While preparing for a speaking engagement for a group of senior executives, I was briefly distracted by a worrying thought: what if this audience of high-achieving, hard-working, successful leaders doesn't care about work-life balance? What if they think the topic is irrelevant, unimportant and even counter-productive to what they believe has made them successful? What if, after my first introductory words and PowerPoint slide, they scoff at the concept of work-life balance and its importance to all workers?**
Fortunately, I paused and reflected on many of my clients' work-life balance challenges and successes. Then my worrying thought changed to a bit of a roar: Bring the Naysayers On!
Why else might some say work-life balance is irrelevant? Here are just a few possible quips:
- "With the economy in its less-than-ideal state and many people concerned about job security, I should be happy to have a job and work as long and as hard as needed. Work-life balance goes out the door when you're lucky enough to have work to do."
- "As an entrepreneur, I need to work all of the time in order to keep my business going. My business success is completely dependent on how long and hard I work. There is always more work to be done and I need to do it."
- "I'm looking for a job so I don't have any 'work' in my work-life balance. I need to focus all of my waking hours on my job search."
- "Work-life balance isn't relevant to me as I'm a stay-at-home parent. My life and my work is the same."
For each of the above statements, and just about any excuse that can be made against creating a better work-life balance, I argue that it matters to everyone.
Whether you manage one person, or lead an organization with thousands of employees, supporting your staff to create a better work-life balance makes sense and cents. When people you work with feel you respect their work-life balance and allow them some autonomy in their choices, they will feel more valued, more engaged, and more committed to the organization. This does not mean just organization-wide policies. You can make a difference in your employees work-life balance by giving them support and tools to make choices that fit with each person's individual work-life preferences. Keeping your staff satisfied keeps them working well and working for you.
I would also encourage you, as leaders and managers, to examine whether your actions are supportive or in opposition to your work-life balance philosophy shown at work. If you encourage your team to set boundaries between work time and downtime and then send emails at 2am, what message are you really sending?
As an entrepreneur you may really need to 'do it all.' The question is can and must you 'do it all' now? There will always more to do - more clients to connect with, more services to provide, more products to develop, more marketing, more, more, more. For most people, the feeling of being on a treadmill 24/7 does not enable you to be at your most effective, creative or productive. Downtime away from your business, even for short time spans, will allow you to rejuvenate, rest, and relax in order for you to be at your best. Pay attention to times of the day when you work best, and use that time and your heightened energy and effectiveness to its fullest. Carve out chunks of time away from the business to explore, expand and escape.
During the job search, you are the product that you are selling to a potential employer. The job interview is the sales call where you need to put the best version of your product in front of the customer. If that product is exhausted, scattered, overwhelmed or disheartened, you are unlikely to 'close the deal' and receive a job offer. For most, a job search, especially when it is over an extended period of time, can be emotionally and physically draining. For job seekers, the challenges include: constant evaluation against others, receiving negative responses from potential employers (or none at all), needing to be 'on' and high energy when networking, and questioning your competence and employability.
Work-life balance comes into play as you decide how much energy and focus to place on your job search activities. I advise clients that an effective job search is a full-time job. And, with full-time jobs, you need non-work time, too. Make sure you are taking time out of the job search to continue to develop yourself in your profession, engage in enjoyable and/or meaningful non-work activities and surround yourself with supportive friends, family and colleagues. A balanced job candidate makes a more effective and attractive job candidate.
Work-life balance isn't just for those who have jobs that pay. Stay-at-home parents have full-time jobs that can take up all of their waking (and at times, sleeping) hours. And, like entrepreneurs, there is always more to do. What often gets lost in the overwhelm of parenting, housekeeping, cooking, volunteering, and all of the other day-to-day tasks are self-care, adult friendships, non-family hobbies, and staying in touch with past professional interests. For the stay-at-home parent, it is often assumed by others that there is an ability to always take on another errand, project or to-do item. Add sleep deprivation to the mix and it can be challenging to keep up with all there is to do and to be the type of parent, partner and community member you wish to be.
Work-life balance issues for stay-at-home parents include: the need to create boundaries to say 'no' to less important requests so you can say 'yes' to your priorities, awareness of what is important outside of your traditional parenting/home responsibilities, time for self-care; and space to evaluate and plan for if/when you decide to return to more traditional employment.
Regardless of your professional situation, work-life balance matters - if we want to create highly functioning work teams, successful companies with talented employees, viable and lucrative entrepreneurial ventures, effective job searches with high-caliber candidates, and nurturing families. Work-life balance is not just about how much time is spent on work activities and non-work activities- it's about creating a work-life and a non-work life that works together based on the your own preferences, goals, values and vision for your whole life. Who doesn't need that?!
I would love to hear your thoughts to why work-life balance does matter to you!
**Fortunately, my concerns were not realized. The group was very engaged in the topic of work-life balance, examining their priorities and looking for opportunities to create boundaries to protect those priorities.