Work-life conflict or work-life enrichment?

Week 4 conflict or enrichment

Becoming a parent changes our perceptions of ourselves. A new responsibility has been thrust upon us; and for mothers in particular it often seems that this is at odds with the requirements of their career. In my book I write about ‘man made’ workplaces: cultures and practices established over half a century ago when the ideal worker was a man able to focus solely on work while his non-working wife provided support.

Despite changing social expectations and the fact that the majority of women now also work outside the home this ‘man made’ culture is still prevalent in many workplaces. The result is what researchers have termed ‘work-life conflict’ which happens for a number of reasons. For example, a woman returning from maternity leave may find that cultural expectations of what it means to be professional are at odds with her new role as a mother. We can’t simply drop childcare (or for that matter elder or other family care) at the front door when we enter our workplace.

As we find ourselves living and working in an increasingly #AlwaysOn culture we also find that work is more likely than ever to interrupt our non-work time (and vice versa). Where should our priorities lie? And how do we set them?

The opposite of work-life conflict is work-life enrichment. It’s the upside of being a working parent. Our working life enriches our parental experience and we often find that skills we learn as parents (such as the ability to negotiate or set boundaries) serve us well in the workplace. The secret lies in making small adjustments that increase enrichment and reduce conflict. We can do this by reconsidering how we play our parental and employee roles; by identifying where those old expectations came from and by asking ourselves whether they are helpful to us.

Research has shown that focusing on how the two parts of our life can enrich each other can make us feel better than when we consider work and life to be in conflict. To increase that feeling of enrichment consider taking some of the following actions:

  1. Set and maintain your boundaries. You’ll be more present to the people in your life – both at home and at work – and feel better as a result;
  2. Remind yourself that as a working mother you’re setting an example to your children of what’s possible for women. (We are, after all, at the start of the third decade of the 21st century!);
  3. Talk to your children about the work you do. Share both the upsides and the downsides. You’ll be making a start on preparing them for later life when they begin thinking about careers;
  4. Share your experiences (and best tips) with other parents in your workplace who are at an earlier point on the journey. In my experience most mothers value role models who’ve ‘been there and done that’.

Finding ways to combine the positive aspects of both roles is more likely to leave us feeling that our lives are enriched.

For many people a key factor in finding that balance is working flexibly. This is such an important factor in reducing work-life conflict that I plan to focus on it in upcoming blogs during the month of February. Stay with me on the journey.

Rebalancing – one small step at a time

Asian Toddler Boy Climbs Up The Wooden Stairs

It’s week three of our journey to #rebalance work and life in 2020. So far I’ve covered the reasons why we should #rebalance; and shared the key principle underpinning successful balance.

This week I want to turn the spotlight on our approach to self-change; by suggesting we start small and grow into it. Radical change often proves difficult to sustain. And when that radical change depends on co-operation from those around us (as is often the case when it comes to work-life balance) the challenge increases. At a workshop several years ago I heard one of the wisest pieces of advice ever given to me:

“Change happens best when nobody notices”

The workshop was an introduction to Solutions Focus – an approach to change grounded in positive psychology – and the words were spoken by the workshop leader. Solutions Focus encourages the taking of small steps towards a desired future state. Over time these small steps can lead to big results. In my book I explain how we can apply this approach to #rebalancing our lives.

Stewart Friedman from the Wharton Business School has been pioneering a concept he calls Total Leadership for many years. He recommends we design small experiments to help us find more balance in our lives; and try them out for a set period of time to see what happens. The idea is to look at wins that benefit every area of our lives while considering how the people around us might also benefit from those wins.

Professor Friedman recommends we set an intention to pursue small wins that create big change. Massive shifts often fail because they’re difficult to manage. According to him the best experiments allow us to try something new while minimising the risks associated with change. Our fear of failure is reduced; and as we see results we become inspired to go further – building stakeholder support along the way.

Many of us will have come across a variant of the ‘action priority matrix’ that groups activities into four quadrants: .quick wins, major projects, fill ins and thankless tasks. If you think about the changes that would help #rebalance your life, which ones are quick wins and which are major projects?

I suggest directing your efforts in the first instance to the quick wins. (those having the highest impact for the lowest effort). Pause and consider what you’ve learnt and what progress you’ve made. If you’re ready for a bigger change you can build on your success by taking on a ‘major project’. This will demand more time, effort and planning but will lead you further in the direction of your preferred work-life balance.

For the most part we live our lives in gradual and constant change. Landscapes shift with the seasons, our children grow slowly day by day until we notice they’re no longer the helpless infants we once held but young adults ready to fly the nest; and even our own bodies change as we age.

This week I encourage you to harness the changes going on in your life in ways that will support better balance going forward – both for your own benefit and that of those around you.

Why you need better boundaries

String Of Blue And White Buoys On Calm Lake Waters.  Used As Bou

Last week I set the scene for why #rebalancing work and life is so important. This week we start looking at how to achieve that by considering why we need better boundaries.

When work life balance researchers talk about boundaries they are talking about the interplay between work and other aspects of life. Understanding and managing these boundaries is the linchpin to finding the balance that suits us, so I wanted to tackle the subject early on in our year of #rebalancing work and life.

Fifty years ago work and non-work lives were typically kept separate; and it was generally easy for us to do so. Work was carried out in the workplace and left behind when the working day was finished. Some people still prefer this approach; they are known as Separators.

For the majority of us, however, developments in technology and working practices have resulted in work becoming increasingly integrated with other aspects of our lives. Some people prefer to work this way (unsurprisingly they are known as Integrators).

Our reasons for integrating may be personal: we want to accommodate client needs; or to carve out time in the middle of our work to deal with aspects of our personal life. Alternatively our reasons may be driven by the expectations of others. For example, the long hours culture in our workplace may drive us to continue working once we get home.

As I explain in my book, integration at its extreme is bad for us since:

  • We find we can never switch off from work pressures;
  • Our attention is constantly pulled in several directions. We’re never fully present to the people we’re with or the tasks we’re doing;
  • Research evidence is confirming that ‘multitasking’ is both a myth and an inefficient way of working.

Professor Anna Cox studies human-computer interaction and its impact on work-life balance. She recommends the use of microboundaries.

Microboundaries are strategies we can put in place to limit the negative effects of boundary cross-overs – such as receiving a work email at the weekend – so that we feel more in control.

Professor Cox suggests a range of actions such as separating work and personal emails/apps; consciously deciding when not to carry a smartphone; disabling notifications when socialising or turning on night mode at bedtime.

This week I urge you to spend a few minutes thinking about where you can carve out better boundaries for yourself. It might be resolving to switch your mobile off for the hour you have dinner with your family; or taking time on your commute home to divest yourself of work pressures and prepare to be mentally present at home.

Life will always present us with emergencies but these are – thankfully – rare. For the rest of the time setting and maintaining our boundaries will both make us more effective and enable us to lead a richer life.

If you take no other actions to #rebalance your work and life this year; resolve to set better boundaries and to maintain them.

 

2020: the year to re-balance work and life

Close Up  Rethink Text Written In Torn Paper

It’s the start of 2020 and a twitter meme has just reminded us of the top 5 regrets of the dying. Unsurprisingly these centre around connection: with others and with ourselves, our inner feelings and desires. As someone once said:

Nobody on their deathbed regretted not spending more time at work.

And yet the powerful technologies that drive our smart devices are supporting practices that result in our strongest connections being to our work. We live in an #AlwaysOn culture. As we enter the third decade of the 21st century we need to rethink the way we live and work.

Increasingly we’re finding that 20th century working practices don’t fit 21st century lives.

What we need to do – as I explain in my book– is to #upcycle our jobs. I use the word upcycle deliberately.

When we upcycle something we revamp it to create something of higher quality or value than the original. We do it with much loved clothes and furniture and we can do it with our work and our careers.

Upcycling our jobs will make us:

  • More productive

Upcycling jobs means looking at ways to eliminate the low value tasks that take up a disproportionate amount of our time while making little use of valuable skills. Can these low value tasks be automated? Delegated? Or perhaps eliminated altogether.

  • More balanced

Upcycling allows us to pause and consider our current work life balance needs; and how closely they match our present reality. There’s no formula for the ‘perfect work life balance’. What’s right for us will shift as we progress through life and our circumstances change. When we review our needs and desires we can make the necessary adjustments that enable us to lead a richer life. One with more connection to family and friends; and to ourselves.

  • More visionary

It’s no secret that workplace change over the past half century has often been driven by women, and specifically by working mothers. They were the ones that pressed for employer understanding of childcare needs; and for flexible working arrangements such as term-time and job-share. There’s still more to do – particularly now that changing expectations mean we all want a better balance between work and other parts of our lives. Sacrificing everything at the altar of career and promotion has become unpopular. At the same time we need to redress the balance at senior levels in the corporate world. Research evidence is increasingly revealing that mothers in particular hold themselves back from promotion as they seek solutions to work life balance issues.

As we upcycle jobs we’re creating new possibilities in the workplace. Working arrangements that better suit our 21st century lifestyles. Possibilities that will help us complete the workplace revolution started by our mothers and grandmothers over half a century ago.  That’s a legacy worth leaving for our children.

Over the course of this coming year my blog posts will be all about the small steps we can all take to upcycle our jobs and re-balance work and life.

I hope you’ll join me on the journey.