19 September 2011

Who's Responsible For Work/Life Balance?

Does it ever feel like your organisation pays a mere lipservice to work/life balance? On a trip to Sydney to speak at a conference, I got into conversation with the chap in the next seat – John is a senior account manager for a very large multi-national firm and sells very high value products.

We’d already done the standard ‘where are you going and why’ chat.

‘So what is your speech about?‘ he aksed.

‘Work/life balance,’ I answered.

He gave a cynical snort of amusement, laced with a large dose of frustration. ‘Work/life balance! That’s such a crock of sh..!

I looked at him rather startled – not at all sure what to take out of such an agressive comment.

‘Oh, sorry!’ He backpedalled fast as he realised how rude he sounded. ‘I don’t mean that you’re sh.. – just that too many companies pay lip service to work/life balance. For example, our firm gets awards as being an employer of choice. They win accolades all over the place. And yet I don’t believe they walk their talk.’

‘What makes you say that?’ This sounded like an interesting angle!

And of course, there was a story behind the story.

John’s frustrations

He’d just finished successful negotiations with a new major client. Trouble was, the success meant that he would probably have to work all through Christmas. He was already tabbed to hold the fort while his assistant had her holidays, a plan that had been organised ages ago. That was ok, but now he also had a huge amount of work to support the sale he’d just made.

Instead of spending at least the statutory days of holiday leave with his family his success meant that he would now have to go back to the office for almost every day if he was to meet deadlines imposed by others. His boss refused to allow him any extra resources at any time – for anything.

As we explored the topic together it occurred to me that it’s not one issue but two, and there are two levels of responsibility.

  1. What the firm says publicly
  2. The behaviour of the people within the organisation – how they implement (or don’t) the public policies of the firm. And by this I don’t just mean what your superior imposes on you, but also how you manage those expectations and how you manage yourself.

In John’s case, Level 1 is great, but it breaks down at Level 2. Firstly his boss doesn’t live by the principles espoused by the company – that is a company problem. Apparently senior management were also frustrated with John’s boss so maybe in the not-too- distant future the man will find himself sidelined.

John also needed to set some boundaries for himself instead of allowing the situation to run him. What would have happened if he’d taken his allocated holiday days, done the best work he could but allowed the boss to feel the implications of him being under-resourced?

The problem often is, especially for responsible and senior people, that they’re reluctant to risk the wheels falling off. Sometimes we just have to take a stand and be prepared to let others feel the consequences of their actions.

In my observation, based on many conversations over the years with a wide variety of people, as well as my own experience, once we make a considered commitment to a course we deeply believe to be right, we’re almost always supported in our stand, often to our own surprise. The person with the strongest definite purpose holds the greatest power.

Paul’s boundaries

Business owner Paul was in a seminar with me some years ago. He shared how he’d had a wake-up call about 18 months earlier. His wife had been pregnant with their first baby. His boat had been gathering barnacles at the mooring. He’d been spending every waking moment at his business. He was also unfit and putting on weight. It finally dawned on him that unless something changed he was going to be a stranger to his baby, plus the joy had gone out of life.

He realised he had to change.

‘I made the decision that no-one would stay at work after 6pm – neither myself nor any of the staff. If we couldn’t get the work done in the allocated hours we needed to look at how we were working, for there must be inefficiencies. I was even prepared to make less money if that was the price I had to pay. What was not negotiable was the hours we worked.

‘We were amazed and delighted to find that we got our work done in less time, our profitability increased dramatically, the staff were happier, and now I have a great life again – boat, baby, good health, happy wife and happy me.

What marker will you put in the ground this year to enhance your quality of life? Circumstances will move to accommodate you – once you make the commitment.

For more about personal and business leadership, check out Getting a Grip on Leadership – How to learn leadership without making all the mistakes yourself

From our readers – Keep a track of the ‘next steps’
‘Every task has a next step. To create a simple, consistent, instantly recognizable ‘system’ this form is wonderful. I have given this to many people . I also use it for my day to day tasks – it helps me manage the many interruptions and small ‘stuff’ that crop up. ‘Especially useful for people whose memory cells are overworked and wearing out!’ Thanks to Suzanne Couper, Snakes & Ladders Group Ltd, ww.snakesandladders.co.nz

For our full range of books, tapes and CDs, courses, time management aids, and other products, see www.gettingagrip.com/products-and-online-programs/

All the best ’til next time

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