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An Alternative to ‘Work-Life Balance’

Originally posted on ImprovisingMe.com

Let me start by stating I HATE the phrase ‘Work-Life Balance’!!!

NOTE: My apologies, in advance, to my mother, for she never liked us using the word “HATE”, but let’s just say “strongly dislike” doesn’t emphasize the point well enough in this case.

Work-Life Balance’ or some VERY similar phrase, gets thrown around regularly by mangers in every organization known to man. Typically, the conversation goes something like this (assume this conversation takes place on a Friday afternoon because they always seem to take place on Fridays for some reason):

Manager: ”You know, you really have to do a better job at finding a work-life balance.

Employee: ”I know, but I love what I do and the work has to get done.

Manager: ”You see, that is what I am talking about. You need to find more time for your family & friends, unplug, and enjoy your time off. You have to learn to work smarter.

Employee: ”I guess you are right. I will try.

Manager: ”Great! By the way, I need you to compile the latest quarterly numbers from all five business units (3 days of work) by first thing Monday morning. Make sure you format them the way the big boss likes them. Got it? Oh yeah, and have a great weekend!

Sound familiar?

Managers throw around the ‘work-life balance’ card so often that it has been watered down to the point where is really lacks meaning. You know that some senior level managers created the phrase because the word “work” is prominently positioned ahead of “life” and “balance”.

Maybe if it were called ‘Life Balance’ it would have more significance?

But I digress.

The ‘work-life balance’ concept is a great one but is often practiced in an illegitimate fashion. In this day and age of downsizing, layoffs, and doing more with less managers and employees have to learn to work smarter. Managers should be focused on optimizing their employees’ work environment and methodologies ensuring they are setup for success. Employees should be smartly planning and prioritizing their work, minimizing multi-tasking, and ensuring they don’t take on more then they can actually complete. This is not a one time event but an ongoing process for achieving optimal results.

Working smarter is the key to achieving a ‘Life Balance’ that so many find so elusive.

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Profile Photo Lara Coutinho

So, what would it be like if the employee in the above scenario said “Boss, I’d like your input on priorities. Do these tasks need to be done by Monday, or can they be delivered on Tuesday? If they need to be delivered on Monday, would you have a problem with me taking Tuesday off so I can spend time with my family?”

It depends on how empowered you feel in actually working with your boss, risking getting fired, getting another job, getting support from other managers, living with risk vs. playing it safe. So, what makes a person feel empowered to take care of themselves? For me, it’s networking. For others it may be the support of a spouse. Anyone care to share what works for them?

Profile Photo Wendy L. Frederick

I have to agree that my experience has been that you will only achieve work-life balance if you ask for it. I have never understood those who are proud of the fact that they have use or lose leave at the end of the year. I make the most of the leave I receive – using some just this week to go as a chaperone on my son’s school field trip. When I was promoted to management I insisted on staying on an alternate work schedule – and soon other managers in the organization (including my boss who wasn’t the biggest supporter of AWS) started asking for and getting it to. As a manager I pushed for regular telework for my employees and almost all now do so 1-2 days a pay period. Work-life balance isn’t something handed to you on a platter – and there are times when you have to sacrifice personal time to get something accomplished – but I have found the Government offers many opportunities to help if you look and ask for them,

Profile Photo Ada (HangFong) O'Donnell

There is no work-life balance if the employee has limited ability to prioritize required workload or the employee has no control of the deadlines. It will be worse if everything your boss wants is urgent. Being organize helps but it remains a challenge at the work place. In the end, the employee has to learn work-life balance to survive.

Profile Photo Jill Nissan

Love this discussion. Agreed that the phrase Work/Life Balance is tossed around so much that it feels meaningless. I’ve never heard someone shout out: “Yes, I’ve achieved Work Life Balance today!” In response to Lara’s question about works for you, here’s what works for me.

+(WORK ENVIRONMENT) I work for a supervisor with high performance expectations, yet at the same time is reasonable. While I have multiple projects going on, I get at least 15-20 minutes with her each day to “recalibrate” and make sure I am working on what is most important for that day. She knows I appreciate our relationship and I work at making it positive.
+(PERSONAL SKILLS) I’ve spent many years reading up on different methods stay organized. I am a big fan of David Allen. Right now I keep a spreadsheet of my projects posted on the side of my computer to keep track of the big buckets of stuff, and I use a good ol’ sticky note to list out what NEEDS to happen that day. I also think I am pretty good at identifying when things feel outta whack and proposing something to my boss to figure out how to resolve it.
+(HELP AT HOME) I am the mother of a 16 month of boy. He goes to day care each day I’m at work. Most of the time this works; other than occasional sick days when I need to take off. My husband and I have ongoing negotiations (productive ones) about who takes care of baby in the morning and in the evening. His job has unpredictable evening hours, so I tend to take care of evening responsibilities.
+(PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY) I started practicing yoga many years ago and try to incorporate some of its teaching into my everyday life, like staying present, being aware, not being attached to the outcome of my efforts (kinda keeps the ego in check).

Do some days feel awful and stressful and lack of balance? Sure. But most of the time the day flows OK. Honestly, I am optimistic that this movement towards wellness, coupled with figuring out how to use technology smart (rather than being addicted to it), will create enough awareness and momentum for employees to make small successes towards this work/life balance concept.

I would love to hear other examples too…