From the Desk of the Director

Author: Kim Patton

If someone were to describe you, would one of the words be “workaholic”?  Are you one of those people when asked “What do you do?” launches into one of those long, drawn-out monologues about every aspect of your job, leaving the person who asked the question regretting having those words come out of her mouth? 

Sure, we’ve all done it, but the question is, do you constantly identify yourself with work?  There will always be workaholics, but most of us want some type of balance between our work and life.   The difficult part is trying to find that balance in today’s workforce where if you have a job, you’re nervous about keeping it, staff is limited and everyone is doing more with less. You also may be working longer hours to try to get tasks accomplished, which can take a toll physically, mentally and emotionally.

Not only can an unbalanced life cause damage to individuals, it can bring high costs into the work place.  Declining levels of engagement, increasing levels of distraction, high turnover rates and soaring medical costs among employees are common in workplaces where employees don’t take time to focus on their mental and physical well-being.  Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy wrote in their Harvard Business Review October 2007 article, “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time,” that  to effectively reenergize their workforces, organizations need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing more in them, so they are motivated—and able—to bring more of themselves to work every day.

To recharge, individuals need to recognize the costs of energy-depleting behaviors and then take responsibility for changing them, regardless of the circumstances they’re facing.  Establishing simple rituals such as getting more sleep, exercising and spending time with family can lead to striking results across organizations. At Wachovia Bank, Schwartz and McCarthy took a group of employees through a pilot energy management program and then measured their performance against that of a control group. The participants outperformed the controls on a series of financial metrics, such as the value of loans they generated. They also reported substantial improvements in their customer relationships, their engagement with work, and their personal satisfaction. 

Not only is it unfortunate to give into the pressure to work harder, it’s also unethical.  Yes, unethical.  Bruce Weinstein (aka The Ethics Guy) wrote in the Bloomberg Businessweek article “The Ethics of Work-Life Balance” that one of five fundamental ethical principles is fairness. He also said that we demonstrate fairness in everyday life by how we allocate scarce resources, with time being a critical one both professionally and personally. 

As managers, we must constantly ask ourselves how we should allocate our time. We know it's wrong to spend so much time on one project at the expense of equally critical ones, or to spend so much time managing one employee that we're unable to manage others. But good managers should be, first and foremost, good human beings. We need to manage our time and lives wisely and not just give time to work but to our families, friends, communities, selves and our spirit. 

Being ethical is how we treat ourselves, as well as others both at work and in life.  We are not being fair to others nor to ourselves if we come to work sick, or by not taking a vacation to recharge.  We are also not being fair if we focus so much on work that our attention suffers when it comes to being a good parent, spouse or friend.  Additionally, we can’t do our do our jobs to the best of our abilities if we are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and that’s not fair to our colleagues or our employers.  Working longer hours can be tragic because we lose valuable time with those who mean the most to us, and we can never get that back.

So what can we do to make sure we don’t lose sight of who we are as a person, manager, co-worker, spouse, parent and friend?  Gill Corkindale, an executive coach and blogger for Harvard Business Review, posted in her recent “Detach Yourself From Your Work” blog on Jan. 28, 2011 the following tips to bring more balance into your life.

  1. Be honest about how much time you spend at work and why. Is it really necessary to work long, extra hours to accomplish your tasks and objectives, or are you regularly staying late for other reasons? Perhaps to impress your boss and your peers, or simply because you are not managing your time well during the day?
  2. Manage your energy, not your time. The excellent HBR article on this subject will help you identify how to monitor and use your energy well. Check your energy levels throughout the day and week. Leave work early one evening a week — say Wednesday — so you can maintain momentum. What is your energy right now and how can you maintain and boost it?
  3. Identify and banish time-stealers. These can be in the form of demanding people, routine or unnecessary meetings or tasks, or even your own bad habits. Seek out the critical time-stealers, develop a plan to deal with them and consign them to the past. This should help you feel more in charge of your agenda. What are your time-stealers?
  4. Find a buddy or mentor at work. Rather than burdening your partner with work-related issues, find a colleague for a regular downloading session. One friend of mine meets a colleague weekly and they are each allowed a half an hour to rant and rave about issues and seek advice. They find these acts as a great pressure valve for them. Who could be your buddy or partner?
  5. Treat time outside work as sacrosanct and refresh yourself. Protect your time outside work as much as you can. You need to be able to switch off from work for your own health and sanity and that of your friends and family. Find a way to refresh and replenish yourself after a week's work. What do you do to support yourself each week? The gym, long walks, visits with friends, a favorite art gallery or restaurant? What is your weekly source of replenishment?
  6. Remind yourself that you are much more than your job. However much you love your job, it is a mistake to define yourself too closely to your work. Take time to reflect on what you want to achieve in life and think about your definition of personal success. This should help you during those times when work gets difficult and the pressure becomes unbearable. What is your definition of life success?

If we are not careful and make time to rejuvenate ourselves and spend time with people who mean the most to us, burnout is probable.  Even if you cannot control the hours you are working, you can control the things in your life that bring you enjoyment.  Jen Uscher wrote in her WebMD article titled “5 Tips for Better Work-Life Balance” how to focus time and attention on how to bring more balance into our daily lives.

  1. Build downtime into your schedule.  When you plan your week, make it a point to schedule time with your family and friends and activities that help you recharge.
  2. Drop activities that sap your time or energy. Take stock of activities that aren't really enhancing your career or personal life and minimize the time you spend on them. 
  3. Rethink your errands. Consider whether you can outsource any of your time-consuming household chores or errands.
  4. Get moving. It's hard to make time for exercise when you have a jam-packed schedule, but experts say that it may ultimately help you get more done by boosting your energy level and ability to concentrate.
  5. Remember that a little relaxation goes a long way.  Don't get overwhelmed by assuming that you need to make big changes to bring more balance to your life. Set realistic goals, like trying to leave the office earlier one night per week.  Start by spending an hour a week on your hobby of painting or planning a weekend getaway with your spouse.

Taking time to enjoy the little pleasures in life is a great way to put balance into your life. Take a walk, read a good book, watch your child’s basketball game, have dinner with friends, pray and remember to laugh (especially at yourself).  These are just a few suggestions which will help you to stay relaxed and be ready for whatever comes next at work and at home.  Simple, but effective!  Remember, there is a time to work and a time to leave work behind.