Take Back Work: Managing the Work-Life Balance

Quality of life can slide dramatically when we fail to manage our work-life balance.


| August 2013



Coal Mine

With coal miners working schedules such as four days on and four days off, often at a distance from their families, it’s not surprising that employees in the industry score it as having the second-worst work-life balance.

Photo By Fotolia/nito

In the wake of economic crisis on a global scale, more and more people are reconsidering their role in the economy and wondering what they can do to make it work better for humanity and the planet. In Take Back the Economy (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), J. K. Gibson-Graham, Jenny Cameron, and Stephen Healy contribute complex understandings of economics in practical terms: what can we do right now, in our own communities, to make a difference? In the following excerpt from chapter 2, “Take Back Work,” discover why so many people are re-evaluating their work-life balance. 

You can purchase this book from the Utne Reader store: Take Back the Economy.

What Is Work?

Work is what we do for a living—it’s what we do to survive. Work gives us an identity. It’s a way of defining who we are. When we meet people for the first time, we usually want to know what they do for a living. We’re interested in how much they are paid and what status is attached to their position.

Work has the potential to be a source of great pleasure and meaning—it can be where intellectual and practical challenges are posed and met, where we can create new things, use our ingenuity, interact with others, and accomplish things. Whether it is raising a child, running a farm, caring for the sick, making airplanes, managing personnel, defending criminals, or programming computers—all kinds of work can be fulfilling.

But work can also be a drudge. It can be repetitive, physically demanding, unsafe, isolated, and so low paid that it barely covers living costs. It can take over people’s lives.

In some low-wage sectors people are working longer and longer simply to get by. Those with well-paying jobs are also working longer and longer, perhaps because this is what the job demands or perhaps to buy the things that they think they need. And in countries where the majority of working people do unpaid subsistence and caring work, they are increasingly forced to find ways of paying for basic needs like schooling and medical care. They must find ways of making money to supplement whatever else they do to survive.