Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The First Step To Create a Life of Balance

Work Over People

Work Over People

We live in overscheduled times. The company  demands that you do more with less, and rewards a job well done with more job. Or,  maybe you are passionate about what we do. The job brings fulfillment, which gives an incentive to work more hours. At some point, it will get to be too much. If you are starting to feel like Anakin Skywalker crawling out of the lava pit, this post is the first of three that will teach you how to put things right without becoming Darth Vader.

Step1: Secure Your Identity as a people-first person.

What is the most important thing in your life? As you think about your answer, look to your day-to-day decisions and priorities. Do you:

  • Skip workouts to catch up on email?
  • Eat lunch at your desk every day?
  • Check email or take a phone call when on a date or spending time with your kids?
  • Feel guilty when not working?

The type of behaviors indicate that you have made your company/work the most important thing in your life, because in the moment, you are choosing to work instead of focusing on your own health or being present with the people you care about. Identity is a shorthand way of making decisions without having to stop and think about them. We all have multiple identities – marketer, father, soccer coach, author are a few of mine. The question is, which identity is dominant?

A mindful shift to a people-first identity allows you to change your priorities and decisions day to day. Which is more important: giving yourself two hours to wind down before you go to bed, or answering every email? A people-first person shuts off the computer and phone two hours before bedtime no matter what. It’s not about saying no to the work, it’s about saying yes to sleep and people in your life.

If the cell phone beeps during dinner, which of these people is more likely to answer:

  1. The person whose identity rests on being the always available leader
  2. The person whose primary identity is as a caring and present father.

Who will make a better impression on a first date:

  1. The person who is answering text messages or
  2. The person who turns off the phone after the first beep?

Which person do you want handling a crisis at work that pops up at 10 AM:

  1. The person who spent the date answering text messages, and then went back home and worked till 1 AM, or
  2. The person who turned off the phone, made a real connection, and whose date when home with him/her?

Even if you love your job, strengthening your people-first identity will give you more resilience to deal with the ups and downs that come with any company. Why? Because you’ll have people there to catch you when you fall.

Next Post: The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

Is Life Balance Better Than Work/Life Balance?

Talented Man by Erkuthanci via Flickr cc

Talented Man by Erkuthanci via Flickr cc

I have an issue with work/life balance. By putting work & life on the same line, it implies an equivalency between the two. And by putting work first, it provides a pecking order.

Work and life are not equals to be balanced or prioritized: Work is a part of life, a subset. The real issue is how to balance the different facets of life.

As I wrote in Busting Your Corporate Idol, life has three arenas: sleep, work, and everything else. A Balanced Life requires attention to each arena. 60, 80, 90 hour work weeks encroach on other arenas.

So much of the work/life balance field is focused on flexibility. But what about the person who has flexibility and chooses/feels compelled to work 60+ hours. Is this person happy? Maybe Is his or her life balanced? Doubtful. Freedom to pick your own 90 hours isn’t really a help. It may feel good for a time if you love your job to work all the time, but it isn’t balance, and it isn’t sustainable. (I know, because that was me.)

What I needed, and what many people need, is to work fewer hours. In my last post, I quoted an executive who said to Cali Williams Yost

Every time you say work-life balance all I hear is work less, and we have so much to do. I need everyone to do more. Plus, I don’t have any kind of work/life balance myself. How can I support something I don’t have?

I find it sad that the executive felt that he could not have life balance; he wasn’t even trying. He just assumed that he needed to make sacrifices for the company. (Which regular readers will recognize as corporate idolatry.) It doesn’t have to be that way. This executive had flexibility, and after talking to Yost, agreed to allow his employees more flexibility. But he was still overworked, and so were they!

So it’s time to call a spade a spade. We are overworked, and in order to achieve Life Balance we need to choose to work less. Yes, it is our choice. It does no good to blame the company, the economy, or globalization. No one will tell you to work fewer hours. You need to take back that time for yourself. You might be surprised to know how many managers have told me that they see their employees working too much. They won’t life a finger to stop it, but would comply with a request for less work in an instant.

Balance is not stationary. Life Balance is someone riding a unicycle while with a bunch of bowls on her head, with sticks in her hands, each holding up a ball. She is constantly moving. Life Balance is the same way. We are always moving and adjusting. Your Life Balance will look very different from my Life Balance. Of course they will, because we are different people.

I think that until we give up on the misdirected goal of work/life balance, we cannot achieve what we really want, a balanced, healthy, and meaningful life.

What do you think is the best phrase? Life Balance, work/life balance, or work+life fit?

Thank you Patricia Kempthorne, Founder/CEO of The Twiga Foundation, for your helpful feedback on the concept of Life Balance

You Might Also Like

The Secret Flaw In Work/Life Balance

Discover How I Avoided Burnout

Five Reasons To Offer Two Weeks Pre’cation Before the Start Date

Rocking Chair Crayon Box by Andrew Morrell Via Flickr CC

Rocking Chair Crayon Box by Andrew Morrell Via Flickr CC

Recently I published a post on the Pre’cation, the most innovative employee benefit I have seen in years. The pre’cation offers employees two weeks paid vacation before the start date. My post on the Pre’cation stirred up a serious debate on LinkedIn.

Any company that is serious about building a long term relationship with employees should consider offering a pre’cation; not as a feel good measure, but as a serious business investment. Here are 5 benefits for the employer of offering pre’cation:

  1. New employees will come to work rested and recharged. Many people changing jobs are leaving stale or toxic environments. It takes at least two weeks for the body to physiologically reset from a state of high stress.
  2. Pre’cation allows the employee to catch up on other parts of life that may have been neglected. This could range from laundry to a trip to Mexico with the significant other. As Barbara Fuchs pointed out on LinkedIn, a new employee is usually looking at months without significant downtime. Why not let them come in with a clean slate, without those nagging loose ends that can add additional stress to an already stressful life transition?
  3. A company offering pre’cation will have a significant competitive advantage in attracting top talent over a company that does not.
  4. Pre’cation sets the tone that employees are expected to take care of themselves. There will always be more work to do, but the best employees will make time for a healthy life outside of work, a source of strength to get through the challenges of the job.
  5. For people used to high-paced environments, a pre’cation can make them hungry for the excitement of the workplace, and they come in roaring to go.

Ray Lindberg, an employee relations expert, gave a spirited endorsement of the pre’cation concept on a LinkedIn discussion.  “Pre-cation is also a statement that the organization has high expectations and standards…which is also the case with all signing bonuses and robust employment contracts. It brings pressure to perform and deliver, no doubt, but I would argue that in many cases, it’s good pressure.” Interestingly, Ray also likes to tip his bartenders before they make him the drink. He sees it as a vote of confidence, and more than pays off in better service and free drinks.

The same concept holds for employees getting a pre’cation. Why not give them that vote of confidence? Companies that don’t really give a crap about their employees need not apply.

Who Else Wants Two Weeks Paid Vacation Before the Start Date?

Turpin-Chaplin-his-new-job_02

Chaplin should have taken 2 weeks off before starting his new job

I heard a crazy idea the other day: Offer people two weeks of paid vacation before they start work. Literally before they start work. After you finish your previous job, your salary and benefits begin two weeks before you come into the office. It is called a Pre’cation, the brainchild of Jason Freedman, who wrote about it on his blog 42Floors.com.

Freedman has an aversion to vacations. He is a serial entrepreneur, going from startup to startup. He gets into each company so much that he never wants to take a vacation. He ascribes this behavior in part to the very nature of a startup. He writes, “Startups are a mission; a belief that something impossible is actually possible.” But he also noted “that doesn’t mean startup people don’t need vacations – we clearly do.  If for no other reason than our best ideas come when we’ve been able to disengage from the problem in front of us.”

Freedman started offering new employees two weeks of vacation before they start, as a way to make sure that everyone has some time off and arrive rested. In some ways, a Pre’cation is no different than a signing bonus: a company expense that comes prior to an employee doing work. While the Pre’cation isn’t mandatory at 42Floors, there has been 100% adoption of the practice so far.

Who wouldn’t take this offer? (In fact, I’d worry about someone who didn’t). The real question is, what type of company would offer Pre’cation? A company that wants to attract the best talent, and a company that wants employees to bring their best to work.

I think the Pre’cation is exactly the kind of radical new idea that we need to make the corporate world both more efficient, and more humane. It is easy to dismiss this idea as something that could never happen in your industry. However, imagine that your biggest competitor adopted this policy. Which of these three best describes your reaction?

  1. Good! Let them waste their money.
  2. Crap, this will help them attract better talent.
  3. Hmm, I wonder if there is a job there for me.

I don’t know about you, but I was tempted to look at the 42Floors jobs page, and I don’t even know what that company does.

What do you think?

Image Credit: Turpin-Chaplin-his-new-job_02 By alyletteri via Flickr CC