A Balancing Act

Ahhh, the well-deserved summer break is just around the corner; often the time for many of us to eagerly commit to “catching-up” on life, including the long overdue family visit, dedicated time with our children, and, of course, numerous postponed workouts paired with a healthy meal plan. Good luck with that, as our self-inflicted promises will likely remain empty shells — echoes of an endless list of New Year’s resolutions, which we always committed to revisit later.

Yes, I understand — this time will be different because we are simply tired, and have exhausted ourselves and each other. In my line of business (finance), this appears to have become the common story, pretty much wherever I turn my head. In general, the cry for work-life balance is increasing in volume in lock-step with the constant need to be online and responsive all the time, every time. My intent is not to lead the discussion of why productive employees need “time out,” or when/how they should spend it, as most certainly many different arguments could be crafted. Instead, the more pressing question is whether or not corporate leadership has really embraced a new era, led by advances in technology and an emerging collective mindset of a modern, even remote, workforce. In short, are we possibly to blame for our own demise?

Working from home, often the quintessential entryway into perceived better work-life balance, is hard. Not only do many of us not know what this arrangement really entails (doing laundry on the side is likely not part of it), but often the social connectivity to coworkers goes missing, leading to a real or sensed state of isolation. On the other hand, employers have not embraced an emerging “gig-economy,” with an increasing “army” of willing quasi-employees who welcome the risk of job insecurity in exchange for autonomy and flexibility. The focus on “owning” employees from a human resources perspective may also not reflect current trends (and needs), and the oft-cited argument that it is better for corporate governance and culture are far-fetched. Contribution is what counts, not legal status.

The challenge is that we are human beings, and typically tend to repeat what we are accustomed to with a far greater degree of comfort; we will “stick” to what we know — good, bad, or indifferent. It is time for companies to consider more than just the span of work hours of an employee and develop programs that cater to work arrangements, including a more wholesome approach of being connected to people, fully employed or not. As I discussed in “Sympathy is for Corporate Wimps”, this sort of attempt requires an empathetic leadership style as a crucial condition for success. Managers often approach their employees “by the book,” based on trained responses rather than on what may make sense. Work-life balance can only effectively exist if both parts become one, with more focus on integration rather than segregation.

As far as my personal work life is concerned, I am fortunate to have achieved an “inconsistency of schedule” (as a friend has so aptly named it), despite a more-than-heavy workload. Working from home and having different office locations that are broken apart by significant travel are conditions very welcome in my view of the world as a professional. As a result, work has become more productive and family time better spent. Requirements are different for everyone, and it is important to find the right arrangement, including the focus on a realistic and protected work environment. Nevertheless, we all need to explore the issue more deeply, as conditions continue to change rapidly, demanding adaptation from employers and employees alike. It is not a sign of healthy balance to be “dragging” from one break to the next “island of rest.” Happy summer!

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