The topic of work-life balance has risen to top-three status among those raised by strong candidates I encounter while networking and interviewing. It’s a sensitive subject though, because you’re trying to figure out of you can have a robust personal life without coming across as lacking motivation. In my experience, probing questions from candidates tend not to be well-worded while company responses tend to similarly come off as obtuse, leaving clarity on the issue hanging in the balance.
I’m going to provide some much-needed perspective on work-life balance by making two defining statements.
But first, to understand if a company’s approach to work-life balance matches yours, you need to get real with yourself on what it truly means to you, so we can compare notes.
Sadly, I have encountered too many people who pursued a career in marketing because of what they call ‘the lifestyle’ (I bring this up as a watch out in an earlier post). And, by lifestyle, they mean something that smells like 9 to 5…or at least regular/known hours. Most marketing-driven companies can’t offer that, or at least, won’t give you much hope for long-term success if you seek a job that will contain the number of hours you have to work in a day. So, best you work toward rebooting your view on the concept of lifestyle.
With that elephant in the room identified and addressed, we can now consider two key insights about balance in the workplace:
Insight #1: Work-life ‘balance’ really means work-life ‘flexibility’.
‘Flexibility’ is the operative word here. The best companies will give you time-based latitude to accomplish your goals so that you can incorporate other priorities beyond just your job. I saw it work beautifully at J&J during my time there. One of our operating company presidents was a mother of four. She would be in at 7:30 and gone at 5. Sharp. Dinner, playtime with the kids, baths and bed by 9. Then on email until the wee hours and then again on weekends. Masterful. I also worked with another high-performer who blocked off his calendar every day from 2-3 pm to hit the gym at non-peak hours, which made for an efficient work out. He was a great leader and still accomplished a lot. Everyone knew and worked around the schedules of both of these people and respected what they were trying to achieve.
Insight #2: You will be successful in balancing work and life if you remain committed to your teams and business results.
You absolutely must have a bias toward results and you must never let your teams and management down. I have seen people fail to gain support for their balanced schedule because they regularly let their personal priorities trump their individual or team goals. If you require flexibility, it’s entirely up to you to let your stakeholders know how YOU will meet your commitments. If you step away from your responsibilities for the sake of personal needs, do not expect or assume others will have your back (unless you have created a real give and take culture with your teams). You’re still accountable.
You’ll mostly likely experience such complications if you have co-workers who either receive ‘special permission’ or otherwise claim to have to leave the office before others due to personal circumstances. That’s fine ‘n’ all. The nuance is, while you are given permission to leave, you are not given permission to abandon your team. Those are two different things since your obligation to support your teams doesn’t end with your physical departure. The onus is on you to find inventive ways to continue to contribute; failing this, you risk being resented.
The essence of effective work-life balance is finding your own unique and creative methods to meet both personal AND professional objectives on a consistent basis. Those who do this are not only accommodated but respected…even envied! Those who do not are likely to experience some sort of fall out, either on the job or at home.
So, if you’re at a recruiting event or in the later (I mean LATER) stages of interviewing and want to understand a company’s work-life balance philosophies, probe using the less threatening word ‘flexibility’. And, importantly, be sure to signal that you are driven and results-oriented. Incorporate this advice and you’ll be taking an important step to not only find the right employer, but also to achieve the peace that comes with a balanced lifestyle once you’re there.
Oh, and PS: We’re already moving past the concept of ‘balance’ into more contemporary phenomena such as work-life HARMONY or INTEGRATION. Very ’21st century’. Many articles on the topic out there so I won’t rehash. But, it’s all about loving your job, building a great team, following your passions and rounding out your life so that you enjoy work and life equally and can thus toggle between both seamlessly with passion and <gasp> even joy! You know you’re there when you can admit to yourself that your job no longer feels like work.
Integration specifically is seen more in the start-up culture. Since you’re working during personal time you can now achieve some personal objectives during your work day. Yoga mats, social activities and play time with your puppy are becoming much more common at the office. Look for this concept to continue to evolve and become more commonplace as time passes.