Work-life balance. For years everyone in business has been talking about the idea of work-life balance and what it means for the employee experience, engagement, recruiting, and so forth.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that HR leaders and business leaders alike are asking the hard questions about our work environments.
I also think it’s imperative that leaders ask more questions about what’s important to each member of their team, avoiding assumptions!
When our personal life is dominated by work or vice versa, neither the company nor the individual benefits.
But in my opinion, the idea of work-life balance is flawed! I argue that we should actually think of it as a work-life BLEND.
Let me explain…
Work-Life Balance Implies That the Two are Separated from Another
The biggest issue I have with the idea of work-life balance is that the two are somehow separated from one another.
It implies you have your work life and your personal life, and that there should be an even 50/50 split between the two.
But when you think about it, that really doesn’t make any sense!
Whether someone is at home or in the office, they’re the same person. They share the same values, beliefs, opinions, likes, dislikes, and so forth.
And in reality, our “home lives” and “work lives” are two sides of the same coin, it’s not possible to separate one from the other.
And if we’re looking at the issue from the wrong perspective, how can we actually create effective solutions
If HR and business leaders want to support their teams they have to understand that our work and our lives are inseparable.
Separating the Personal from the Professional Makes No Sense
As leaders, we are taught the old-school line of reasoning that you should never get very close to your employees or learn about their personal lives.
Some even go so far as to believe they shouldn’t share any details about your own personal lives.
But if we really want to support our employees and help them reach their full potential, we have to understand what they care about at each phase of life, and what’s going on in their lives today.
But how can we seriously push for a “work-life balance” when someone is having a family emergency?
In this case, any true leader will do whatever they can to allow the individual in question to do what they need to do to care for their loved ones.
On the flip side, think about an individual who is at a stage in their life where their career is the most important thing in the world to them.
If they are driven and passionate enough about their work to stay 50 or 60 hours in the workplace, it doesn’t really seem sensible for me to send them home early in the name of “work-life” balance.
Their work IS a huge part of their life! We’re looking at it all wrong if we assume these are two different pieces of a person’s life.
What’s important to one person is not the same for everyone. By extension, what’s important to you at this point in life is probably not the same as your new team member who starts Monday.
We Have to Work to Understand Each Team Member’s Priorities
One of the biggest problems I see with most companies’ approach to “work-life balance” is that they don’t truly understand their team members’ priorities.
Everyone has different goals, values, priorities, and preferences. These will also change over time as someone’s personal situation changes.
Before someone has kids, they may choose to throw themselves into work as much as possible. But after they have kids, that same individual may want more time at home to spend with family.
The challenge is making sure we go past the easy answers and truly understand what someone wants out of their work-life blend.
Say you have a few employees who have expressed interest in career advancement. That sounds great on paper, but leaders need to make sure they really understand what that means!
They need to know how each of their team members actually defines “career advancement” for themselves.
Do they want more money? More responsibility? Do they want to lead a team, or just take on a more prestigious, higher-level role? All the above, or only one?
Career advancement will mean dramatically different things to different people. It’s our responsibility as leaders to identify what it really means to our team members!
If we treat everyone the same way, we’re not doing anyone any favors.
Using Data to Better Understand Our Teams
Look, I get it. I know what you’re thinking:
“Business leaders and HR professionals have enough on their plate. How the heck am I supposed to know what each and every one of my team members really wants?”
This is part of why I’m a big advocate of software platforms that allow us to quickly and accurately gain insights into what drives our teams and what they really want out of their work-life blend.
Software platforms like that offered by the Predictive Index and OpenBlend allow us to get a much greater insight into our people. They allow us to track where each team member is over time, track where they want to be, and offer us a guide on how to best support each individual.
Of course, you still must show up as a leader and do the real work of leading your team – but it’s a lot easier to reach your full potential as a leader if you can easily pull up a detailed profile on any individual team member before meetings, one-on-ones and so forth.
My Challenge for Business Leaders and HR
I have one challenge for business leaders and HR professionals – ask yourself how well you really know your team members.
Be honest with yourself. Do you really know exactly what each team member cares about and wants out of their work-life blend?
Do you know how they define success today?
And if you feel like you know the answer to that question for every team member…what are you doing to make sure those priorities are supported for them?
If you can understand and truly support each team member, I guarantee you will have a tremendously easier time with issues like turnover, engagement, performance, and so forth.
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