Work-life balance RIP!

roundtable-discussions-jboye17 How do you truly strike the right balance between your work and your life? A constant challenge for most it seems, with many workplaces making employees physically sick. Might we be approaching it from the wrong angle?

We’ve covered this topic extensively during the past decade in our peer groups as well as at our conferences offering a deeper understanding of the topic, identifying problems, connecting it to the changing way of work and offering solutions.

Most recently Maren Christin Hübl from SAP in Germany led a popular roundtable at the J. Boye Aarhus 17 conference on the topic. I followed up with her in a recent phone conversation and wanted to share some of my notes on the topic as well as the insights from the conference conversation and the further thinking from Maren.

What does work-life balance really mean and why is it important?

On a personal level, the topic has changed meaning during the past 20 years of working. While in the beginning of my career and pre-family, routines were different and the entire notion of work had a different meaning. The divide between work and life still existed, but it clearly looked different.

A real eye-opener to me was in 2013, when our member Boris Kraft, co-founder of Basel-based software vendor Magnolia shared his personal take on the topic at a peer group meeting in London. His slides were appropriately titled Work life balance? Key learnings from Boris talk, was his point on how you cannot change the fact, that there are 24 hours in a day, but you can shape how you spend the hours and consider which activities renew your energy. He also had a useful message on taking breaks, sleeping and enjoying vacations. Some of his reflections were based on a New York Times opinion piece called Relax! You’ll be more productive.

A popular feature article in Harvard Business Review the following year, titled Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life also helped shape much of my thinking on the topic. It reframed the question and said not to think of it as much as a balance, but rather as two individual facets of life which both need careful managing.

Fast forward to today and the age of always on, fear of missing out, social networks, smartphone notifications and new voice-activated assistants. It clearly takes a different kind of thinking to strike the right balance and that’s why Maren controversially said ‘Work-life balance Rest in Peace’.

Barriers and things that help

A key part of the discussion at the conference roundtable led by Maren was on barriers hindering a better work-life balance as well as on an open sharing of hacks which could help.

According to Maren, the more social interactions and social networks you have, the more complex it gets. Expectations can be implicit towards your role and how you engage and the challenge is to make the expectations explicit. How might you better design the right context for you and those in your near circles?

Similar to the point made by Boris Kraft, the discussion also touched on how to spend your energy. What’s the sufficient amount of energy to solve a task and what gives you energy?

Other keywords included behavioral change, new roles and thinking differently. The point was made, that as a modern leader, you need to step back a let the people find out what’s the most important and how to solve it. By re-thinking leadership as something that is done not only by one person, leaders get to enjoy the work life even more. They can share some of the responsibilities – which sometimes feel more like a burden when expectations are growing in our complex, dynamic world. This is also what the Management 3.0-movement shows us, and servant leaders like David Marquet prove

Learn more about work-life balance and the future of work

The term employee experience is increasingly coming up in our peer group meetings. Netflix is famous for their work on their guide to company culture and other companies, including old, complex and global organisations are redesigning their workplaces. Might this not only be driven by efficiency goals, but also by a sense for the need to stay relevant and invest in the well-being of their employees?

We’ll certainly continue learning and the conversation and I invite you to be a part of it!

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