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The Work/Life Balance Myth – Six Strategies to Handle the Demands

Our lives—both work and personal—are always in flux. A project might go awry and we’re at work until late; or a death in the family may keep us from coming in at all. “Balancing” these demands every day is impossible and unnecessary. Instead of trying to strike a daily balance, we should aim for equilibrium over time – because achieving work/life balance is a myth. Juggling life’s demands is more like riding on a seesaw. Sometimes it’s up and sometimes it’s down. It’s difficult to keep it balanced in mid-air, (and it’s no fun). Accepting that work/life demands don’t need to equal out on any given day or week can take the pressure off employees and managers. It’s not that we can’t have it all—we just can’t have it all ALL of the time.

If work/life strategies are a cornerstone of recruitment and retention for your organization, here is how to make them work:

1. Focus on goals

Take a goal-oriented approach to managing. The focus should be on completing projects and meeting deadlines. This process requires less micromanaging and more autonomy. Managers must be clear on the goals and time lines, and also find the best ways to check in on work status.

2. Support managers

Focusing on goals may require an attitude adjustment. If an employee wants to leave early to coach Little League, he isn’t “sneaking out” or “stealing time.” Managers shouldn’t punish employees if the work is getting done. This goal-oriented approach won’t work with managers who have a “crisis du jour,” so help them plan their own workload over the long-term, so every day doesn’t produce a new work emergency.

3. Step up communication

Employees and managers should have candid conversation about goals and expectations. It’s an ideal time for employees to present requests, schedules (“I would like to volunteer at school on the third Wednesday of every month”) and deadlines. Both work and personal obligations should be made clear so the manager and employee can come up with an agreed-upon plan.

4. Strive for flexibility

Flexibility must be built into this system in order to make it work. Some projects may require multiple late nights in the office (the seesaw is up), and sometimes a sick child may take an employee out of the office for several days (and back down). Employees need to feel like they can take time, and managers need to know that goals are being accomplished.

5. Build up trust

Managers need to trust that work is being done and people aren’t leaving early every Friday just because they can get away with it. Employees also must trust that they won’t be punished for being upfront about communicating their needs or wants for personal time.

6. Make sure to re-visit

Create periodic “check-in” meetings to make sure the process is working. If deliverables aren’t being met, the manager and employee need to have another candid conversation to revise the plan. HR managers, company managers, and employees should stop working so hard to achieve the elusive work/life “balance” and instead work within the natural rhythm of work and life demands—sometimes they’re up and sometimes down. If managers can strive for equilibrium for the long-term, employees might actually be able to enjoy the ride!

Photo credit: Philip Bloom

Elaine Varelas is Managing Partner at Keystone Partners. To learn more about Elaine and Keystone Partners visit:

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