Work-Life Balance

As I get ready to turn my computer off and head home – breathing a sigh of relief that today at least I have no evening activities – I wanted to share a little conversation I just had with one of my agency heads about balancing work with being a real human being. I recently did an article for Foreign Service Journal on “A Win-Win Approach to Time Management.” In the article I described my way of dealing with scheduling the work day – the fact that I am a firm believer in results rather than time spent at a desk, and over the years it has been validated again and again, often over the objections of colleagues and pinheads in the bureaucracy who are of the ‘you should be at your desk at least ten hour’ school of thought.

If my folks can get what I want done completed in six hours, we can think about having happy hour for two hours – is that a contradiction? – perhaps not, anyway, we can relax with each other, and celebrate our achievement. I do that on most of my jobs when I’m in charge, and I’ve discovered something. The next day, those folks get more done, and they do it better.

So, think about this the next time you here some joker speaking in almost bragging tones about how long he stays in the office every day. Ask him how much he actually got done.

Signing off until tomorrow. Have a nice day.

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Andrew Krzmarzick

Here here! How else have you achieved work-life balance over the years, Charles? I’d like to learn more about your tips and tricks…and I’m sure many other GovLoopers would as well.

Charles A. Ray

Andrew: I did an article on work-life balance and time management for Foreign Service Journal which can be accessed at A win-win approach to time management, and describes the techniques I’ve used over the past thirty or more years to get the job done without sacrificing my indivuality. Hope you and others here on GovLoop find it useful, and would appreciate any comments.

Charles A. Ray

By the way, the article is on page 29, so if you go directly to it, you can save time. The whole issue is worth reading, though.

Alicia Mazzara

This is a good point — I often find productivity suffers from diminishing returns. Sometimes it’s better to take a break and return to the task refreshed, rather than slogging through late into the evening. Of course, if you are in an organization that rewards that type of behavior, it can be tough. As an employee, I’d much happier working under someone that has your philosophy of results first.

Bill Johnston

Well put Charles. One of our most popular workshops we teach is on this subject. There is no such thing as work life balance. Often people spend more waking hours with their workmates than with their family. You either have balance or not. It has to be a constant. This also appears in workshops on Generations. Glad to see you are so progressive, many “Boomers” struggle with the whole concept of not working a 100 hour work week. They have worn that badge like a medal for most of their lives. I know I was one… This youngest generation is in keeping with your thoughts, “why can’t you get it done in 40 hours”? They multi-task better than any other generation. Keep up the great work!

Mark Hammer

One of the smartest things i’ve seen on the work-life balance issue was a book I reviewed for The Innovation Journal, titled: Beyond work-family balance: Advancing gender equity and workplace performance
by Rhona Rapoport, Lotte Bailyn, Joyke K. Fletcher and Pettye H. Pruitt.

They advance an approach which asks the musical question: “What are the signs and omens of competence and commitment in your organization?” Work-life balance struggles arise when the things that the organizational culture treats as the barometer of both of those are poorly selected, defined inappropriately, or not adapted to existing context. Definitely worth a read. Very powerful model.

At a practical level, my wife’s advice is simpler: Just let go of the caring.

Carol McCoy

Charles, you are soooo right on! I started fighting this battle in the late ’70’s in, of all unlikely places, the military! No need to elaborate on how unsuccessful *that* effort was. One of the best documented studies I’ve seen is the University of Minnesota’s study on Results Only Work Environment (ROWE), a program developed/implemented by Best Buy. WSJ article on ROWE: http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2011/05/03/getting-results-without-face-time/#. I’ve read the books on ROWE and found it very telling that in order to effectively implemented, overcoming archaic mindsets at the management level is crucial – and management training is the first step.

Cindy Conn

I am so fortunate in my job. Self-care is not only talked about but it is practiced. We talk and implement our ideas every week. Once we have our new office, we will have a day room that is set up not just for the clients to use, but ourselves also. It’s true, if you can have a few moments to relax, you can go back and work harder and more productively.

Charles A. Ray

Carol: Thanks for your note. I had my issues with the military until I retired 29 years ago, so I know what you’re talking about. Changing mindsets that have stiffened over the decades is hard work. The only thing that worked for me was to chip away and wait until I was in a leadership position where I was the one setting the tone. Believe it or not, I still faced obstacles. But, being a stubborn east Texan, I just keeping on plugging. No big successes, but I pocket the small change and smile.

David Kuehn

I had a boss who said if we could not get our work done during work hours either we were not efficient or he was assigning too much work. When the department was given new tasks or responsibilities he would respond with options of what we would stop doing or spend less time on. Extra effort is important at critical times (not constantly) but should be valued not expected.

Charles A. Ray

Dave: Unfortunately, not enough civilian agencies, or bosses in those agencies, think like that. The common attitude is just do everything asked, and if it means working 14 hours, well, tough. I think that is not only damaging to morale, but results in poor quality work.


Interesting email I received from a private sector GovLooper today:

Did you know that Govt employees do not get paid maternity or paternity leave? I challenge the thought that Govt has good benefits, when having a family is harder for Gov employees than private industry. I have several friends that struggle with this very point and have left Govt for these benefits.”

Charles A. Ray

The comment from the private sector GovLooper about maternity leave is yet another example of debunking the myth that government employees are over-compensated. There are lots of advantages to government service, but pay and benefits are not among them, unfortunately.


I heard a few years ago that we can get a month of maternity leave before we have to use our own leave when having a child. It’s not ideal or comparable to other private sector jobs but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

Alicia Mazzara

I was very surprised to learn about the lack of maternity leave when I was working in government. Colleagues would try to save as much sick and annual leave as possible so they could take time off after having a baby. It also wasn’t uncommon for women to take unpaid leave. Many government benefits are good, but this is one area that has a ton of room for improvement.

Elizabeth Crapo

I completely agree with the idea that those who brag the loudest usually get the least amount of work done – probably because they spend so much of their time talking about how hard they work.

I find it interesting that so many people in our society are so obsessed with talking about work, even when they on vacation. I recently went on a two-week cruise where the passengers were of mixed nationalities. I couldn’t help but notice that every single one of the Americans turned the conversation to work within five minutes of meeting, while only one of the others even asked what I did for a living.

And then, when I got home, someone actually asked me, “So, does it feel good to return from your vacation and get back to work?” I thought she was joking at first, but she was serious!

Charles A. Ray

Elizabeth: People who brag about how many hours they work get my goat. I much prefer the person who quietly gets the job done and then spends time with his or her family. What I have discovered over the years is that the people who get the most done are, by and large, the ones who spend work time working, and then carve out personal time to renew themselves.