Two weeks ago the internet was buzzing with a new French law that banned work emails after 6pm. The ban actually never happened. In fact, as the Economist covered, it was a labor agreement between unions and employers in high-tech/consulting fields that referred to an “obligation to disconnect communication tools” after an employee had committed to a 13 hour work day. Nonetheless, across the pond and elsewhere the story drummed up talk of work-life balance – an issue we’ve been ungracefully wrestling with for the past few years. In 2012, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg highlighted the issue for the working masses by sharing her own fading sense of work-life balance. Sandberg, who makes time to have dinner with the family each night, said she would compensate by sending out emails later that night or early in the morning before work. If France had passed a ban, I wonder how Sandberg would have accommodated the law if necessary.
The question continues to taunt us. Do we act as Sandberg and fuse home life and work life … and if we can, should we? The question gnaws at me with the spirit of a relentless three year old brimming with the insatiably urgency to have immediate and complete answers to such pressing questions.
Lindsay Lavine wrote an article for Fast Company called “How Executives Around the World Balance Their Personal and Professional Lives.” Lavine observes the issue has already yielded some 347 million Google searches and over 18,000 books. Pointing to findings in a Harvard study that “interviewed 3850 C-suite executives from around the world over a five-year period,” Lavine offers three key points: (1) defining success, (2) managing technology, and (3) creating a support team.
Defining success is based on value. What’s of value to one person may not be of value to another. In the Harvard study, women defined success based respect and individual achievement while men determined value on more tangible assets like financial success (though they did also value personal growth; both valued rewarding relationships). Our takeaway here is that if the work you do has value to you, then there’s less friction between your work/personal life. This however still doesn’t answer our question of whether we should fuse work/life.
The study’s second point focuses on managing technology. As one C-suite executive in the study reported, “trying to be in two places at once and not giving either your undivided attention can lead to confusion and mistakes.” This begs the question: how do you decide when and where to be present? The study doesn’t necessarily answer the question more than it raises new questions. An answer can be found in first assessing the type of work you do. For some people it might be easy to clock at a given time. Yet in all practicality, the entrepreneur (and the ever-available employee hoping to getting that promotion) doesn’t have the same luxury. My recommendation is carving out time before and after work to check emails. For example, wake up an extra half hour earlier to address emails and set aside up to one hour late in the evening after dinner and family time to check in on work. This doesn’t mean that all emails need answering; this is more about making sure there are no pressing red-flag issues that need addressing. Having a beleaguered worker with a slavish obsession to their technology is a creativity killer that doesn’t allow the necessary time your mind needs to step away from work – nor does it do anything to add value to your work.
The last issue, on creating a support team, is something a Harvard Business Review blog post by Keith Ferrazzi also brings up in a refreshingly candid way. A post titled “How Virtual Teams Can Create Human Connections Despite Distances,” encourages entrepreneurs to recognize that our colleagues have personal lives – and to respect that. Just as we’re expected to have our personal life enveloped by work life, so too should our work embrace our personal lives. Ferrazzi quotes Forrester Research’s Henry Dewing who comments on a more open-minded attitude toward background noise in conference calls for example. Ferrazzi takes it ten steps further by humanizing the occurrence, “recommending you focus for a moment on that bark, the cry, or the ring. Use it as a reason to engage in a way that goes beyond the initial ‘personal/professional check in.’” By doing so we’re not only tolerating the personal life of our colleague that otherwise is put on hold during remote working arrangements in a tech-fueled environment, but we’re showing it respect by openly acknowledging it. It’s another way to build value in your team and in your work.
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