Great leaders accommodate healthy work/life balance

During the past 30 days, the plea for work/life balance has been emerging as a pattern.

I met with about 37 Gen Y professionals of a client organization, and as I talked with them about their preferences, needs and wants, work/life balance emerged as a high-priority issue. These young professionals shared with me that this isn’t about flexibility; it’s different.

They said, “Actually, we have flexibility to manage some of the challenges of our schedule, but we don’t have balance.” When I asked what this means, they essentially summed it up with the inability to turn work off, to not bring work home, to not be on the phone after hours, to not take a vacation without working, to be able to not feel guilty when they’re not working.

On another day, in a meeting with a 4,000-employee organization, I caught a glimpse of their employee engagement survey and saw that work/life balance showed up as a No. 1 issue for employees across the board, men and women alike. These people are being worked and worked and worked as their business tries to do more with less. This is a common issue.

At a recent FaB (Food and Beverage) event, guest speaker Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting and the author of “Live First, Work Second: Getting Inside the Head of the Next Generation(2007),” shared in her message that we all juggle many balls in our daily lives. Most of them are rubber; if we drop them, they will bounce back. The glass balls are those that relate to family, friends, health and integrity. If we drop these, they break. The time to invest in these glass balls is what many people are trying desperately to find.

So, what IS work/life balance? I did a simple search and came up with the following:

According to Jim Bird, publisher of worklifebalance.com, at the core of an effective work/life balance definition are two key everyday concepts that are relevant to each of us.They are daily achievement and enjoyment, ideas almost deceptive in their simplicity. As a result, a good working definition of work/life balance is: Meaningful daily achievement and enjoyment in each of my four life quadrants: Work, Family, Friends and Self.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online provides this: Work/life balance is the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.

What do real people have to say about this? I conducted a quick poll and asked the following:

On a scale of 1 – 10 (with 10 being high), how important is work/life balance? A whopping 69 percent rated this a 9 or 10. The average rating is 8.9.

On a scale from 1 – 10, to what degree does your employer provide for work/life balance? Just 39 percent rated their employees either a 9 or 10. The average rating is 7.8.

I asked for the input providers to share three to five examples of what it looks like when they have work/life balance. As you read through this list, check the ones that you see yourself supporting as a leader. This doesn’t mean you have to support all of them all of the time. Simply see how you’re doing as a leader, helping to foster work/life balance.

  • I can be energized and focused at work then enjoy my free time without feeling guilty.
  • I have the ability to leave the office without being connected to email for the remainder of the night/weekend.
  • Having time to be both mentally and physically healthy.
  • A job I am focused on during the day fully for eight hours (that I am proud to be at and where I feel like I accomplish what I need to), then coming home to my family and feeling like my day was a good day at work…but now it is time for family/friend time.
  • My employer understands that, in general I have a life outside of work. Yes, work is a priority, but I am not chastised for being five minutes late one day when I have a consistent record of being reliable.
  • Low expectations that I can and should be available 24/7.
  • Not having a micro-managed/dictated 8 to 5 schedule.
  • I have a situation where my spouse is not consistently upset with me for lack of time with my family.
  • Not having to feel guilty when I’m not working.
  • Having a boss who allows me to leave work early on a Friday as a comp time for the evenings I worked.
  • Allowing vacation days on short notice.
  • I am able to stay connected with family and friends throughout the workday….as long as it doesn’t cause detriment to the quality of my work.
  • I have the time to try something new: a cooking class, a dance class, time to read.
  • I have time to enjoy hobbies during the evening.
  • I am able to support a cause…at times even during the workday.

In my next column, I will share additional responses to my quick poll, specifically related to what the employers of these young professionals are doing to contribute (or not) to the quest for work/life balance.

Aleta Norris, along with Nancy Lewis, is a co-founding partner of Impact Consulting Group, LLC and Living As A Leaderä, a leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send Aleta your ‘Leading Generation Y’ question to anorris@livingasaleader.com. Also, visit www.livingasaleader.com.

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