Stop Telling Your Team this Popular Catch Phrase

One of the most thrown around life lessons today is “you need to find work/life balance.” Ironically, it’s usually being shared by someone who can afford to have work/life balance.

This was brought to my attention by my brother this past year when he and I were discussing our plans to try and scale back the amount of hours we were working to enjoy some family/me time (work/life balance). My brother had just turned 50 and he was in the fortuitous position to scale back his work load first at the end of last year.

When we talked about the things we would do and how our “balance” could look like, we were both still working full time at multi-billion dollar international companies. We certainly understood that we were not talking about retiring — just freeing up our time — so working was still a part of the plan. We discussed debt, budget, how much could we really “get by with,” and other practical considerations. 

On the revenue side, the “need” was going to either be filled by another job with less responsibility (which of course in turn would mean less pay), or working for ourselves. He chose another job. I am currently trying the latter.

What I’ve come to realize, even though I meant it sincerely when I would share those words of wisdom with my team, is that in most people’s lives it was an unrealistic expectation I was putting on them. If you do, however, choose to go down that path, then you must take an active part in helping your team achieve work/life balance. Appropriate compensation, vacation, and family leave policies obviously come to mind. But it goes beyond that. I firmly believe that in today’s workplace you must invest time and capital solely for the purpose of supporting that position.

No matter how hard most people try, once they leave your enterprise the majority of people still have to do the laundry, yard work, pick up the kids (over and over again). Rinse and repeat. Unless they can afford help or are independently wealthy, the work/life balance dream of today is almost impossible to attain.

That’s why as leaders we must invest our time and energy to know the people who support the goals of the enterprise — so we can help them with their goals. That shared VISION and mutual understanding of what each wants can only make the possibility of both becoming a reality more likely.

If you have INSIGHT into the team, you will be better prepared to navigate the personal issues when they inevitably come and potentially even mitigate them from hindering someone’s ability to function at their best. By understanding what is most important to them, you should be able to empathically communicate with them to help and or support a solution. Remember, sometimes the stressor on work/life balance may be coming from you. For example, you may have someone come to you because you scheduled weekend meetings to finish a project on a tight deadline. They then come to you with personal reasons as to why it’s difficult for them and after they explain their dilemma you still tell them they need to come in. “Where’s work/life balance?”

If you have done your homework and earned the trust of the team, the discussion will at least show the “balance” needed. The conversation could be something like, “I know how much (fill in the blank) means to you, John Doe, but please also remember how much YOU bring to our team here.” Of course, this ONLY works IF you haven’t lectured your team about work/life balance and you’ve earnestly participated in helping them achieve it. 

There will be times that the enterprises priorities will supersede the individuals, but if you come from a position of empathy and truth you will have a better chance of success and retention of like minded individuals. If you do that, it may allow you to be a part of what they refer to in the world of sports as a “Dynasty”!

A Jing Si aphorism – In handling matters let your mind influence your heart. In dealing with people, let your heart influence your mind.

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