Get to know your people, find out what’s important to them, and understand that work-life balance looks different for everyone.
We recently prepared an internal benefits survey to gauge our staff’s satisfaction with our current benefits program, with questions touching on everything from health insurance benefits and PTO to their opinions on work-life balance. While reviewing the draft survey, I read, “How important is the PGA work-life balance benefit to you?”
Something was off. It was the descriptor we were using. The “PGA” work-life balance? There is no such thing, even though I have certainly heard about other companies that have attempted to assign some sort of companywide formula. No, the question we ultimately included in our survey was, “How important is it to you that PGA provide flexibility for you to find your work-life balance?” That was the correct descriptor: “your.” Maybe I was being picky, or even a little soapbox-y, but I wanted to make sure that our folks understood that it is not our place as a company to decide what an individual’s work-life balance should be. Anyone who is trying to tell you what your work-life balance should be has been reading too many articles (says the guy writing an article on work-life balance).
At the heart of our approach to helping our folks find their work-life balance is a genuine desire to know them. In so doing, we find out they have young children, or maybe a child with autism, they are working through anxiety issues, have aging parents, or a hundred other things that can demand time away from work. Outside of the various duties of life, our folks also have things that they just like to do besides work. We have some avid mountain bikers, runners, gym rats, volunteers, travelers, and people with all sorts of other activities that give them fulfillment. The truth is that some folks just have different capacities for how much work they can perform before it starts feeling like, well, work. It’s a balancing act we all play, and we all find our balance at different levels of work and life.
For me, I love my job. I truly enjoy my work and look forward to spending time on it every day. I’ve learned that I can let my drive and ambition carry me to a point where my life is out of balance. Unfortunately for my family and my health, I can be oblivious to this fact until my wife reminds me that I haven’t seen my kids for a week or my body reminds me that I can’t eat garbage food and not exercise and expect to feel healthy. After all, what’s the point in being the best engineer if I’m a lousy husband or father? And what’s the point in all this success if I feel horrible because I’m not taking care of myself? So, I made some changes in my own life, breaking my time down into three basic components: work, family, and self. I built a daily routine that ensures I dedicate enough time to myself and my family, enough to being a good husband and father, enough time to improve my health, and enough time to achieve the goals that we have laid out for PGA to continue to thrive and grow. I have no doubt that many weeks my wife and kids wish for a little more time from me, but that’s the balance, right? If we have folks who feel like they are failing at home or failing to take care of their health and wellness, then that will inevitably affect their performance at work.
So, it comes back to knowing our people and being willing to meet them where they are. We have built a culture at PGA that does not seek extra effort simply for the sake of extra effort, and certainly not at the expense of enjoying life itself. We can (and do!) demand excellence from our folks, but it is in our best interest as leaders to encourage balance, so that even if “all we get” is 40 hours a week, those are 40 dang-good hours. As a matter of fact, one of our very first hires told us that he only wanted to work 24 hours a week. He has interests outside of work and if he was going to make this change, he wanted to make more time for those things. We already knew how excellent he was at his job, so our answer was, “No problem!” He holds that schedule to this day and those are 24 dang-good hours.
There are plenty of discussions on the company’s obligations to encourage employees’ work-life balance, but what often gets missed is employees’ obligations to help the company meet its goals. There’s a balance that needs to be maintained there as well. We truly want you to get home in time for dinner, but sometimes we will need you to stay or maybe crack that laptop open again after dinner. Those who are dogmatic about their work-life balance will inevitably lose out on opportunities for rewards and career advancement. It’s silly to think otherwise when you see others more than willing to work as a team to disrupt their balance for a short time to help meet our clients’ needs and overall company goals for growth and success. So, we not only encourage a good work-life balance, but we also communicate clearly on what is expected when the going gets tough.
We do our best to learn and understand everyone’s balance and help them maintain that as often as possible. We don’t always get it right, and we still too often overwork our people, but we continue to listen and improve as we grow. It is admittedly more challenging getting to know every staff member personally with 80 people than it was when we had six, but it’s well worth the effort.
Gordon Greene, PE is executive vice president at Patel, Greene & Associates, LLC. Contact him at email@example.com.