<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=742189152657625&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">
Posted by Jack Shitama ● Wed, Mar 06, 2013 @ 13:03 PM

The Problem with Work-Life Balance

man running with stroller XSmall

I heard a term on a podcast recently that made me laugh: inbox bankruptcy. I wish I could remember who coined it, but the basic idea is that you get so behind on your emails that you declare inbox bankruptcy. Delete everything….blow the whole thing up. Then you start all over and try to keep up (again). Of course, you’ve probably heard the definition of insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

The idea of inbox bankruptcy is a sign of the times. It’s just one way that we feel that we can’t keep up. How about magazines that stack up until, instead of reading them, we toss them (hopefully into the recycling pile)? Stacks of mail waiting to be opened? Phone messages that go unreturned? Books that you buy, but don’t read? Are you feeling guilty, yet?

I’ve found another strategy for those stacks that’s similar to inbox bankruptcy called OCE. I learned the term from a friend. It means Overcome by Current Events. If you wait long enough you can go through that pile and toss most of the stuff because it’s no longer relevant…OCE. But, of course, none of us really wants to live by inbox bankruptcy or OCE as a strategy for living. So what are we to do?

The first thing is to realize that the idea of work-life balance is a nice one, but most of us don’t practice it. If you’ve ever found yourself answering a work-related email on your smartphone as your heading to bed or during your daughter’s school play or during church, then you know what I mean. Twenty-four seven may not be a literal thing, but ALWAYS ON is. The great deception here is that we feel we need to be ALWAYS ON if we’re ever going to have a chance to catch up. It’s likely that we’ll never really catch up. And the irony is that the more we’re on, the less effective we get. More on that later.

The second thing is that our culture still does not value work-life balance. A Washington Post article, Why “Work-Life Balance” Doesn’t Work, by Harvard Business School professor Leslie Perlow makes this point. Perlow, who also authored the book, Sleeping with Your Smartphone: How to Break the 24-7 Habit and Change the Way You Work, contends that employees who take advantage of company provided benefits to create work-life balance end up being marginalized. She says that those who avail themselves of part-time schedules, sabbaticals, job sharing or flex-time arrangements “…find themselves less valued for participating in the very programs that their companies are advocating. That is, the new ways of working are still judged against the long-standing system of rewards based on the old ways of working.” Perlow identifies that workplace culture is the culprit here. If you unplug or turn-off, you’ll look like a slacker. So what do we do?

I’ll start with the second problem first. Somehow we need to begin to change our workplace culture toward what Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson have termed a “Results Only Work Environment” (ROWE). A ROWE is a place where people don’t worry about face-time, office hours, surfing the web on company time or personal phone calls. As their website says:

In a Results-Only company or department, employees can do whatever they want whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. No more pointless meetings, racing to get in at 9:00 am, or begging for permission to watch your kid play soccer. No more cramming errands into the weekend, or waiting until retirement to take up your hobbies again. You make the decisions about what you do and where you do it, every minute of every day.

Now, you might be saying, easier said than done. But we have to start somewhere. If you’re a manager or in leadership of any kind, you can start by sharing the idea with those around you, by giving permission (to the extent possible) AND by modeling it yourself. If you’re a pastor, you can definitely start by modeling ROWE. If you’re a church person, you can give permission to the pastor and staff to focus on results, not on hours.

Several things can result from this. First, if you don’t need to be on all the time, you can begin to unplug at certain times and realize it’s OK. Second, if you are able to manage your life in the way that works best for you, you might not mind answering a work-related email or text in the evening. Here’s an example: you’ve been in the office all day, but you spent an hour in the morning researching retirement communities for your mother. Then in the afternoon, you spent a half-hour signing your kid up for summer camp (shameless plug). When you get home in the evening, you don’t feel so stressed out because you’ve been able to keep important commitments to people who matter, so you spend 20 minutes answering emails.

Finally, if your work requires availability at certain times, then can you begin to work as a team to make sure things get done. Perlow’s Washington Post article documents what she did with her consulting firm:

We started by asking each member of a team to agree to “turn off” completely—from work and all wireless devices—at least one evening each week. Team members were expected to work together so that everyone could achieve this goal: covering for each other, briefing others in advance, and calling out those members who sent emails when they were not supposed to be “on.” After all, the experiment depended not just on whether each person was valuing his or her night off, but whether all of them were doing so. Weekly meetings helped to force conversations about what was and wasn’t working.

I realize that not everybody’s workplace is conducive to this. But somehow things have to change. Who has the courage to speak up and to begin living into a ROWE?

Now, back to the first problem…the ALWAYS ON mentality. One thing we need to realize that often this is coming from inside of us and is not even externally imposed. Either way, it’s time to get counter-intuitive. Research shows that to be most effective, we need to take breaks. Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, recently wrote a NY Times op-ed piece, “Relax: You’ll Be More Productive.” I won’t go in to all the research he cites (you should read the article), but here’s the executive summary:

  • Sleep more. Whether it’s longer sleep at night or regular naps, you’ll perform more effectively.

  • Take more vacations. An Ernst & Young study found that for each additional 10 hours of vacation an employee took in a year, their year-end performance ratings from supervisors improved 8 percent. That means an additional week of vacation results in a third better performance.

  • Take more breaks. A 90-minute work cycle turns out to be ideal for productivity. Basically, we can’t sustain concentration any longer than that without a loss in effectiveness. The break should include a nap, exercise, meditation or relaxation to allow one’s energy and effectiveness to return.

Here’s my story. I started running about four years ago. About three years ago, I started training to run races, starting with a half-marathon. I don’t race often. But have run a few half-marathons, two marathons and several 5K’s. The racing isn’t that important to me. However, I love the training. Getting up in the morning with a goal for distance and time each day motivates me. Afterward, I feel great.

Here’s the problem, some of the training was very time consuming. It meant that even if I got up at 5:30am, I might not get to the office until 10am or later. Was I worried that I wasn’t working enough? No. Was I worried what it looked like for the boss to come in that late? At first. But I realized that I was sleeping better, had more energy and was more effective. Plus, I realized that I was giving permission to others to find the way that they worked best. I hadn’t heard the term ROWE until recently, but somehow, that’s how we had evolved as an organization.

Work-life balance? To me the term’s misleading. It’s more about life balance. If we’re able to focus on the things that matter, whether it’s work or home, as well as take care of ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually, then I like to think of it as life abundant (John 10:10).

Topics: Spiritual Health