Brenda Barnes unintentionally sparked a national debate in 1997 when, at the age of 43, she stepped down as the CEO of Pepsi-Cola North America to focus on spending more time with her children.

Her decision "shot a lightning bolt through the business world", triggering a whirlwind talk-show tour and fueling the debate on the struggles of women (and men) juggling a career and family.

Supporters hailed her decision while critics felt she was striking a blow to women fighting to establish equality in the boardroom.

Barnes passed away on January 17, 2017, from complications related to a stroke.

The passing of Barnes opens up discussion again on the universal toiling of trying to balance the demands of job and family.

Barnes worked epic hours in her role as CEO of the beverage giant, often getting up at 3:30AM to start work before attending to her family and sacrificing pretty much everything else. As she told the Christian Science Monitor, "I haven't exercised in 10 years. I don't get a chance to read many books."

While many workplace issues have dramatically advanced since Barnes' lightning-rod decision, the battle to achieve work-life balance still rages on.

An Ernst & Young study indicates we're struggling with the issue at an increasing rate, with increasingly severe consequences.

In honor of Ms. Barnes, I'd like to do my part in contributing to the continuing discussion/debate on work-life balance.

I believe the idea of work-life balance is no longer realistic.

The term implies work and life are not as intertwined as they've become in today's world of constant communication. The term implies the two strands could be separated as easily as a closing whistle once ended a factory worker's shift. And no two people define "balance" the same way, further stultifying the cookie-cutter measures usually employed.

I believe the term work-life harmony is more indicative of what to aim for -- integrating work and life harmoniously in a mutually supportive fashion that yields a net pleasing effect on the whole.

After all, we only have one life, and work has become an undeniable part of it.

But work-life harmony can be elusive -- so I offer a starting-point plan to be S.P.E.C.I.F.I.C.

Simplification

Harmony can't come without simplification. Stop to ask "Why am I working on this? Is the juice worth the squeeze?" Be reflective, not robotic, when it comes time to take on new work.

Productivity Self audit

Pinpoint unproductive behaviors that drain time and energy. These behaviors/bad habits simply must go.

Energy-renewing activities

The goal is to have energy left at the end of the day to take home with you.

Yes, of course it starts with getting enough sleep, exercise, and nutrition. But you can also consider what gives you energy and find ways to do more of it, whether it's learning and growth opportunities, meaningful work, or having fun with co-workers.

Choices

We instinctively know we must make choices to enable work-life harmony yet don't do enough of it. Choices must be made based on reflection of what kind of life you want to lead and what's most important to you.

As Barnes herself said, "You end up making choices and what's not all that important you just eliminate. " It's not just about saying no, but knowing what to say no to, as part of one harmonious and integrated life plan.

In-touch with others situations

This one is for managers of others. Get in tune with what might be hindering or helping your employee's fight for work-life harmony and be prepared to make adjustments to job requirements to help aid the cause.

Flexibility

Be creative and brave and take advantage of flexible work arrangements (compressed work weeks, flex hours, work-from-home, etc.).

Again, Barnes highlights the key here, "The company's role is to make it OK to talk about it." So if your company is opening the conversation, dive right in. If not, it may mean a difficult choice of alternative employment lies ahead.

Involve Others

Go public with your goal of work-life harmony and enlist all the help possible. The family should be enrolled. Co-workers can help by not scheduling meetings to start at 7:30AM. You get the idea.

Commit

Success in achieving work-life harmony requires real, even sacred, commitment. It must become a priority because there is no other goal that will inherently have more barriers.

May the passing of Ms. Barnes engage us all once again in a conversation that needs many voices to join.

Harmony lies in the balance after all.

Published on: Jan 26, 2017
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