( Photo courtesy Tim York )

I don’t need to tell you that working in agriculture is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week gig. So when I was challenged by someone during a recent conversation with students at the New York Produce Show to describe how I maintain work-life balance, my glib answer was that you don’t, can’t, and shouldn’t set that expectation for yourself. 

(I also wanted to tell him that if he asks that in a job interview, he won’t get the job.) 

I’m part of a growing number of people who think the notion of balance is flawed. On Dec. 8 Forbes — despite publishing seven articles in 2019 promoting the topic of balance — published an article saying there is no such thing as work-life balance. Instead, it noted some are calling for “work-life integration.”

“It’s liberating to give up finding ‘balance,’” said Elisa Steele, CEO of the New York-based human resources platform Namely, in the December article. “In fact, when I was seeking balance all the time, I just felt like a constant failure. There is no perfect balance — it’s just life. It’s dynamic and demanding and fluid and forgiving.”

Our “always on” culture and the demands of the perishables business cause us to work long hours in and out of the office, and never fully disconnect. 

At Markon, the after-hours calls got to be so frequent we hired a full-time person to answer the phones after hours. We recognized that these small problems, if left until business hours, could mean a late truck, short product or unhappy customer. 

In addition, let’s face it, many of us see our colleagues more than we see our families, putting even more pressure on those of us in leadership positions to create company cultures that provide a place where people want to be. 

At Markon, one of our core values is people matter, and we strive to create a culture that respects the needs of each individual while meeting the needs of our customers. 

Ultimately, regardless of what you call it — balance, integration, or any other term — companies and people need to find what works for them.  

Our work is part of our life and for many people — right, wrong or indifferent — it defines who they are. Work is always there. We simply can’t get away from it, even on vacation.

Instead, I suggest finding something you are passionate about, creating companies (or working for companies) that have cultures you want to be part of, and defining what’s right for you. It may mean setting better boundaries, but it also may mean rethinking the idea of balance and appreciating that the perishables business requires ongoing engagement.  

Tim York is CEO of Salinas, Calif.-based Markon Cooperative.

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