By Barrett Cordero (YPO Santa Barbara) is the President of BigSpeak Inc.
What is work-life balance supposed to be, anyway? Some 24-hour day evenly segmented into eight hours for work, sleep and personal time? This balanced concept is unrealistic, and chasing some illusory sense of “balance” only leads to increasing the stress you're supposed to be decreasing by being balanced.
Moreover, the idea of “balance” presumes control over our environment -- that our work and life demands come in predictable patterns. But work has deadlines and families have crises and sometimes more time is needed in one area of our life than the other. For example, am I supposed to tell my employees during an important deadline, “Sorry, I need to go home for some ‘me-time,’” or tell my wife, “Sorry, I can’t take our child to the hospital because I need to stay balanced for work”? No, that’s ridiculous.
Instead of having a work-life balance, I set work-life boundaries.
Setting Work-Life Boundaries
The concept of work-life boundaries is simple. As it says in our employee handbook, we strive to be 100 percent present at work and 100 percent present at home.
How a person pursues being 100 percent present at work and home is totally up to them. For example, in the article “Managing Work-life Boundaries in the Digital Age,” Ellen Kossek suggests you could set boundaries by being a separator, an integrato or a cycler. Each is a different style of boundary setting.
A separator is someone who follows the traditional concept of work-life balance, where certain hours of the day are segmented for work and personal time. This is what I used to do. I would have a set routine for work hours and personal hours. Furthermore, I would keep my personal time work-free by putting the phone away (except for emergencies) when I was at home.
An integrator is someone, like our executive vice-president, who blends work and personal time throughout the day. In his case, he will concentrate on business for a few hours, then attend to a personal event, only to come back to the office later in the evening to get more work done. This is his way of always being 100 percent present at work or concentrating a 100 percent on personal time.
Finally, a person could be a cycler. Accounting and farming, for example, fall into cycles of heavy work and heavy time off. So during harvest or tax season, these entrepreneurs may be working all hours. But during other times of the year, they have more personal time. This is typical of our event coordinators and contracts people in my business, where speaking events tend to fall in seasons. (And this is where I fall, as I recently decided to focus on doubling our business).
How Leaders Can Set Work-Life Boundaries
In Europe, they have a culture that promotes work-life boundaries. Germany recently passed a law for a reduced 28-hour work week (down from 35), so people can attend to their home life when they have a new-born child or other family circumstances that warrant more time away from the office. And France is famous for passing the “right to disconnect” law, where businesses of over 50 employees must negotiate the hours during which an email can be sent after work.
However, since the U.S. is more of a workaholic culture where the “business of America is business,” it’s important for leaders to lead by example and help set boundaries for their employees. Therefore, in my employee interactions, I lead by setting boundaries for work communications. My employees are not expected to send or respond to company emails, texts or phone calls after 5 p.m. unless it is an emergency. Likewise, we emphasize employees take personal time off. So in addition to their vacation days, we also offer half-day Fridays during the year and every other Friday off during the summer. In terms of personal wellness, we offer 500 dollars a year so employees can learn how to disconnect through yoga or other wellness classes. Finally, we have employees set their own work and personal goals, making it clear that they are just as important as business goals in our company.
Setting work-life boundaries is not a perfect system (as I said, I’m in more of a cycler mode as I try to grow my business). But by no longer chasing an illusory work-life balance and setting work-life boundaries, I find that I’m more present in both settings.
Barrett Cordero (YPO Santa Barbara) is the President of BigSpeak Inc., a leading global speakers bureau representing business icons, bestselling authors, thought leaders, and celebrities.