives, the struggle is real. Life and work can feel unbalanced and stressful when the pendulum swings too far in either direction.

In this article, we will look at people who either work to live or live to work and whether we really need to choose one or the other.

Live to work

Surprisingly, the goal for living to work is not always about having more money, but rather a response to an inner drive.

Whether a traditional employee, freelancer, or business owner, the person who lives to work tends to love their job so much that they cannot find a happy medium between their professional life and their home and family life. While other people are spending evenings and weekends pursuing hobbies or spending time with loved ones, this person would rather be in the office. Many people would describe someone who meets this description as a workaholic.

People who live to work have taken the expression, “If you love what you do, you never need to work a day in your life” to heart. They might not even consider the activity that consumes 50 to 60 hours a week, or more, as work at all. If they have no outside interests, they don’t see it as a bad thing. Because they love to work, or are driven to it, they don’t have what other people would call a personal life, nor do they miss it.

Surprisingly, the goal for living to work is not always about having more money, but rather a response to an inner drive. The motivation could be positive — a passionate love for the work or vocation. It also can be negative, as when a person covers feelings of inadequacy or loneliness by putting in long hours on the job.

Work to live

People who fall into this category make it a priority to enjoy life. Once they leave work for the day, they focus on their home life or personal life and do not think about their work-life at all. For them, having less money because they decline to work overtime or take a promotion is worth it because of the happy medium it creates in their life. They make enough money to meet their financial obligations and even save a little, which suits them just fine.

On the downside, people working to live may not pursue their dream job because they prioritize having plenty of family time and free time. The result can be spending over 2,000 hours a year doing a job they find boring or even hate. They often do not realize that chronic under-stimulation can have a negative impact on energy levels.

Since people who work full-time spend more than 1/3 of their day on the job, pursuing something they at least enjoy is a major source of life satisfaction. Finding a better work-life balance is critical for people on both sides of the issue.

Is it possible to do both?

Regardless of work habits, people can find it challenging to recognize when the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction. Those who completely tune out their jobs when away from work may find themselves lacking motivation to go to work at all. Eventually, they might start calling in sick or making careless mistakes at work because they do not feel engaged with what they are doing.

Those who work as much as possible sometimes hit a point of sudden burnout. They feel physically and mentally exhausted. The love they once had for their work disappears, and they struggle to put in even the minimum amount of time required. The consequences of overwork are more subtle for others. They might develop new or worsening health issues, argue more with their spouses, or act carelessly due to physical and sensory overload.

In the United States, it is generally socially acceptable for people to work as much as they want if they do not have a serious partner or children. Once they have formed a family, others expect them to develop that elusive fine line between work-life and home life. The same phenomenon is true with empty nesters, although the expectation remains that people will slow down with work as they age.

Other countries tend to place less value on being a hard worker to the point of exhaustion and more on taking time to relax. For example, Europeans work fewer hours than Americans but appear to be just as productive. Italians take 90-minute lunch breaks, while workers in Brazil, China, France, Greece, and Spain take 2 to 3 hours off at midday, sometimes even going home for a nap.

Regardless of work habits, people can find it challenging to recognize when the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.

What about work-life integration?

Over the past few years, the concept of work-life balance has fallen out of favor because it stresses an opposition between the two. Proponents of work-life integration, including Zenefits, feel that this approach is more harmonious. The concept does not require people to draw hard lines around the different areas of their lives and instead allows them time to integrate work, family responsibilities, health and well-being, and community into each day.

People who work from home have a natural tendency toward work-life integration. They start their work day by firing up their computers before the kids wake up, then stop to get the kids ready for school and run a few errands. After returning home, they work for a few more hours and then go to the gym to workout over lunchtime. Then it is back home for more work, evenings with their family, and perhaps ending the day by preparing the next day’s schedule.

Do your company’s employees struggle to find balance? Reach out to Zenefits today to learn more about how our services can help you help your workers.

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