Here are two stories to compare about work-life balance. Both people are young, aspiring adults who are facing the usual life challenges with work, family, and personal expectations.
The first person I will introduce is Kenneth (name changed to protect the innocent). He and his wife have decided that their definition of work-life balance includes a very strict workday for William; in the office at 8:00 and out at 5:00. If the boss has an issue or the last minute request, too bad.
“I’ve got to get home” is what William will say. “Weekend work is out of the question.”
Any shift of priorities that alters this rigid definition of balance gets both William and his wife upset. Their collective tolerance to such a change is almost catastrophic. A work environment that does not provide this continuity for an 8 to 5 schedule limits his employment opportunities. Advancement at work is also limited because management’s idea of a good worker usually requires a degree of flexibility to handle workload changes. So, job opportunities become fewer and farther between.
But for William, this is an OK way to think about his priorities and goals. He professes to have a happy home and a good balance.
The other person in my story is Dan. Dan is single, but soon to be married. He has landed a nice job in a global firm, with lots of upside potential. The problem is, the people he works for are notorious for last minute requests and short deadlines. Dan has a lot of control over his schedule. Basically, he has determined that he can choose to be flexible and available to meet these odd requests, sometimes staying late at night and working weekends. His reward is a freedom to take time during the week for golf, personal time, or virtually any other event he chooses. The catch is, he just needs to stay in contact about possible demands at work. It has proven to be a great trade off for him. An added bonus is the growing respect from his superiors. Promotions and bonuses have been generous.
As Dan focused on getting married, his fiancé has had to learn about this version of balance. So far, her only request is “tell me a time”. This means she simply asks for a reasonable estimate of when Dan expects to return home from a late night assignment or a weekend trek to the office. Again, the time freedom is a perk shared by the fiancé too.
What makes these two so different?
Depending on your own bent, you may be saying, gee Doug, I don’t see a problem with either one.
“If either approach is OK with you and you have weighed the costs and benefits, then choosing either one as a fit is OK.”
On one hand, I might be inclined to agree with you. However, my practical experience as an executive coach tells me the flexible version has provided the more rewarding lifestyle for the greater majority of my clients. I don’t just mean financially. I mean psychologically and emotionally too. The number of upsets and broken promises is actually far less in Dan’s world.
As I mentioned in the pilot episode, the balance should be dynamic as opposed to static. As forces around you change, your effort to balance must adjust accordingly. Setting a somewhat rigid definition of striking a balance is simply going to be disappointing more often than not. Allowing a degree of flexibility by figuring out the forces that may change around you and making adjustments for those changes when they happen, provides a far more rewarding sense of balance.
These two stories are not so unique. Over the years I have met dozens of couples who struggle to reach a good and healthy work-life balance. In the early years when a career demands a little more, a lot of people sacrifice the job opportunity for the sake of home life. Of course, the opposite is true too, with far too many people ignoring the home life believing their commitment to work will pay off in the long run.
The message here is that striking an appropriate work-life balance is a function of recognizing all facets of the job requirements while establishing other life priorities. This is not always easy. Yet making the effort to define work-life balance and use that definition, allows you to be far more satisfied with the choices you make. In the next few episodes, I will be writing about the challenges of finding your work-life balance when a spouse and kids get involved.
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