By Steve McClatchy, President, Alleer Training & Consulting
Work-life balance is one of the most elusive and sought-after values in business today. In a recent Aon Consulting poll, 88 percent of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life. Employers recognize out-of- balance or burned-out employees can impact morale, engagement, attendance, productivity, retention, quality and even customer satisfaction, so the stakes are high. With so much at stake why has it been so hard to figure out?
The problem is balance is not something that can be provided in a benefits package. One organization can’t offer more work-life balance to its employees than another. Employers can offer a more flexible work schedule, child care, financial services, etc., but these things can only help you manage life more efficiently, they won’t give you the feeling of balance. If balance is a feeling that comes and goes throughout our careers, what specifically creates the feeling?
Think of the last time you thought your life was better today than yesterday. Maybe it was a graduation, a new job offer, a promotion, a new client, an award, a magazine or TV appearance, a great vacation, running a marathon, hosting a great party, a new relationship, a new volunteer opportunity, helping a child with a new milestone, solving an old problem with a fresh new thought or even just getting a great workout or receiving a compliment on a job well done. These are times when you felt balanced. You worked toward a goal and your hard work produced real results and made an improvement in your life. Movement toward goals and improvement is what creates balance. It creates the excitement and adrenaline we need to keep going. At the end of the day it offers peace of mind that we have not wasted time and that we have identified where we want to go and done something about it. The momentum created by improvement and results motivates and inspires to do even more the next day.
This is a different understanding of balance. Balance is a feeling you get when you are satisfied with where you are and where you’re going. It’s the balance of maintenance and improvement. Balance comes from pursuing and achieving goals and seeing improvement, rather than continuing to put forth effort toward maintenance, or just aging through another day.
Both personally and professionally, you have opportunity for improvement, ingenuity, new adventure and growth. The best way to combat burn-out and stress and achieve the feeling that your life is balanced between what you have to do and what makes you feel alive is to continuously seek improvement.
As you identify goals and plan small steps to work toward, the feeling of burn-out fades. With each small step you see improvement and gain momentum. With movement and progress, a purpose becomes more evident. You use resources to improve instead of fighting to stand still. That feeling of life in motion creates balance. Moving toward something meaningful that will benefit you, your team at work, your organization, your family, etc. is what erases burn-out and stress lets balance and satisfaction move in.
The key to getting started is a plan. Managing survival or maintenance items is challenging and time consuming. The daily maintenance that causes burn-out includes everything from paying bills, cleaning dishes, getting haircuts and putting gas in the car, to submitting expense reports, attending long meetings and keeping up with endless emails. Then you wake up the next day and do it all over again.
If you wait until these items are completed each day before you focus on improvement, then improvement never happens. Instead, while in the midst of frenzied errands and tasks, take a step back and shift gears. Squeeze in steps toward your goals every day. Without planning these steps, the brain will prioritize survival tasks first. Having a written plan will influence the way you make time decisions and help fit in goal steps along with everything else. It will keep your goals at the forefront instead of letting you bury yourself in survival mode.
Take some time and make a list of large and small goals that would improve your quality of life. Consider professional and personal goals, both long term and short. Look at the list every day and find a way to take a small step. Schedule time to make a networking call, read an industry magazine, take a class, find a mentor or write an article, brainstorm ways to improve a process or offer more value to an existing client. Contact a financial planner, exercise, plan a date, play a game, fix that squeaky door at home, etc. Movement toward goals and improvements, even small steps, can keep you from burn-out, keep you balanced and improve not just your professional or your personal life specifically, but your whole life.
We don’t need to balance work and life. Work is part of life. We need to balance surviving today with progressing tomorrow. If you identify ways in which you are improving an area of your life all the time no matter how small, then you have a credible claim to balance.
Steve McClatchy, president of Alleer Training & Consulting, provides training, consulting and speaking services in the areas of consultative selling, leadership and time management. If you would like to learn more about the ways Alleer can be a resource to your organization, email Steve.McClatchy@aleer.com or call 800-860-1171.