Work Life Balance
Who’s responsibility is work life balance these days? Early in my career, when I though my manager was in charge, I thought work life balance was the company’s responsibility. As I have gained more experience, my attitude has shifted. I now believe that work life balance is just as much the employee’s responsibility. Over the past few years, I have been meeting with two colleagues independently on a fairly regular basis. Both are VERY successful, very driven and yes, they both have young children. They both have MBA’s and one has her Ph.D. These two can move mountains through sheer willpower and I am inspired by both.
Whenever we meet, the topic of their personal work life balance and how they want their lives back comes up. They both say they work too much and even being the Scrooge that I am, I have to agree. They give too much to their employer and I can see burnout on the horizon. Each quarter they want to raise the bar over their own prior performance. As someone who sees the work they put out, I know they are delivering a lot more value than their counterparts and a lot more than their manager can appreciate. They both work all day, eat lunch at their desks, and then get back online after the kids are a sleep. They work on weekends and I don’t’ think they can help themselves for it.
Individually, I would say that despite their best efforts, they will always put in a ton of hours. The thing about this is that they both WANT work life balance and both say they want a company that will give it to them. They both want to be better mothers and better husbands. I have seen these two give 65 plus hours a week in companies they couldn’t stand working for and reporting to VP’s and C Levels they didn’t respect. They literally cannot help their work ethic despite themselves and they know they need to figure this out.
So what’s the point?
As an HR person, the term “work life balance” is a conundrum for me. I am asked about work life balance on a day-to-day basis via candidates and I don’t think a week goes by where the topic of work life balance isn’t brought up by my peers.
The multiple levels of the work life balance quandary
- As much as I want work life balance and a fun place to work, I also want to work in a company that is staying ahead of the competition, profitable and working in new technologies. In this global economy, a company filled with employees that want to work a 40 hour week will probably not get ahead of the competition.
- On one side of the coin, you have the employee needs to take some responsibility. Some employees just don’t know what work life balance is. These are driven individuals who are always in the office late and online later. Even IF these driven employees take a vacation, they still work. They literally can’t help themselves.
- On the other side of the coin, I worked in corporate America for a number of years. I learned a lot there and wouldn’t be able to do what I do today without that initial training ground. But the culture of this particular Fortune Company was one that prided itself on providing job security and not laying a single person off in 80 years. They always found a place for their employees, regardless of performance. This company had to direct traffic at 4:30 because of the mad rush of employees trying to escape the campus as quickly as possible. By 4:45, the campus was a ghost town. If this wasn’t enough, the lights were turned off around 6:15, and yes, I worked in the lonely glow of a monitor.
Like any industry, we have our busy times and our normal times. If you are an accountant, you are going to be busy during the tax season. If you work in retail, the holidays are going to require a lot of hours. If you work in the restaurant industry, don’t expect to spend Mothers day with Mom, ever, and if you are a dentist, the end of the year is when everyone wants to use up his or her benefits. Work life balance is also about realistic expectations about what work life balance is.
As much as I want work life balance, I know that work life balance is as much my responsibility as an employee as it is the employers. I need to set expectations with my manager as to what I can do during the normal times and I need to prep and be ready for the busy times. I am probably not going to get much relief during the busy times and I need to be OK with that in any industry. When our company is in hiring mode I need to be prepared to talk with candidates after hours and on the weekends. On top of this, I still need to get my day-to-day work done.
As a tech company, we have release dates we need to hit. As a startup that is trying to get to profitability, we are jumping through our assholes to close deals and get signatures. This means that timelines are going to become tighter. For many of us, this is the exciting part. Disrupting an industry, creating a new product, and working with a team where everyone is on the same page makes the time fly by. This is where “work” starts to blend into “life” and if you can find this kind of place, you relish it. When you enjoy what you are doing, and the people you are working with, work life balance becomes a much blurrier line.
You think I would be complaining if I was the pool boy at the Playboy mansion Grotto 65 hours a week passing out towels so playmates could dry off? “But honey, there is a function tonight and Hef says all pool boys on deck! I have an important job!”
I used to work when the lights went out in Corporate America. I was literally working in the dark. I then joined a startup and worked a similar amount of hours, surrounded by similar minded folks who I hung out within the after hours. My work ethic didn’t change but Mrs. Nasty noticed a change. She came out and said: “You are working the same amount of hours, but you are a lot happier. You aren’t angry all the time, you aren’t frustrated.” (Could you imagine living with an angry and frustrated Mr. Nasty?) I didn’t realize I was angry towards the end of my corporate tenure. It crept on me like slowly over the years but over time, it became a problem. I also didn’t realize time was flying when you are having fun. There is much more to a successful work life balance than the hours worked.
See you at the after party!
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. E.G. “He has a nasty fork ball”.