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Balancing Work & Life

by The DVD Insider March 15, 2005

Right at the outset we'll note that it is Saturday and we are in the office writing this piece. That should give you a clue that we haven't achieved what most people might call a "healthy work-life balance." But after more than 25 years in the profession our wife has come to reluctantly accept our work/home habits…to a degree.

To further exacerbate the situation, we'll note that we just returned from a 3-day holiday in Mexico. On the flight down we remarked to her that it was the first time we had turned our cellphone off since upgrading three months earlier. We were also delighted when we got to the home we had rented to find that the owner really did have DSL connectivity.

While we haven't quite mastered the balancing act, it is better. There are those to disagree but in our estimation the Internet, WiFi and mobile phone technology has helped. While we don't recommend our solution for everyone it works for us.

The cold hard fact is that in today's environment though there is constant pressure to do more and with fewer people. Whether it is stated, implied or self-inflicted people in our industry are continually monitoring and handling queries, issues and challenges not just 2-3 time zones away but half way around the globe. We have deadlines, demands and issues that are out of our control and have to be addressed…now!

The result is long hours and in many instances missed weekends and missed holidays. If it is any consolation, we are not alone!

Shared Issues

After reviewing survey results from Poynter Institute, Gallup and Monster.com, it is obvious becoming an issue that is facing people in every field journalists as well as companies, non-profits and government.

The issues that were raised in all of these surveys were remarkably similar

  • most people (over 60 percent) worked more than 40 hours a week
  • nearly half passed up their vacation from last year
  • approximately 70 percent of the organizations had staff cuts in the last two years
  • about half of those surveyed were considering a job/career change

It has been our experience that most of the pressure and stress is self-inflicted.

Staff reductions have produced mixed emotions and pressures for people

  • depression because we all know a number of people whose talents were no longer required by the organization
  • a combination of relief and guilt that you had escaped unscathed
  • a real or implied implication that you were expected to assume more of the workload caused by the workforce reduction

These issues have to be addressed in a healthy, personal manner.

Fortunately, part of the solution can be found with today's always-on technologies. Working no longer means that you have to be in your physical workspace 10-12 hours a day. The technologies have given us the ability to shape and define our own version of balance.

On our Mexico holiday we handled three calls from the media and three from clients. Early each morning and before going to bed each evening we spent an hour on our computer handling email. The rest of the time we enjoyed the sights and downtime.

Conversely when the need has arisen we've reached clients at basketball games, on the golf course and at their youngsters' soccer practice.

Do these examples represent a healthy work-life balance? Possibly.

It is healthy if you have the temperament and personality to know your limits. It is healthy if you have a partner who knows how you tick. It isn't healthy when the work adversely affects your mental or physical health or your personal relationships.

When the workload affects your mental health, it is time to step back and assess your job, career direction and personal goals. If necessary, it will even require third-party assistance. When it affects your physical health it is time to realign your diet, sleep and exercise. If work is creating barriers to personal relationships it is time to sideline yourself and develop a new perspective on what is most important…to you!

Balancing Work & Life: Your Boss, Your Organization

Every organization has a "work climate" that is written or unwritten, said or unsaid. Some people jokingly say our people don't have to worry about job security because slaves can't be fired. They can only be sold. Usually it is only a joke…sometimes it isn't!!

Your organization and your supervisors can play a pivotal role in your success and satisfaction. So if you are the supervisor, you set the tone.

That means you have to take the time to actually know your employees and show genuine empathy when they are under stress (inside or outside the organization). Balance your feedback to them. That means pass out praise as well as criticism (constructive criticism) equally.

In addition to knowing your people, know their respective workloads so that it is equally balanced. The idea of giving the busiest person the really tough projects on top of everything else only works for awhile. You need to encourage people to step back and take a rest to ensure they maintain a strong performance level.

Be aware of the emotional state of staff members. If people are placing undue stress on themselves, encourage them to take time off and refresh their batteries. If they have problems or issues outside of the office that bleed into their work, encourage them to take the time to solve or work around the issues. Some life situations are inflexible children, family member illnesses, relationships and they need to be addressed before they effect the quality of decisions and work. Encouraging people to take the time to work through these personal items can produce a better, more efficient and more effective employee.

That also means clearly spelling out your objectives and realistic timelines for projects and activities. Ensure they honestly understand that they have flexibility in achieving the goals.

Not everyone is a happy workaholic. Make certain you don't use "Bob" as a measurement for "Jane, Phil, Joe." Each is an individual and requires measurements and workloads based on them as people.

If and when personnel cutbacks are dictated, knowing your staff members can help you as a manager through the situation and it can help your team. Make the reduction decisions based on the good of the organization but handle the firing and workload adjustments based on the good of the individuals. Done properly, everyone can feel as good as possible about the situation and the actions…even you.

Your Control

Depending upon your personality the right work/life balance is usually under your control…honest!

If you look at the national statistics on the state of individual weight and health condition it is obvious that the majority of people don't have a regular exercise program. There are hundreds of reasons why you don't exercise. But in 15-30 minutes there are things you can do even in the office to refresh your body and your mind. We live in a time of "instant" instant food, instant results -- and it shows on the scale.

We won't bother with the usual control issues that people "emphasize" because you know them -- eat health foods; make meals a social activity, not just sustenance; get plenty of sleep even if it means missing Letterman.

Make certain you have a weekly and daily to-do list. Make the list while you're relaxing in the evening so you arrive at the office already in control. Work the list in an orderly manner even if you don't complete all the projects. Take a look at the things you do during the day and eliminate those that waste time. Usually you can determine what is and what isn't Spam by quickly scanning the subject line get rid of them quickly, even if you occasional discard something of importance. Trust us, it will be around again.

Multitask. If you are on hold for a call, check and respond, forward or discard email. Just as with a piece of paper, only handle an email once. If it is something that requires thought or action, scan it quickly and put it into a to-do folder. Then set aside 30 minutes or an hour each day to handle the work in the to-do folder. Respond or handle every email you receive before you leave in the evening so you can start the day fresh. It also surprises the heck out of people when their query/request is handled so promptly!

There are organizational/departmental objectives, goals and deadlines and there are your objectives, goals and deadlines. Yours are usually higher, tougher and tighter. Often achieving 80 percent of your objectives, meeting 80 percent of your goals and missing your deadline by 20 percent surpasses those set by others.

We increasingly use technology in our work and personal life. It is increasingly difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. With the volume of data doubling every 12-18 months according to industry analysts it is easy to become overwhelmed. We still give people credit for working long days, nights and weekends. We still celebrate the last man or woman standing.

The key is that you can control whether or not you want to be that man or woman. You can control how you celebrate. Life demands work.