Work-Life Effectiveness Part III: A Personal Perspective

by julia.hanigsberg | April 3rd, 2014

This is the last in a series of three blogs on work-life effectiveness. In parts I and II I talked about the context for work-life effectiveness and the role of human resources practices and employers. 

As an employee and team member I think I’ve experienced some of the range of what is possible. I’ve had jobs that were 60 hour average work weeks and others where I worked 9 to 5 on the dot.

For example, the first year after my maternity leave with my twins, I worked in a job with a fabulous boss who knew she wouldn’t see my face before 9 am or after 5 pm despite the fact that the job was in a high intensity department at a senior level.  But she trusted me to get things done–and I did (luckily those babies were great sleepers!).  The craziest job I ever had included being glued to my Blackberry 24/7. One Sunday I never got out of my pyjamas because I couldn’t get off my phone and computer long enough to change! The job itself was incredible and exciting and a wonderful learning experience, and unpredictable and ultimately, for me, it was time limited. I identified the point when I wasn’t willing to work at that pace anymore, and having learned a tremendous amount and having had real impact, I moved on to something else that gave me much more flexibility (having already put in place an effective succession plan).

As a leader, what do I do to encourage a culture of work-life effectiveness? I work to discipline when I look at email and when I use technology with my team. There’s no technology at mealtimes in my family. On weekends I will only email staff if it is truly time-sensitive –something that is pretty rare. That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes need to work on weekends, but I prioritize, and when it comes to email, I schedule what I write so it doesn’t arrive in people’s in-boxes until Monday (Boomerang is a good tool for gmail users). The same goes for email to my peers and my boss. You can’t reduce your inbox if you clutter other peoples–inevitably there will be a reply!

For ourselves, and modeling for our teams, it’s critical that we each create our own definition of successful work-life effectiveness. That jigsaw puzzle isn’t the same for all of us and over the course of a career it will change for each of us. We need to have empathy for individual priorities and choices rather than judge. Whereas for me, family may come at the front of the line, for someone else that big priority might be high-performance sport. What was important as a mom of infants is different once those same kids are teenagers or away at university. Elder care obligations inevitably come “too soon”and as a surprise, no matter how old our parents are. Exciting jobs may show up at the least convenient times and shifting priorities can make what you want possible even if it at first doesn’t make sense. In my case I had a promotion during one pregnancy and committed to a new bigger job during a maternity leave!

Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect life, but you can be thoughtful about what matters to you and what degree of imperfection you can live with.

I’ve set some key priorities:

Health: Staying healthy and fit is important to my overall mental and physical well-being so I carve out a chunk of time dark and early in the morning for a workout before my family is out of bed.

Loved ones: Friday night dinner is family dinner in my house with 10-12 people at my dining room table every week. I frequently turn down speaking or other invitations for Fridays and am not shy about telling organizers why.

On the other hand, there are things where I am prepared to  accept what’s less than ideal:

Housework/Cooking: My housework begins and ends on our main floor. I don’t even want you to guess what the rest of my house looks like.  And I’ll admit that we’ve gone through too many stretches where “making dinner” has meant dialing our favorite pizza or Indian restaurants.

Work travel: While I could travel more for my job, and I enjoy it, at this time in my life the logistics make much travel too challenging. I know the day will come where the demands on my time are different and I’ll be able to squeeze that travel in.

I’ve read that President Obama wears only grey and black suits to reduce the number of decisions he needs to make each day. We all take shortcuts where we can!

As individuals, as leaders of organizations, as managers of teams, we need to bring our whole selves to achieving work-life effectiveness. I try to model what I believe are good work-life fit examples, and I’m open with my team about the challenges I face and how I succeed (and sometimes fail) to manage them. And ultimately we will be successful if we walk our values and figure out how to put people first.

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