Inspiring And Enabling People
To Make A Difference
Almost without fail, when I mention to people that one of the things we do is help individuals and organisations to achieve a better work life balance through new ways of working, the response I get is “I could do with some of that.” Work life balance can sometimes seem like an elusive ideal. When the pressure is on at work and deadlines are tight it can feel like our lives are given over to work-work balance. So what can we do about it? The reality is that if you wait until the workload is beginning to overwhelm you before you attempt to make a change, it is almost too late. Start the discussions with your colleagues when workloads are more normal and they are not feeling stressed.
You need to approach work life balance with two hats on – the CEO’s and your own selfish one!.
At a corporate level it is important to realise that any effective work life balance solution will require the collaboration of other people but will ultimately come down to you – what are you willing to do to ensure that your work life balance needs do not adversely affect your colleagues? Flexibility is key. Organisations have needs too, they need to deliver products, provide customer service and meet demands. For managers tasked with delivery and aggressive performance targets, an individual with a “work life balance request” can appear to have a big label stuck to their head saying; “I AM YOUR PROBLEM”. We need to remove that immediate impression by thinking more like the boss to find a suitable solution that works for now, with a commitment to a constant review to account for unknown changes that may lie ahead. We have implemented this “piloting” approach successfully in organisations as diverse as local authorities and multi national retail giants, so we know it works and we also know the benefits for all concerned in terms of increased retention, improved morale and enhanced teamwork.
On a personal level we need to be honest with ourselves and see beyond the immediate problem and think more strategically. So, how do we go about achieving a better life balance? Well, the best place to start is by answering a couple of questions. The first is a question that many of us usually don’t spend much time thinking about – what exactly do you want out of life? What do you hope to have achieved in your lifetime? We often call this the “tombstone test”. What would you like to be written on yours? To help you access some things that your conscious mind might lock away I’d like you to imagine for a few minutes that time and money are no object. Grab a piece of paper and start writing, just let your mind wander. If you are familiar with Mind Mapping, use this excellent tool to plot your thoughts. The idea is to write down as many things as you can within just a few minutes – essentially a list of all the things you would like to do, have, experience, learn or share with loved ones if you had a limitless supply of both time and money?
The purpose of this task is to remind ourselves of some of the dreams we have that “real life” obscures and sometimes buries. Once you’ve written them down, you can now start working on them as goals. At this point I am often reminded that this list is made up of items generated under the unlikely scenario of unlimited resources. However, my favourite definition of a goal is a dream with a date on it. So, let’s get one or two dreams down on the page, put a date on them and transform them into a goal that is going to motivate us to make some fundamental changes in our lives.
Of course, this whole process has a secondary motive – to give you a reason to work on things other than your “day job”. Analysis of individuals working extra hours consistently shows that many of them do so because they don’t have a good reason to get away! Of course, that’s fine if your job is your life’s work and there is nothing else that fires you up more. However, if that is not the case, then this exercise is, hopefully, just the start of a new course for you. Don’t worry that these non-work goals will detract from your output and effectiveness in work. Research has shown that individuals with reasons to live beyond their work exude more energy, happiness and drive when they are in work. You will be doing your company a favour!
In summary, working to achieve life balance is a constant activity that involves great teamwork, devolved leadership and a truckload of personal responsibility. But if you have applied all of that and your company still refuses to work with you, then you always have the final choice and the ultimate control – you can leave and find a more forward looking employer, or change your lifestyle completely. Whatever you decide, it’s your life; spend it wisely and focus on your objectives; no one else is remotely interested in meeting them for you.
****For more on how to prioritise for life – check out our new free video series****