Whatever you call it – work-life balance, work-life integration, or work-life success – Americans are constantly seeking the elusive secret to having it all: the perfect blend of career and home life.
Professional-personal life nirvana.Saint Leo business professors Dr. Russell Clayton and Dr. Adam Shoemaker believe that the reason it's such a hot topic is that Americans, for the most part, are overworked.
"Right after I graduated and went into the real world, I noticed that there were a lot of people who always seemed stressed. They were always frazzled," says Clayton.
Yet, he also noticed that there were some people who came to work each day with a smile and left with a smile.
Clearly, the employees with the smiles were the ones who had figured out the secret to work-life balance, but according to the Saint Leo professors, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
In fact, the professors each take slightly different approaches themselves. While Clayton integrates his professional and personal lives, compartmentalizing the two works better for Shoemaker.
The secret, they say, lies in your definition of success, as well as in your personal preferences regarding how you want to live your life.
Podcast offers tips and insight
In this podcast, Clayton and Shoemaker discuss the definition of work-life balance, approaches to achieving it, and some practical tips for busy adults in online degree programs.
You can download the podcast now by clicking the player below.
Following are some edited highlights from the podcast.
What does the term "work-life balance" typically mean?
Dr. Shoemaker: Work-life balance is about doing your job and also having time to spend on other things you like to do.
Dr. Clayton: To most people, it means "What else can I do besides work?" I think the idea is that there's work, there's family, and then there's this third place, which is life. And that third place could be anything – playing flag football, going bowling, hunting, going to church, working for a non-profit, whatever it is that you like to do.
Dr. Shoemaker: But what's weird is in this modern world is that more and more employees are expected to be workaholics. If you want to get ahead, if you want to get the big promotion, if you want to get in good with the boss, then you've got to be at work.
Dr. Clayton: In most industries, if we want to get ahead, we have to push harder and harder because the man or woman who sits next to us at the office is pushing just as hard. If I take time off to be with my family, then I'm not going to get the promotion. I'm not going to get the bonus. I'm not going to get the good assignment.
People want to go to work and do a good job, but then they want to leave that behind and go home and take care of family – plus have time for that third thing, whatever that is.
Is it possible to achieve a balance between work and life?
Dr. Clayton: I'll be the first to admit as a work-life balance researcher, balance is a terrible way to refer to it because rarely, if ever, are we 50-50 work and life.
Dr. Shoe: I think balance has appeal because it makes you think of health. Is your chi in balance so you feel relaxed and at peace? Again, balance may not be the same for everybody, it may not be a 50-50 split for every single person.
Dr. Clayton: Actually, I'd like to get away from both of those terms and go with work-life success. The key being working with all of those stakeholders in your life – your spouse, children, supervisors, parents, etc. – to define work-life success for you.
The term "work-life integration" is also being used. How does that differ from work-life balance?
Dr. Shoemaker: The term work-life integration frightens me a little because it implies that you're now going to be at work and at life all the time. And I guess that has appeal for some people, but I think, sometimes, you need to leave work behind.
I worry that as a society we're not present and fully engaged in anything anymore. When we're in a meeting or on the phone, we're checking email. When we're with our kids at their soccer game, we're looking down to check what we forgot to do for work tomorrow. We're at work, and we're looking at Facebook to see what Billy is doing in school.
We're never fully present anywhere. Is that a healthy thing to do?
Dr. Clayton: There are those people who want to integrate work and life and those who want to segment it.
I'm a fan personally of integrating work and life. My wife calls my office so I stop what I'm doing to pick up the phone. Or I'm at home, and I'll check work email. I may spend five minutes at night replying to a student who needs help on homework. So I don't mind integrating those two roles.
The producer who got us set up here in the studio was talking about his first job out of college. He said that when he went to lunch, he would forget what was going on at work. Then he would go back to work. Then he'd go home, and he would forget what was going on at work. He's a great example of someone who likes to segment.
Dr. Shoemaker: So key to achieving work-life success is knowing if you are an integrator or a separator – a compartmentalizer. What's your personal preference?
Which is a better approach: balancing work and life or integrating the two?
Dr. Clayton: I think people need to know their preference. The key is being fully present. That's a hard concept, especially when you're an integrator like me.
Dr. Shoemaker: Back in mom and dad's generation or grandpa's generation, they would go to work, hit the office at 8:30 or 9, and do their stuff. At 5:00, they would go home, knowing no one was going to bother them until the next day.
But now, the boss feels free to call and say, "I know it's after hours but we really need to get this one file completed for this client," or, "I need to get some answers about this really quick."
So the question now is how integrated are you willing to be? If it's a five-minute email to take care of a quick problem, that's great. But it can be a slippery slope.
What tips can you offer for achieving work-life success?
Dr. Clayton: Start by managing the expectations of all those who are relevant in your life – your stakeholders, including your significant other, your children, your supervisor.
For me as a college professor, for example, I work with my wife to manage expectations at different times of the semester. At the end of the semester, it's crazy busy with exams and papers. There are some long nights, or some long days at the office at the end of each semester. However, during the semester, it's going to be a little more flexible. So it's having that two-way conversation with my wife is important.
The same is true with supervisors. Saying, "Hey, I would love to go see my child's play at school during the day. Can I come in early? Can I stay late one day?"
Opening that line of communication, managing expectations. That's one tip.
A second tip that may not be talked about as much is throttling back or mid-laning.
In other words, are you pushing too hard in the workplace?
Maybe you've been pushing hard for 10 years, seeking that promotion. Maybe it's time to throttle back a little. I realize this isn't necessarily the way we want to talk about work-life balance, but in some cases, it's the reality.
No one goes into something saying, "I only want to do it halfway." And that's not the advice here.
The advice is can you be more successful at balancing work and family at the assistant manager level instead of the manager level? And I believe that's a noble calling.
Dr. Shoemaker: Many people, particularly those who are early in their careers, have these aspirations that that they need to hit vice president before they're 30. And that's great for some people, if that's your style and if that's what you want out of life. But it may not be the right fit for everybody. And I think it's okay to be okay with that.
Dr. Clayton: A third tip could be working somewhere that is more focused on outcomes and the work that you're doing versus having face time.
Is it going to benefit the company that you're expected to do 40 hours this week and you only did 38 because you wanted to go to your kid's play? Is that extra couple of hours going to make a big difference? Or can you get that work done some other way.
This might not be something you think you have much control over as an employee, but you could put in a word for it.
Final words of wisdom?
Dr. Clayton: Define success. What is success to you in all of your relevant roles – work, school, home, whatever else you're involved with?
Do you have to have straight As? Do you have to make six figures? Do you have to have this car? What is going to make you happy and what are you willing to sacrifice to get there?
Dr. Shoemaker: To piggyback on something you said earlier, don't be afraid to ask. Whether it's your spouse or your supervisor, say "Hey, here's what I need." And propose some kind of solution. "If I can get this, can I make it up by doing this?" whatever that might be. If you don't ask, you'll never know.
How do you achieve work-life balance? Share in the comments below.
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