Work-life balance is a pain point for a lot of people. It seems that no matter what the industry, no matter who the person, there is always a reaction of ‘oh yea, I need help with that” every time I mention my speaking and research interests in the area.
There is a second, almost as common and often more uncomfortable reaction I get and it goes something like this:
“Work-life balance? Yea it’s important but I don’t matter because I don’t have kids or a spouse.”
Or it sounds like this:
“Work-life balance? Yea it’s important but I don’t matter because I have a family and all the managers are either single, childless, or empty nesters. My needs never get considered.”
In both scenarios I can hear the anger, frustration, and general feeling of being an outsider from the person. There’s a resentment for “the other side” and in workplaces across America there is a silent resentment that is occurring. If you listen closely you can easily hear it.
“Danny came in a little late today because his son was being difficult. He’s leaving early tomorrow to attend his school play. Must be nice to have a cushy job.”
“Sure Sandy can work until 9 every night. She has nobody to be responsible for and now management expects this from everybody.”
What results is a (passive aggressive) war between those with familial commitments and those without and at the heart of it is…. the manager. I typically don’t blame managers but I have found that when these feelings are prevalent in the organization they are at the very least partially responsible. Managers are the ones who interpret organizational policy and allow (or deny) any alternative arrangements, approve or disapprove of schedules, and generally set the tone for work-life culture in the office.
Ever been in a meeting and hear something like this?
“It’s Holiday break time. Let’s put in our requests for time off. The office needs to be staffed so to tiebreak any conflicts those with children and spouses will be given priority.” I have. More than once and at more than one employer.
“We all have commitments but we have to make sacrifices to get the job done. Do what you need to get care for your children (they ignore elder care but that’s a whole other blog).” I’ve heard this several times as well.
To be fair to managers I have also heard “I can’t do X, I have family commitments”
Or “Family situation shouldn’t matter when we are making decisions.” from the mouths of employees themselves.
Statements like this put employees against each other and automatically set the stage for inter-office conflict. The us vs them mentality needs to end if a workplace wants to achieve both optimal performance and work-life harmony.
So what’s a manager to do? Well in Part II I will have 6 simple suggestions to answer that question. For now, I want to highlight one principle:
Open Dialogue. There needs to be open dialogue and dare I say empathy (if you know me, you know this never comes easy for me) between these two feuding factions. Every situation is different and with that comes different needs. Organizations (and departments) that are more open about those needs set themselves up for more positive work environments. If there is a split between coworkers along the lines of childcare (and to a lesser extent having a partner) then some dialogue needs to happen. Processes also need to be discussed but you can’t’ talk about changing processes for aspects like time off protocol, alternative work arrangements, or workplace amenities until there’s some open dialogue so that all sides can understand the needs and situations of their coworkers.
Easier said than done. I know. It also put’s management in a tough spot. Luckily next week I have some suggestions to help them.
Paul Artale is a work-life expert and keynote speaker. More about Paul can be found by visiting www.paulartale.com