Tuesday 1 February 2011

Work-Life Balance- It's about Balance actually!

I was recently approached by a very reputable business to talk to one of their project teams about Work Life Balance-(WLB). It was an interesting exercise. During the course of my research, I spoke to other Coaches, Psychologists and networked with a PhD from Canada who'd written a thesis on the subject. My education on this subject was taken to a new level, a very rich journey. o, what did I learn...?

I learned it's a 3 sided thing. 1. there are global forces at play or local forces which are external to our control. These are only set to intensify and accelerate. 2.then there's the culture of the company one works for. This can be a positive or a negative depending on how in sync our Values are to the operating principles of our employer. 3. finally there's you! Too much of the emphasis I believe is placed on how Technology has lowered boundaries and how external factors/company policies "leave us with no choice". For example, having a Blackberry or iPhone suddenly makes you accessible 24/7. I've had one of these devices for years, and remain struck by how many people fail to treat these devices as servants and not masters.

The biggest challenge I see in this whole area is we don't know how to think about the problems that face us, especially at work. Ok, I concede, work can be complex, with many dependencies and assumptions that may run concurrently. Relationships may not be strong enough to extend the boundaries of trust. The result being we're understated in our approach to ensure we don't make mistakes or offend people. Some of this I buy, much of it I have to challenge because it's irrational and illogical.

Today, we're meant to be better educated, and you'd expect we'd be capable of independent thought. We see ourselves as high end "Knowledge Workers" (we rely on our brains instead of our backs to make a livelihood). Where did it say we have to relinquish CHOICE and the birthright of INDEPENDENT WILL? Have we become eunuchs, emasculated by a hierarchy that is no longer supposed to exist? Why has the Knowledge Worker become a glorified wage slave who has become meek and servile in the process...?

My view is that along the way we've surrendered a vital part of our own identity. That being, the responsibility for our own decisions and actions. We become conditioned into thinking that people make us do things, that we have no choice(s). Perhaps we've been educated beyond the point of independent thought! In many cases we're PhD's without an opinion, without the ability to critically think our way out of even routine problems. Therein lies a massive paradox and a huge irony. Better educated people you'd think would be better thinkers and better decision-makers, but that's not the case.

I'm also of the opinion that the fear that runs through our country and our people is also legitimised and fed by this surrendering of our own identity. Clones don't think for themselves and when you stop doing that other people are running your life. The better educated we are the less capable we become of thinking things through for ourselves. We fail to apply the skills we learn in school to our own lives and we get caught up in a never ending loop of poor decision-making. Who's have thought! This will always lead to bad stress where WLB is concerned. How could it be otherwise..?

In the end we are each responsible for our choices and our decisions. The data shows we can't or don't do that. If we were, we wouldn't have negative equity extending back to house purchases as far back as 2004 or earlier. In one way or another, we've all failed to engage brain before spending in this country in recent years. What I've realised is that having to work harder and longer to nurse these self inflicted wounds is painful but NOT dealing with them is far worse.
I'm a big fan of Stephen Covey. He's right when he says "our happiness is a product of our decisions , not our conditions. It is a product of our decisions BASED on our conditions".

Where then does WLB fit into all this? For many it may seem like a frightening prospect. I disagree that it's Pollyanna like to remain optimistic regarding WLB. If we don't believe things can improve, it's unlikely they will. In fact it's the sanest thing you can do. We shouldn't forget that misery is optional and we always have more choices available to us than we may perceive at any given time. 2 key things I believe make this situation bearable;- DECISION and ACTION. Once we decide on a course of action, our thoughts become clearer and our energies renewed. We sadly never get taught that in school, so we can't understand that NON-DECISION is destructive (you're actually going backwards) and the consequence of inaction is INERTIA. The by product of that is fear and we can't project from our own power if our fears are in the way. We inadvertently render ourselves impotent.

What to do and where to start...? I believe you can't fix what you can't see. What you can't see you most likely don't understand and therefore can't change. Find someone to help you sort out the mess in your own head (hire a Coach, get a Mentor, seek a Network). The help is there, find what works for you. COMMIT to the JOURNEY...your own! Once that happens in earnest as Goethe famously said "once we move, providence does too" and you start to become a force for good in your own life. The other real benefit is you become happier and as a consequence more confident. When I come through such negative cycles in my own mind I always notice how nothing has actually materially changed! The choice to be positive always existed, I just didn't see it or believe it at the time. As Thoreau rightly said "things don't change, we change".

So WLB is actually an OUTPUT. It's not a goal or something ethereal to get lost in. It's what happens as a consequence of doing what's right for you and doing it more, better and faster. Our Universe exists because of balance. We have an internal guidance system that we switch off when it clashes with our poor decision-making until it's screaming deafens us and pain ensues. Then we pay attention because we notice how confused we are! When we learn to listen to that voice in real time we step into the centre of our own Universe and balance begins to happen as we reacquaint ourselves with what's best for us. Over time this just gets better and better. The pain cycles get shorter (we correct quicker) and our decision-making improves. We learn and as we do we become more effective and clearer in our thinking. That way we become better real time decision-makers. The good news is, it's ALL trainable.

Pay attention to the people around you. Those who seem most assured pay attention to this stuff and are people you should get to know. They can teach you much. Like for example, how to reclaim your own life. Then YOU get to decide what the terms and parameters of WLB are. The problem has changed because you now see it properly and are better equipped to put yourself into the equation and balance the tension that invariably exists in this 3 sided dynamic.

Give it a try and see how it can work for you too. Your comments are very welcome.