Work-life balance takes effort, but rewards are worth it

The Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in the Bahamas vs. The Park Hyatt St. Kitts 
Work-life balance means taking time out to treat yourself

At the pace companies operate, it’s hard to establish a balance between work and life. But many are successful, and others are designing strategies meant to get them there.

“The first step in changing the culture of an organization to be more supportive of work-life is to recognize and understand that it’s not just good for the individual, it’s critical for the company,” said Michael Thompson, CEO of the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions. “Supporting the wellbeing of our people results in not only lower turnover and higher morale, but it’s been shown to lead to higher levels of employer engagement, greater innovation, and improved sales and profitability.”

The second step “is to recognize that work and life are intertwined—we need to have an orientation to be flexible to meet the unique needs and priorities of both the individual and organization,” Thompson said. “It won’t always work, but if we integrate that management mindset into how we operate, we will find it can be a force multiplier in both our workplace and our lives.”

“For me, living an intentional life means making conscious choices with my time and focus that allow my work and home life to align and coexist, which in turn allows me to be my best professionally, and personally as a partner and parent,” said Russell Reeder, CEO of OVH US.

As an organization’s leader, “you have to understand that if you are pushing your employees too hard and destroying their work life balance, they will burn out and leave,” Reeder said. “I am not saying that you cannot push your employees to do their best, but I am saying that you need to allow your employees to be able to focus on their personal life when things come up. If you support your employees with a work environment that encourages them professionally and personally, they will be happier, more productive, and stay at your company.”

It is much more possible “for a manager to ask her employees to integrate their work responsibilities into their lives instead of asking for a perfect balance of time spent on-the-clock and off-the-clock,” said Cathy Littlefield, chair of the Business Department at Peirce College. “If an organization shows that it cares about its employees, it will be reciprocated.”

The ability of both managers and employees to be flexible “is paramount,” Littlefield said. “Flexibility shows employees you care” and can aid in work-life balance by taking steps such as encouraging health and fitness as a way to reduce stress by allowing lunchtime walks or researching corporate discounts at a local fitness club.

Companies “should also recognize and include families in the workplace,” Littlefield said. “When managers get to know employees and their families, the personal connection helps to bridge the divide between work and home.”

“I’ve heard Jack Welch say that there is no such thing as work and life balance, only work and life choices,” said Carisa Miklusak, CEO of tilr. “I’ve thought about that statement, and decided the way you balance work and life choices creates an overarching feeling of satisfaction or, conversely, guilt. There are times when I make a choice to stay at work to finish a critical project and I miss a family event. There are other times I make the choice to be at the first day of preschool or shorten a business trip for a sick family member.”

The key to balancing the diverse commitments in your life “is to be intentional with your time,” Miklusak said. “Choose how you will spend your time, and once you make that choice, be present among the people or task you’ve committed to for that period of time.”

Miklusak remembers a professor telling her class to throw out all their socks and to go buy one brand of socks in one style and one color. “He stated that the efficiencies driven by not matching socks were the types of simplifications that would make or break our success in balancing work with full-time studies,” Miklusak said.

Matt Fawcett, general counsel at NetApp, doesn’t “accept the premise that work and life are two separate ideas sitting on opposite ends of a teeter-totter, where only one can get the priority at any moment, at the expense of the other.”  

This way of thinking “sells work short,” Fawcett said. “If you love, or even just like, your work, it gives your life purpose and meaning, and work is part of who you are and what you enjoy."

Focusing on work and thinking about it, even while on vacation, “isn’t bad or distracting or a debit from your personal life,” Fawcett said. “It is just natural. And if you really can’t stand work intruding on your life, the problem might not be that you can’t separate the two. Maybe you just don’t like your job.”

Technology also gets credit for aiding work-life balance. “It can give us precious flexibility to make both our personal and professional lives better,” Fawcett said. “How many people get to take a little bit more time on that long weekend, tack a few days onto their vacation, or go to a child’s lacrosse game, because they know they will have access to email? Or be able to dial in for that one really important meeting?”

Finance and debt attorney Leslie Tayne feels finding work-life balance can be challenging at times and difficult to manage.  “Nothing is ever perfect, but your friends, family members and employees who you rely on are a key to achieving success in finding a healthy work-life balance.”

Another way to find balance is to be unafraid to delegate tasks, Tayne said. “It is important to not fear delegating tasks to your reliable employees when you are out of the office and have other matters to attend to. By relying on your staff, you ensure that you are using your time wisely.”

And be sure to pencil in “off-the-grid” time, Tayne said. “Finding the time to take yourself off the grid is vital to keeping balance. I make a conscious effort to put down my phone when I get home. When I’m ready to go on vacation, my staff is instructed to contact me only when something becomes a sense of urgency. As a parent and business professional, it’s best to approach each day in a relaxed manner and know that you are doing the best you can to maintain that balance between your work and personal life.”

“I’ve found throughout my career that while most workers understand the role they have to play in enforcing work-life balance, it’s not solely their responsibility,” said Famous Rhodes, CMO at Bluegreen Vacations. “Employers have to create a culture, even if it means operational changes or new policies, that empowers employees to spend time outside of the office. This PTO problem across American workers has been well documented—employees that use all of their vacation days are statistically proven to be more productive at work and happier than those who don’t.”

William Vanderbloemen, CEO of Vanderbloemen Search Group, doesn’t believe work-life balance exists. “Rather, I think we have work-life rhythms,” Vanderbloemen said. “Sometimes, we hit a high-intensity season with work. Other times, the days and weeks slow down. Since you can’t schedule that ebb and flow, learn to recognize different seasons in your and your company’s year and lean into them.”

If the summer is a slower time for the company, schedule a vacation then, Vanderbloemen said. “Is the end of the year an intense time for your company? Rest up before then to prepare yourself for the intensity. Learn to manage your work-life rhythms to avoid burnout.”

Wally Adamchick, president of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting, advises the following:

  • Write your own definition of balance: Don’t leave it to the world to tell you how you should live but figure it out for yourself.
  • List someone you know who exemplifies this trait, how do they do it? Ask them.
  • On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate on this trait?
  • Consider these major areas that might be important to you—family, career, financial, fitness, faith, other—in each of these how satisfied are you?
  • What one thing will you do to improve in this area? Write it down ... writing an action down increases the chance of getting something done.

Cathy Littlefield, chair of the Business Department at Peirce College doesn’t believe that work-life balance exists.

"In an era where we’re able to—and in most cases expected to—read and respond to work emails from wherever and whenever we get them, work-life balance is a myth,” said Littlefield. “However, it is being replaced with an attainable concept—work-life integration. Still in its nascent stages, work-life integration allows you to be more of a person on the clock and a more willing worker during off time.”