It’s been decades since work life balance became “a thing” and everyone started to raise this as key priorities of their companies and a way to attract people to work. The concept is decent, however life has taught me that work-life balance can be defined differently dependent on where you are at your career. Additionally, there are components that in my mind go beyond work and home life, that only when applied together with work-life balance concept can give actual mental and physical stability that every human being needs.
Balancing at the edge?
I more and more observe people managers almost forcing on their staff work life balance concept and scaring people with burn out scenarios. Of course burnout can happen to anyone of us, but shouldn’t we just take the right measures dependent on the career step we are at?
Imagine a person that’s at the early stage of his/her career, who wants to progress, develop, climb on the highest organization levels. They often don’t mind staying late, working longer hours and undertaking more effort. For many it’s even more motivating to get complex and challenging work, especially when they are recognized, appreciated and promoted for it.
There are also types of people that are super talented, have high potential but are not aware of it or have low self-confidence. In my mind, they might need a push – a challenging project that puts them outside of comfort zone, dealing with more senior stakeholders – whatever that brings the best out of them. Therefore I am actually in favor of allowing ambitious and passionate people to work more. And that’s not a symptom of my greed and desire to use people. I just think that when you are at the early stages of your career you even feel better when you can overachieve, speed up your development, learn more and quicker. A manager hanging over someone’s shoulder and nagging about work life balance makes a disfavor to that young, passionate and ambitious colleague. He/she would be better off with your support, guidance and putting in front of them the right opportunities that they can seize .
That mindset shifts when your role in the team/company is more grounded. You have a greater opportunity to choose meetings you attend and timings of it, you feel more comfortable to say “no”, you have ability to delegate. This is the moment when after time of “climbing up” you should become smarter in managing your time. Currently many positions allow for flexibility of place and time of executing your work – it’s time to use it wisely. However that doesn’t mean you can afford to be complacent. The growth mindset should continue and materialize in a different way. You are no longer measured against a number of hours of overtime or progressed cases, but against making the right (often difficult) decisions, driving your strategy in a brave way, forging new paths and bringing others with you. Therefore your focus more than ever should shift towards quality and building long term relationships rather than delivering quickly and at high volumes. This is the time when your work life balance can be better managed and planned.
As you can see work life balance is not something that if once set can’t be changed. It’s a culture of working that allows you to decide when and how you want to apply it and as a leader you should be supporting colleague’s decisions. There are no silver bullets that work for all, as how we define work life balance is a very individual thing, hence the role of a leader is to know and understand how your people operate and apply the best approach at the right time.
Nature – another dimension?
Managing work and your private life can be very difficult no matter what industry you work in. Why would you want to add anything else to it? For me work-life balance is not enough. Home/private life can be also overwhelming: growing kids, someone in family being sick, loan installment being too high – just name it. To balance that out, for your own sanity, you need a space that is not work and not home life, a space that gives you peace and freedom….. For me that’s nature.
Possibility to reconnect with nature, realize that there is something beyond my work, my family, something that is bigger than us all allows me to rethink what’s important, gives more distance to life and provides a level of inner peace. There are different ways to reconnect with nature – spending a few days in the woods, away from people; going for a mountain trip or spending time with animals. I have found my way that not only allows me to reunite with nature but also helps me to switch off my brain. No more thinking or processing information – sounds nice, doesn’t it? I never thought it is possible but yet it’s real. I call it sightseeing jogging. I don’t jog for fitness, to prepare for marathons or to improve my endurance and get a better score. I choose jogging routes close to nature, ideally in the middle of nowhere, where I can sometimes stop, sit down, observe the nature and just be… Be with no home nor work pressure, no deadlines, no people’s opinions, no money needed. It releases so much inner energy that I am loaded for next day or so. Finding that place or activity that gives you a way to vent, be yourself, offset your problems is already half of the success. You don’t have to worry about the fact that you won’t have time for it, once you will find and feel the benefit of it you will always be attracted in that direction. Try it out!
Finding balance between work, life and nature is hard but at the same time there are periods where we can allow ourselves to have less balance. It’s not a stable component that if once applied you have to stick to it. You have the full control over it and you can make adjustments based on your individual measures. Sometimes that means spending long hours at work and sometimes taking a gap year with around the world trip included.
Although I appreciate the thought behind work life balance concept I preferer stepping away from that format and moving towards wellbeing. Introducing in your daily routine elements that allow for person’s mental and physical development, that intertwine with working in a more comfortable and smarter way, to me makes much more sense. If on top of that you can reunite with nature and add a flexibility component where you allow the employee to plan his work according to his preference – it creates a safe and balanced environment for people to grow.