The Choice You Shouldn't Force Employees to Make
Over the past few months, I steered away from the women-still-can't-have-it-all debate. Rather than read another rant, I observed a hiatus from the topic.
And then something triggered an end to my moratorium.
Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with a business legend. She is well known in her industry and influential in the tech community. Despite her advocacy for increasing the number of women in executive leadership, she admits she's not a champion for those who "put life first."
"If I hear anything about work-life balance, I'm instantly not a fan. If you're leading a business, you can't run off to pick up a child. No one gave me work-life balance. I raised three kids, and they are happy."
I said nothing, only nodding and looking agreeable, trying not to be contrary with this powerhouse of a woman.
And that's precisely the problem.
Women like me, who unapologetically "put life first," say nothing. We look on as our predecessors uphold this rugged, albeit antiquated, path to success. Forced upon them, these women want perpetuate the notion that, of course, you must pick between a career and a life.
After months of dodging this messy topic, I can no longer sit silently.
Here's what I say now:
I respectfully disagree. I believe there's a better way to run a business.
One of the core values in our office is to "break the stupid rules." Whether you're a business owner or employee, picking between a life and a career is a stupid rule. It's stupid because it's not sustainable. As entrepreneur, author, and fellow Inc. columnist Jason Fried points out in his book Rework:
The dream employee for a lot of companies is a 20-something with as little of a life as possible outside of work--someone who'll be fine working 14-hour days and sleeping under his desk. But packing a room full of these burn-the-midnight-oil types isn't as great as it seems. It lets you get away with lousy execution. It perpetuates myths like 'This is the only way we can compete against the big guys.' You don't need more hours; you need better hours. When people have something to do at home, they get down to business.
We're asking the wrong questions and engaging in the wrong debate. The life versus career conversation is not about equality, choices, or having it all--although those are all important things to discuss. This conversation should be about what actually works in business.
What sustains a business and makes it great is based largely on how the people in the organization feel. People want to feel valued, have relationships and experience fulfillment, live out their personal values, care about others and be cared about, and feel connected to something larger than themselves.
Last I checked, whether you're a business leader or a front-line employee, these are all things that benefit you at work and in life. Forcing a choice, for you or your employees, is short-sided and foolish.