Innovating work life balance

As at most companies, we have a focus on work-life balance. The other day, for example, I got to watch an interview with one of our most senior people at which the balance question was asked. The answer, and in fact, it seems to be a universal one whenever you get this question, is that work and life are kept separate. The decision of importance is the one which apportions time between work and life correctly given the personal situation at hand.

This answer to what is a very tricky HR question actually concerns itself with management of the balance between home and work which is a pretty critical part of stability in life. But it doesn’t concern itself at all with investment, which is the other side of the coin here.

What do I mean by investment in this context? Investment is the set of compromises you have to make in order to expand your responsibilities successfully. That set of things you hate doing when you’d rather be at home. Or the onerous tasks you’ve left till the weekend because there simply wasn’t enough time in the week. These are investments you make in your work.

You make them expecting there to be a payoff.

It is unreasonable for those who choose not to make those investments to get the same payoff.

The fact of the matter is that no matter what corporate policy you have surrounding work/life balance, there will inevitably be many people who choose to invest more substantially than you. Implication: they produce more, and therefore get greater opportunities. It is pointless to rail against this.

When you are faced with an unequal playing field – perhaps because you have children at home or a new relationship to support – trying to match work product for work product is not a winning strategy.

Some people can make few investments and still reap substantial rewards. What is their secret? I was watching such a person the other day to try and see if I could crack the code, and I think I have.

They are innovators to the core. Their first response to anything that comes up is to evaluate how they can spend their (limited) time doing whatever-it-is differently to everyone else. They don’t waste time with a tried and true response – a brute force approach requiring a full working week and then some – they seek to optimise.

The new thing they invented is not always better than the old thing they could have done. That is irrelevant – the change gets noticed. And on those occasions where there is an improvement, the innovator tends to get the credit immediately.

That’s in contrast to the standardised approach, where you are competing on a playing field that is not level. It’s a strategy which rewards those who have the most time to spend on work.

When you treat every situation as a new one, thereby requiring an innovative response, you have a system that self-optimises. People who practice that habit just seem to be more successful, no matter how hard they work. And, of course, it makes their teams more successful too.

3 Responses to“Innovating work life balance”

  1. Maureen B
    April 30, 2008 at 8:34 pm #

    Interesting that we refer to it was ‘work:life’ balance as if life were the antithesis of work … and not one dimension of it.

  2. May 1, 2008 at 9:35 am #

    Maureen: what an insightful comment. When you put it that way, it makes it quite clear what the problem with the whole concept it.

  3. Steve
    May 2, 2008 at 6:41 pm #

    Interesting read indeed.
    The idea of ‘productivity’ must also be visited. Some accomplish 12hrs of work in an 8hr day…while others accomplish 8hrs of work in a 12hr day.

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