Work balance revisited
Last week I posted on the topic of work balance. I really enjoyed writing that post, and it wasn’t because of the picture of the playmates by the pool. This is a real challenge for many companies and especially for myself, as an HR practitioner in a start-up. I find the topic of work balance being brought up more and more and at all levels throughout the organization. HR is not just asked about our company’s work balance but work balance in all industries.
I am asked by internal employees, our executive team, and by candidates interested in working with us. Questions come up about work-life balance by employees who work 65 hours a week and love it—other employees who want to work 38.5 and leave at 4:59. A day doesn’t go by where the topic doesn’t come up.
I didn’t do any research for last week’s post. I just wrote about how I felt. Since then, I have seen a couple of reports and read several articles on what job seekers value most?
HR I respect
I read a recent post on HRBartender.com, which was sponsored by SilkRoad. I really respect @HRBartender, and if you are interested in what is going on in HR, she would be a great person to follow.
In this post, SilkRoad took a survey on what “What values do Job Seekers value most.” Most of the results did not surprise me, but I have to admit I found it a bit disturbing WHAT was valued by job seekers. Seeing the results in print reinforced what I was already scared of when it comes to what candidates are looking for.
Work-life balance wasn’t just at the top of the list. It was the clear runaway winner!
What the job seekers were looking for wasn’t financial strength, an engaged workforce, innovative culture, or great technology. These were all ranked below work-life balance, benefits, and opportunities for professional development. In this flat world and down economy, I want to work with a company with some financial stability and one that will have some longevity. I think an engaged workforce, great technology, and strong leadership are more reflective of long-term values. For me, work balance and benefits reflect a shorter-term mentality.
Downside of Nasty
I don’t know who was polled or what demographic they reached. I tried to sign up for the report a couple of times, but it wasn’t delivered to my professional inbox or my HRNasty inbox, but I do receive their email updates. (this can happen when you have the word Nasty in your email)
Again, I am not sure what categories they polled, but “work-life balance” is not only at the top of the list but a clear runaway winner by a couple of lengths. The category of “pay/salary” is not listed, and to give the benefit of the doubt, it may be lumped into the category of benefits.
Who should take responsibility?
In my last post, I mentioned that work balance IS AS MUCH the employee’s responsibility as it is the employer’s. The other entity that could be responsible for work-life balance are the Unions (DOH!), but that isn’t just another blog post. That is a completely different blog, and I won’t go there yet.
I can’t help but think that this survey reinforces the notion that work balance is entirely the employer’s responsibility and not the employees when included in a survey like this. Work balance may be influenced by the company and the culture, but including this category in this type of poll is doing the employee a disservice. This poll is reinforcing the myth that work balance lies in the hands of the company.
It’s a balance between employer and employee
I understand that the categories of benefits, strong leadership, innovative culture, etc. should all be included in a poll. At an individual level, most employees have much impact on these, and this is why these categories would have an impact on a decision to work over one employer or the next. In my opinion, work balance is as much in the hands of the employee as it is the employer.
There are obviously exceptions to work-life balance. If you want to become a partner in any type of firm (legal, accounting, medical), you will put in your 80 hours a week for 7 years and hope to make partner status. The fact of the matter is that if you choose this profession, you know what you are in for as soon as you enter college. Lack of work-life balance should be a surprise to you if the title of Partner is in your plan.
You have a say
But for the rest of us, I want to reinforce the notion that the employee has more say in their work balance than they think.
Learning to work efficiently is the first step to work-life balance. If we are working the same way we worked 5 years ago, we will probably not work as effectively as we could be.
Below are a few ways to move towards work-life balance
- Learn to conduct effective meetings. Some may scoff at a class on effective meetings, but most meetings are ineffective uses of time across multiple employees. Think about 5, 6, or 20 employees in a meeting, and you quickly get an idea of how much time can be potentially be wasted. If your company has a work-life balance concern, getting everyone on the same page around effective meetings can make a big difference. Develop skills and techniques to keep meetings on track and keeping ideas flowing. It takes practice to calm disruptive participants, and bring the quiet ones out of their shell. I couldn’t stress this one more. Our company used to have an all-company meeting that ran for 3 hours. I sat with the facilitators of the meeting. Together we introduced ways to control the meeting and present effectively. What was a 3-hour meeting with 20 plus employees is now a 30 min meeting? (Maybe a good topic for a future blog post.)
- Take care of the quick and easy stuff first. Get it out-of-the-way and whittle your list down as quickly as possible.
- Learn to delegate. I don’t mean that your work balance problem should become someone else’s problem. I see too many employees try to do everything themselves. Learning to be “OK” with delegation when appropriate is a more effective use of everyone’s time.
Use the tools
- Schedule your time. Productive people will work on one project and then move onto the next. This is to minimize context switching. Suppose you have an important project, schedule time in your calendar so colleagues know that you are busy during this time. Focus this time on the project, and try to keep email distractions to a minimum. If you are working on a project and checking email every 10 minutes, you are losing efficiency.
- Learn keyboard shortcuts. Over time, these make a difference and will shift your mentality towards efficiency.
- Prioritize your projects and keep a running list of what you need to accomplish. I use Trello. As soon as I have a new task, I add a card so I don’t forget the small stuff and prioritize tasks by rearranging the order.
- Organize your email with folders. When I see employees with 500 plus emails in their inbox, I cringe. Yes, you can work very effectively with an Inbox Zero. Creating folders and follow-ups can make an efficient way to handle day-to-day tasks.
If you set a designated time when you will leave, you will create your own urgency. You will work more efficiently. Suppose you have a bunch of stuff to do by the end of the day and Elizabeth Hurley is waiting for you in the company lobby. Trust me; shit will get done.
A quick Google search on “how to work efficiently” will reveal great ideas that are easy to carry out.
We are going to be working for the next 10, 20-30 years. We might as well learn to work as efficiently as possible.
See you at the after-party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone good at something. “He has a nasty forkball.”
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