Work-Life Balance is a Myth

Wouldn’t it be nice if our lives were compartmentalized into neat little boxes? This box is for work, this box is for play, this box is for friends, this box is for family – you get the point. But life doesn’t work this way. Life is a giant mash-up of all of these parts, and they intersect with each other and often these intersections are collisions. That is why our search for a work-life nirvana is an impossible goal.

The effort of seeking that impossible work-life balance becomes even more complicated when we become a manager. We need to understand not just the necessity of our job attendance, timeliness, performance, and presenteeism, and we also are expected to oversee and manage these obligations in others as they seek to realize some level of work-life balance.

There is a better way to manage our lives than seeking balance. Think of your life and the daily responsibilities that go with living our lives as integration versus a balance. We have one life and at times, one aspect of our life may necessarily take on a higher priority than another aspect. If a spouse gets laid off, this uncertainty and anxiety will distract even the most loyal employee. If the company is seeking a new round of funding and to get there requires an “all hands on deck” effort, this will distract us from our family obligations. Neither of these examples makes us bad employees or bad spouses, we are just trying to cope with what life has thrown at us.

Here are the steps to attaining an integrated life:

  • Acknowledge to yourself that you have one life, not several lives that can be compartmentalized.
  • Acknowledge that events and circumstances will drive our engagement and attention level. If there is a family crisis, more of our time, attention and energy will be directed to the family problem. If we are in a crunch mode at work, more our time, attention and focus will be directed at work. Our time and attention, focus and execution will ebb and flow based upon life events and circumstances.
  • Once we have come to this personal awareness of how to better manage all aspects of our life, we can now become better servant leaders at work. We know there are times we need to ask more of our staff to help our company or department attain crucial goals, to go that extra mile to drive execution. But also, we are in a better position to understand what stresses an employee is trying to manage outside of the office that may prevent them from having the same focus or attention to their job.
  • As a manager, we need to use this awareness to bring a higher level of trust and transparency to your job and your management of others. This conversation starts with one-to-one conversations. If you observe a performance, focus, timeliness, presenteeism or absenteeism concern, take the time to learn what is causing this behavioral change. It never ceases to surprise me at how much hurt and pain the average employee carries with them to work every day and how hard they work to try to manage their performance around these crisis points. As leaders, we need to bring empathy to the workplace.
  • Give the employee the flexibility they require to handle the crisis. This step is necessary. Until they can get through this crisis their performance, presenteeism and focus will suffer. You can force them to be on-time, but you have not control over how present or capable they are in their job until the crisis has passed.
  • This honesty and transparency work both ways. You, the manager, may have a crisis in your life that is impacting your attention, presenteeism or focus. If we are expecting our employees to be open with their life issues, we also need to show our humanness. This leading by example will solidify the expectation of transparency in the workplace.
  • There are times when we need our staff to give that extra effort. When these moments happen, we must realize that we are asking them to shift their focus and attention more to work at the expense of family. This request is nothing a leader should ever take for lightly and comes with responsibilities. If we are asking them to go the extra for the company or project at the expense of family we must tell them:
    • How long
    • Why
    • How will they benefit

Life is made up of many experiences, events, people and places. It is not something that can be parsed out in equal amounts because these demands present themselves to us often and in ways we didn’t expect. It is these experiences, events, people and places that make our lives exciting and challenging. Once we understand that our work, relationships, and activities are affected both good and bad by life, we can be more successful in putting our attention, thought and effort to those events based upon their priority. Trying to seek balance when our experiences and activities are in constant motion with adjusting priorities is an exercise destined to fail. It is when we make an informed decision on what demands our attention in the now that we can be honest with our family, our staff, our employer and ourselves…

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