In a month, Google logs about 50,000 searches on an average for the term ‘work-life balance’. With technology blurring the lines between work and life, everyone seems to be seeking it these days – perhaps with only a reasonable amount of success. Today, there is incredible pressure to perform-at-all-costs, regardless of the challenges one might be facing in their personal life.
Talk to senior leaders in any industry and they will tell you all about the difficult balancing act they perform every day – to continue to stay successful while also being present for their families. Google CFO Patrick Pichette made headlines recently when he announced his retirement at 52 to spend more time with his family. Patrick said that he wrote about the need to spend more time with his family in his resignation letter after seeing a lot of other people struggle with the issue of work-life balance.
Several leaders today believe that work life balance is no longer just about spending equal amount of time at home and work. Actually, it is no longer about the number of hours at all. It is about quality. It is about creating a work environment that would allow them and other employees to develop their skillset, contribute their best, and yet have the flexibility to have an enriched personal life.
The good news is that many organizations have recognized the importance of work-life balance and are actively working to create an environment that nurtures such a balance. They are making an effort to understand the unique needs of employees, and make the workplace a better place to work through policies and guidelines. But, this is not as straightforward as it seems with each person’s idea of balance being quite different. The need of the hour is customization – to allow each person to create a work-life package that works best for THEM.
So, if you were to go about designing such a package for yourself, here’s how you might want to do it.
Make use of organizational benefits
Most organizations are committed to making things work for their employees. ‘Bring your family to work’ day is one such effort by organizations. This day gives an opportunity for families to gain an insight into the workplace, the fun quotient such as a great cafeteria or a full-fledged gym, and the challenges involved day-to-day. Fortune 500 firms have community networks that provide role models and counseling for individuals to help through personal challenges – this could be New Mothers forum, LGBT network or a group that helps overcome the loss of a close relative.
Firms are also making the effort to help employees earn intellectual satisfaction – this is done through brown bags, or by sponsoring them to participate in prestigious seminars around the world. Financial support for higher education is another example of how employees get to pursue their interests, while continuing to stay with the firm.
Identify your needs
Figure out what works for you. And, then work with the management to arrive at an equation that enables what you want. The guidelines are all in place, but you will have to use them to create the framework that works best for you.
What is it that would ‘balance’ your work? Is it a flexible work arrangement that allows you to schedule your work hours? The option to telecommute? A day care arrangement for your little one? The option to focus on elder care? Creating extra bandwidth to focus on your hobby? Whatever it is, you need to identify what gives you that balance and happiness quotient.
Communicate, communicate, and communicate
Once you identify what sort of arrangement works for you, talk to your team and management. Many a times, we assume that our needs are obvious to others. Do not wait for people to read your minds, instead go ahead, be transparent and communicate. That can eliminate many misunderstandings in teams.
For example, would it be right for a manager to assume that a woman employee, who is just back from maternity leave, will not be available for additional responsibilities or for travel opportunities? Certainly not. The only way to determine the answer to this scenario is to have an open, honest conversation with the employee to understand her priorities and choices at the moment.
The truth about work-life balance
One of the problems with this whole work-life balance discussion is that the time spent on personal and professional activities are always pitted against each other, as though they are mutually exclusive. However, I believe that they are really two sides to the same coin and go hand-in-hand with each other. We live in a technology driven world, with work-life boundaries increasingly blurring. We wake up in the morning, and check our emails on our smart phone. We extend our lunch time to attend to a personal task. Or we read books that enhance our professional knowledge in our personal time. Technology, while intruding into our personal lives, also makes it easier for us to deliver effectively from where ever we are, whenever it is convenient to us. My advice to you? Focus on the important things that matter to you, protect your private time, and when you find your own perfect formula for work-life balance – stick with it.