I remember when I first heard "work-life balance." I was fresh off of an engineering degree, so I did what I was trained to do: Run numbers in attempt to optimally equate the balance of work and life. I knew that adding something to one side of the equation meant subtracting it from the other. As I added time to work, it took away from life. Hmm...that doesn't make me want to work more.

The next 10 years validated the idea that work opposes life. Work sucked life out of me. I never felt balance. So when I launched Torrent Consulting alongside my co-founder Daniel McCollum, I swore I'd challenge this opposition.

Here's the most important thing we learned -- and the one thing any leader who cares about work-life balance needs to know: Work and life can't function as a balance, but they can coexist as an integration. The reality is that work is not only part of life, but an integral piece of it, where we derive a ton of meaning and value.

At Torrent, we say "work-life integration," which basically means alignment of all that each of us is -- a parent, son, coach, whatever else -- at work. It tears down the invisible walls we would otherwise put up at work versus home. You might call it something different, but the key is to define it. Then, pay attention to the five biggest things not to do as you put your version of work-life integration into play:

1. Don't assume every new team member is ready to integrate work and life.

Even team members who join your organization for the work-life integration come in with habits. It can take some reprogramming to get them comfortable in even discussing non-work topics with leaders.

One of our newest team members just thanked me for helping her to unlearn habits around constantly keeping a "professional" wall up at work; it allowed her to connect with her team faster than she has in other environments.

2. Don't message your team after work hours.

This may feel counter to the idea of "integration." The idea came straight from my wife. It killed me at first. My mind works in overdrive at nighttime, and like many leaders, I used to email the team ideas upon conception. The problem is that someone's receiving those emails, and it's keeping them connected. Now I keep ideas in notes until morning. I also receive much fewer nighttime work messages, which tells me that it's helping the team disconnect, too.

3. Don't skimp on success metrics for any role.

I could go on and on about metrics, but for now I'll leave you with this: If individuals lack clear and measurable goals, they will never know when they reach success -- and, in turn, when it makes sense to shut off work for the night or weekend.

Before I learned this lesson, I was continuously surprised by the amount of conversations I had with team members who had no idea how great they were performing. Some of our top employees consistently felt like they were letting their team down -- and worked around the clock to make up for it. Then we developed metrics and coaching rhythms to act as clear measures of success. Today, top performers know how they're doing and can shut their computers each evening with confidence.

4. Don't count hours.

Flexible work hours have almost become an expectation, especially for Millennials. But how many of us still instill a culture where we praise the last person out of the office? And what if they're last because they're actually unproductive?

Continuously reinforce that a job well done is not about the hours put in -- it's about hitting those success metrics (reread No. 3). In fact, push your team to take time off when they need it, too. We did this for one team member undergoing personal challenges and saw his sales numbers increase as soon as he returned.

5. Don't dismiss personal wins.

Collect team members' life goals during on-boarding, and help them figure out how to integrate those goals with work. Include personal wins in weekly coaching agendas. These activities help you to hold your team accountable for the "life" part of the integration, too. We've watched this help our entire team to become more connected, because they get to know each other on a personal level.

Growth happens in a healthy environment. Focus on work and life as an integration and avoid these five mistakes to make sure you're creating one.

Published on: Dec 8, 2017