Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Second Step Towards a Life In Balance

Choose your date wisely

Choose your date wisely

The people you choose to be with are a strong predictor of what you value and how you live.

As I wrote in the last post, a shift in identity will start you down the path towards a balanced life.

However if everyone around you is bragging about how many events they missed because of work, eventually your hours will start to creep back up. To make the changes last, you’ll need a community of people to support you.

First and foremost, if you’re in a relationship, you’ll want to get on the same page with your partner. Does he/she support people-first values? Most of the time, they’ll be thrilled to have you around more. And if you are both on email till midnight together every night, you can start to make the change together. For example, checking email during dinner can be a pernicious habit. But, it is also is a clear behavior that is easy to modify if phone free time together is the priority.

However, if getting a new BMW every year is the most important thing to your partner, they may not support your change in priorities. Mismatched values like this are a red flag for the relationship. Some people work long hours as a way to avoid an unhappy relationship. Could this be you?

And whether or not you’re in a relationship, you’ll need people outside the family to support your change. One great place to begin is by finding a weekly activity to bring you out of the office. I’ve known many people who picked up a class or joined a team just as a way to get out of the office. There, they met their future spouse.

If you are at in Tuesday night volleyball league, everyone else there has decided not to work and to spend time on volleyball too. This is a great place to get to know people who don’t talk about work all the time.

Finally, be on the lookout for a community opportunity, meaning that if someone invites you to do something, say yes! A mindful approach to develop contacts outside of the workplace will increase your flexibility, and decrease any emotional dependency on the work pseudo-community.

What has your experience been with getting out of the office?

Previous Post: The First Step To Create a Life Of 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

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The Secret Flaw In Work Life Balance

work like effectiveness by Mike Kline via Flickr ccI’ve never liked the phrase work/life balance. I’m just not comfortable saying it. I like the sentiment, but the phrase is somehow wrong. I now understand why, but it will take me a while to get there.

Cali Williams Yost makes a significant improvement when she writes about work+life fit. In her book Tweak It, Yost explains the origin of the idea. She was meeting with a senior executive, explaining the benefits to the company of offering employees better work/life balance. But as soon as she said “work/life balance”, his eyes glazed over. Yost asked him to explain why.

“Every time you [Cali] 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]

Yost explained that is wasn’t about working less, but about having the flexibility to choose when and where you work. Yost invented the phrase “work+life fit” on the spot. The executive got it immediately, recounting how he plays tennis twice a week, and tries to fit his son’s soccer games into his overall schedule. Work+life fit is about giving individuals the flexibility to make work fit into their unique circumstances.[ii] For Yost, this was a key breakthrough that has enabled her to open dialog with business leaders about increasing workplace flexibility.

I loved work+life fit when I first heard about it. It made sense to me, because flexibility is a significant improvement over inflexible work hours.  People are happier and less stressed if they have flexibility.

But, there remained a niggling doubt in my gut, which is captured by the image I chose for the post. Our heroine has work+life fit of a sort, but it is not a happy picture. Flexibility is a plus, but if one it merely moving around the ninety hours, there still is not enough time to have a balanced life.

The problem I am trying to solve is chronic overwork, and increased flexibility doesn’t help if the overall hours remain the same.

Continued … the Real Goal Is Life Balance


[i] Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day by Cali Williams Yost. p xiv More

[ii] Ibid p xiv-xv

 

Is the Era of Work Over People Coming To An End?

Chapter 10: The People-First Life Part 16 (Conclusion)

Busting Your Corporate Idol (Conclusion)

I’m incredibly optimistic that the era of busting corporate idols is upon us. Look to the millennial generation – they grew up watching their parents work all the time, and want something better for themselves.

And more and more, those of us in middle or the end of our careers want a better life too. Even senior executives are starting to publicly admit that it doesn’t have to be this way. Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable that an executive from Goldman Sachs would condemn the company’s values in a public resignation letter. But that is exactly what Greg Smith did a year ago.

In 2007, it would have been unthinkable that Erin Callan, then CFO of Lehman Brothers, would one day write about the regret she feels for putting the company first. Yet that is exactly what she did last week. Callan wrote

“I didn’t have to be on my BlackBerry from my first moment in the morning to my last moment at night. I didn’t have to eat the majority of my meals at my desk. I didn’t have to fly overnight to a meeting in Europe on my birthday. I now believe that I could have made it to a similar place [CFO] with at least some better version of a personal life. Not without sacrifice — I don’t think I could have “had it all” — but with somewhat more harmony.”

None of us can have it all, but we all can have people who love us. It’s just a matter of values and priorities.

Wherever you are in your life, whatever you have done in the past, it is never too late to shift your focus, to bust your corporate idol, and to start putting people first.

The people are there, waiting for you with open arms.