Work-life balance is, like, so last century.
These days, it’s all about work-life merge.
As Emily White, a Facebook executive, put it to me, “Forget the balance, this is the merge”, meaning that work and play and kids and sleep are all jumbled up in the same 24-hour period. (White came up with this term after she finally managed a night out alone with her husband, and they spent half the dinner staring at their iPhones.)
The term – which applied to plenty of men as well as women – captures the idea a life in which “work and free time are no longer neatly compartmentalised but seamlessly jumbled up together”, adds Gaby Hinsliff in the Guardian.
Where the “balance” implies an idea of work and life as “conflicting opposites”, the merge is embraced, for better or worse, by those for whom work and life happen almost simultaneously.
The chief catalyst for the merge – the “seamless blurring of private and public life” – is, of course, technology.
“Now, work messages jostle with private ones in every inbox, professional contacts become indistinguishable from friends on Facebook, and every work-related search brings up endless other clickbait,” writes Hinsliff, a former political editor for the Observer.
“Is surfing Twitter work, if you’re ostensibly checking for breaking news – or play, given you inevitably become sucked into conversation?”
That is only amplified by the “tough new economic reality, which means those torn between work and home life often can’t afford to reduce their hours: so the emphasis is on reinventing the time we have”.
The work-life merge is not, of course, available to everyone.
It’s not easy for anyone whose job requires fixed physical presence, from binman to brain surgeon. And mingling work and play can be downright miserable for anyone who hates their job, and lives for the moment they can leave it all behind.
But at least the occasional chaos of the merge feels more achievable than the smug triumphalism of “having it all” – and far less retrograde than throwing in the towel. Better merged than submerged, perhaps, drowned beneath the weight of guilt and impossible expectations.