Work/life balance and/or ambition?

Working with clients remotely during lockdown and the recent easing, has highlighted some real opportunities for individuals and organisations whilst also raising some interesting dilemmas.

The lockdown experience for some, offered an opportunity to work from home and to adopt a lifestyle geared more around family and home life. For some it meant doing some early work for a couple of hours, then being part of a family routine with children, before getting back down to some more work perhaps even in the evenings. For others however, the lack of an externally imposed routine meant that boundaries became more blurred and guilt, coupled with assumed expectations (“I must be able to answer phone or emails or zoom requests immediately”) resulted in feelings of being on a work treadmill where even home offered no respite. Helping people to work through their boundaries and expectations has been both challenging and rewarding. But what of the other side of the debate?

“Work/life balance is fine, but I need drive and ambition …(from my managers)”. Is a near quote from a senior manager in the hospitality industry. He felt that the competitive edge had been lost among some of his managers, as they worked from home preparing for a return to a new way of working. He was itching to get his staff back in to regain (my words) a sense of control and personal direction.  He was frustrated that staff were not always instantly available to talk things through with him and seemed to take this as a lack of commitment or drive.

The example above was in complete contrast to a Principal in the public sector, who accepted that many of his younger staff were trying to balance conflicting demands arising from lockdown and took a more relaxed approach to some of the tasks and routines he would normally expect.

The final piece of the jigsaw for me was a young manager who had been struggling and who was quite depressed at times around the demands of work. Partial working from home gave him time to reappraise his personal ambition and work/life balance, and also his role in delivering the goals for the organisation. His final outcome was a negotiation with his manager which was honest about his own perception of balance. The two of them had a discussion focussed entirely on outcomes (for students) and what his role in delivering that would be. He was able to come to terms with the fact that it meant another manager would become the deputy Principal.

Talking to them subsequently, the relief from both was clearly apparent. The senior manger had clarity about levels of responsibility and justifiable expectations about outcomes, while the more junior manager felt that he was once again in control of key parts of his life and emotions. This level of joint acceptance is not always easy to obtain and it required a lot of self-understanding and honesty from both parties together with a relentless focus solely on outcomes for the organisation rather than tasks or jobs. However, if it can be achieved, the benefits for both people and organisations really do point the way to new and more productive ways of working with a contented, yet still organisationally ambitious workforce.

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