Thinking Out Loud

Work / Life Balance

Maintaining a balance between your work and outside life is a popular topic these days. HR professionals, bloggers, health care professionals, counselors, and others constantly discuss the importance of and how to achieve a balance. Much of the discussion has to do with the accumulated stress and subsequent fallout without balance. Balance, however, is a tricky word in this context. The dictionary definition for the balance tool provides a clear image that can help us visualize the problem:an instrument for weighing: as a beam that is supported freely in the center and has two pans of equal weight suspended from its ends.” Theoretically, then, if we pile all the stress on one side of the beam, we should be able to pile a whole bunch of other stuff on the other side of that beam to create balance.  This implies that we can achieve equilibrium if we find the right counterbalancing stuff. 

Nowadays many tools are available to help us create a unique program to balance stress: aerobic exercise, strength training, good nutrition, regular sleep (about 8 hours), meditation, mindfulness training, consistent quality time with those emotionally closest to us, massage, various electronic organizing tools, resiliency training (positive thinking), counseling … let’s see, have I left anything out? No doubt all of these tools can be and are helpful. They are also time consuming activities and some cost money, which can add to the stress. But, if we step back and look at what is causing all this stress, we can find a range of culprits.

Expectations we have about our lives surely play a role in building stress. We know so much more about childrearing and couples relationships—what it takes to make them successful. They both require time, energy, and learning new skills as we strive for fulfillment. We have expectations about our friends and extended families, the importance of these relationships as well and wanting to spend quality time with them too. We also hope (expect) to have fulfilling work lives.

If we visualize these components in our lives and align all of our goals properly, we should be able to find our destiny; all components will nestle together to give us a harmonious balanced life … or so we are told by those who have apparently achieved this. Living an ordinary life is okay, but surely we want more than that. More expectations.

A Gallup poll that came out earlier this summer told us that almost 70 percent of adults in this country who hold full-time jobs either hate their jobs or are mentally checked-out during work hours. The emotional toll (stress) this takes and the financial impact on employers is staggering. We also know that the primary reason people give for leaving a job is the relationship with their immediate supervisor. Talk about stress!

If you question the magnitude of these statistics, do your own research by talking with people you know and see what you learn. When I did this, I found it depressing. I won’t get into the details because they’ve been covered countless times by so many others, but the upshot is that people are overworked, over-connected to electronic devices, and stressed to the point of exhaustion much of the time.

So what’s to be done? No simple answer here. Those in leadership are working harder than anyone. I admire hard work, but what’s happening in the workplace is destructive and masquerades as necessary to maintaining a competitive advantage. It’s not true, but it feels that way—so, it’s difficult to consider doing anything differently, especially if you’ve been successful and risen through the ranks with this belief.

Of course every workplace is different and different businesses require different approaches. The answers, though, are right there in the workplace, and it means leaders talking openly with their employees about possible solutions. Top down solutions won’t work. It needs to be collaborative with shared responsibility and accountability: How can we get the job done, maintain our competitive edge, and truly maintain our sanity?  Those are the fundamental and real questions. Can leaders face this issue head-on and collaboratively work their way to a real solution? That’s the leadership challenge.

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