Monday, November 17, 2014

What a difference a word makes

I listened to the radio on my way to a meeting this morning and heard Karen Blackett, CEO of Mediacom, talking about part time working. The one thing she said which really struck a chord with me involved changing one word. Let’s go back a step first though (a big step to start): 

Anubis weighing a heart.
National Geographic, Ancient Egyptians - Book of the Dead

As long ago as 3000 years BC, sophisticated weights and measures were standardised. Amongst the intriguing early equipment excavated from ancient sites there are many sets of scales and weights. The ancient Egyptians believed that Anubis measured your heart against a feather in the afterlife, to see if you were worthy of entry into heaven.  

Scales work by achieving balance; things are measured against each other and an even weight for each achieved through adjustment. Balance, visually and by implication, suggests (to me) exclusivity. If you have a pound of gold on one side, and a pound of steel on the other, though they weigh the same, they are different. You would not balance the scale by putting some gold on with the steel, or vice versa.

But back to Karen and her talk about the workplace. The current popular phrase for how people cope with their work and home life is ‘work life balance’. This implies that you cannot combine the two – that you have work, or you have home, and never the twain shall meet.  That may have been true in past times, in an industrialised era when the knocker-upper woke you for your shift at the factory, and the whistle blew for knocking off time. A period of ‘hard knocks’, to say the least. But is it true now?

A knocker upper

Today we still have industrialised occupations, but we also have a much wider world of work which includes remote working, home working, even virtual working. We can attend conferences without leaving our desk, or even without leaving our homes. As we become more digitised, as communications have rushed us into the 21st century (not exactly kicking and screaming but more tweeting and streaming), so our working lives have also changed.

Karen used the term ‘work life blend’ – and the substitution of that one word (balance for blend) makes a world of difference. Home life and work life are a combination – and frequently flow into each other instead of being mutually exclusive.  Work doesn’t just begin when you get to the office; individuals are ‘clocking on’ before they even leave home (Mozy, 2012)

Though this one word may seem quite a simple change, it has an impact on perception. Conflicting demands of work and home can cause excessive stress (Health & Safety Executive, 2014). And research suggests further stress - ‘a conflict between high-performance practices and work-life balance policies’ (White, 2003).  It is understandable, therefore, that many individuals seek to reduce the stress that an ever-demanding working life puts on them.  

If you change the word ‘balance’, which implies juggling, struggling, with ‘blend’, which implies combination and mutuality, you are instantly addressing the challenge with a positive starting attitude. Sometimes the change can be small – just one word – but the difference it could make may be huge.


Health & Safety Executive. (2014). What about stress at home? Retrieved from Health & Safety Exeuctive: 
Mozy. (2012). The New 9 to 5. Retrieved November 2014, from
White, M. H. (2003). High-performance’ Management Practices, Working Hours and Work–Life Balance'. British Journal of Industrial Relations.

Further reading

Knocker upper photo courtesy of

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