Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thoughts on integrating the work-life balance

A recent survey of CEOs claim the #1 issue on their worry list for 2008 wasn’t the environment, or keeping their job. Nor was it fretting about the consumer or the customer. The big issue for 2008 is creating a sustainable work-life balance for them and their people.

To paraphrase Edward De Bono, “There’s no point being brilliant at the wrong thing”. To me, the whole issue of worrying about work-life balance is facing the wrong way. For a start, it implies compromise. As far as I’m concerned, it isn’t about balancing two objectives, it’s about working with each of them to passionately enjoy both. The trick is to be great at work and great at home. It’s about work-life integration and bringing passion and harmony to both. That way there’s no question of balance, no compromise, just sheer joy and fulfillment. Ok, it’s a tough ask, and that’s why my company, Inspiros, is working hard on coming up with ideas to help in this area.

The Harvard Business Review had a crack at this issue and recently published an article suggesting that understanding how marriages work can be important to the study of management.

I don’t think so.

I’ve got to tell you that our work-life integration studies recognize fundamental differences in the two environments. The idea that people with good marriages also have good relationships and success at work is unproven - to say the least! I know, and I’m sure you do too, hundreds of examples where this is simply not true. I would say most of us are significantly different people at home to what we are at work, which I think is the right approach. It’s how you adapt to each situation that makes for holistic fulfillment. At work it’s about cooperation and collaboration driving the great result. At home it’s about love and life, compromise and passion, dedicated to driving long term commitment not short-term results.

I read somewhere that there are four things that derail marriages. Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Personally I don’t buy into this. The first three Horsemen are pretty frequent visitors to most marriages and rarely have any kind of critical effect. They are also prevalent in most work places, particularly those of Anglo-Saxon extraction. The fourth Horsemen, Contempt, is a true wrecker. Once that sets foot in the house it’s all over, red rover.

In my experience, combining success in work and success at home is more difficult to achieve than you might think. It calls for new approaches to work. Many successful people at work are in trouble at home because of their naturally competitive spirit, their need to win, ego, and the amount of time they have to put in at the office to climb through the ranks. None of these really help at home and have to be checked at the door.

One area where the two do come together is recruitment. Finding the right talent, the right fit for the right job and the right culture are vital to success at work. The same applies to marriage. Finding someone compatible to you and your personality at the outset is by far the most important step for success.

So, whatever your personal bias, as 2008 starts, let’s all find ways to find fulfillment and joy at work, at home and in the community.

Go to it!